Market Fire: Abuja Traders Lose Millions Over Poor Safety Plans, Fire Service Delays

Traders at the Karimo market in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, on Thursday, lamented their losses after a fire disaster that destroyed wares in many shops. Fire service showed up two hours later.

The smog started running into the houses at Karimo around 12 a.m. Before residents could make sense of it, faint booming sounds, like drums being beaten, followed. Then it dawned on them — another fire outbreak had occurred in the market. 

Karimo market, a semi-urban area in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja in Northcentral Nigeria, was razed down on Thursday, March 31. This was the fourth outbreak in five years. 

The market was burnt in 2017, 2018, and 2021 before the latest incident. All the fires take place at night or in the early hours of the morning. 

“The fire was too much,” Segun Olaiya, one of the eyewitnesses said of Thursday’s incident. “Immediately we saw that the market was burning, we started reaching out to the owners of  shops in Karimo.”

Traders lament as fire razes Karimo market in Abuja. Photo: Adejumo Kabir/ HumAngle.

By 1 a.m., the market was already filled with traders who were trying to make efforts to remove valuable items from their shops. All of these efforts were futile as over 300 shops were razed in the incident. 

Though the cause of the fire outbreak is still unknown as of the time of filing this report, affected individuals told our reporter that late arrival firefighters contributed more to their loss. 

“We called the fire service some minutes past 12 a.m. but they did not come here until 2 a.m.  The government approved the market but failed to properly construct the place. My brother’s shop filled with lace, ankara, and other clothing materials burnt to ashes. Where do you want him to start from? Over N5 million wasted,” a woman who refused to mention her name lamented. 

Bitter stories 

Raymond Adoeze has been in Karimo market for years, selling beverages. After losing his store to the 2017 fire incident, he took out a loan from the bank to restart his business. 

“I am seriously in debt.”

He told HumAngle that his wife and three children would no longer have access to basic necessities due to the wreckage.  Adoeze  also lamented that instead of supporting affected shop owners to end the fire, “scavengers were busy searching the rubble of razed shops.”

“Government promised to support us when the last incident happened but they are yet to do anything. I am in debt because I owe banks and companies loans. I am really speechless as there is no electricity or transformer that could cause the fire. It is a sad day for me,” he cried. 

Amaka Ane spoke to HumAngle with a swollen face. She had just finished crying and had also refused to go home since 2:30 a.m. when she arrived at the scene of the incident. Amaka said she was running two bookshop stores with her husband. Both stores got burnt during the fire outbreak. 

Amaka Anne, one of the victims affected in the Karimo market fire incident. Photo: Adejumo Kabir/HumAngle.

 “I saw 30 missed calls on my phone in the middle of the night and when I called back, I was told that my bookshop and that of my husband were burning. This happened a day after we bought goods worth millions of naira. I have three children and I don’t know what to say about their future. In July last year, I lost a lot of things in a similar incident. This is getting worse.”

Another victim, Susan Gabriel, who sells women’s hair was seen begging passers-by for money so she could feed herself for the day. 

“Even you that you are interviewing us should help us. Nothing is small,”she said reluctantly. “My orders arrived on Wednesday evening but I got a call  at midnight that my shop was on fire. I collapsed immediately because I didn’t pick anything from the shop. I will appreciate any donation from you. I am a makeup artist. All I have worked for in my lifetime is gone.”

Susan Gabriel narrating her ordeal during the Karimo fire incident. Photo: Adejumo Kabir/HumAngle.

Emmanuel Odim’s brother, Emeka could not hold his tears when HumAngle visited the burnt market. While his shop was not affected by fire, hoodlums took advantage of the incident to break into it. 

HumAngle learnt that the hoodlums also injured some shop owners who tried to stop them during their evil acts.

“They broke into my brother’s store and packed everything he had. Since there were no enforcement agents, the hoodlums stole goods worth millions of naira and drove them away even at midnight. My wife, who is a tailor, was not affected by the fire but all her customers’ clothes were stolen,” Odim explained. 

Traders lament as fire razes Karimo market in Abuja. Photo: Adejumo Kabir/ HumAngle.

“They broke somebody’s head while trying to get his things from those looting them. and till now, no one knows the source of the fire.”

Poor response from firefighters?

Like previous cases, victims of the fire incident accused the Federal Fire Service (FFS) of slow response. While ScienceDirect, a source for scientific, technical, and medical research, says the ideal emergency response time is five minutes, FFS arrived two hours later. 

The agency could not abide by the time stipulation because of what an official who is not authorised to speak call “lack of adequate fire service stations.”

HumAngle understands that there are about nine fire stations, at least, within the general Abuja area that has a landmass of  7,315km2.

Traders lament as fire razes Karimo market in Abuja. Photo: Adejumo Kabir/ HumAngle.

According to the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the fire stations in the territory include the FCT Fire Service (Asokoro), FCT Fire Service (Gwarimpa) and FCT Fire Service Headquarter (Garki),  and then one Fire Brigade station (Wuse 1). 

Other fire stations, according to google listings include Apo fire service station, the FCDA fire service located in Utako, the fire station located in Zuba, the fire service station located in Sauka, and the National Emergency Management (NEMA) outpost in Wuse 2, Garki.

‘We tried our best’ 

Speaking at the scene of the incident, the Acting Director of Forecasting, Rescue and Mitigation at the FCT Emergency Management Agency, Florence Wenegieme, said they tried their best. 

“The cause of the fire is not yet identified, but the truth is that the high-tension wire has no light. There has not been any light there for some months now, so it couldn’t have been an electrical fault. We were able to salvage the situation so the fire will not extend to other shops.

“The good thing is that we are happy about two things, we are happy that there was no loss of lives and they were able to call 112 the emergency number, which was what saved the situation otherwise a lot of shops would have been affected. We are coming back for a post-disaster assessment. The immediate thing we wanted to do was to save lives and property.”

Traders lament as fire razes Karimo market in Abuja. Photo: Adejumo Kabir/ HumAngle.

Despite Wenegieme’s assurance for a post-disaster assessment, many victims told our reporter that they cannot trust government officials’ promises. 

This is because marketplaces have witnessed one too many fire outbreaks and beyond the disturbing frequencies at which the fire incidents were recorded, a seeming laxity in the emergency response-attitude of the fire services, was brought to the fore. 

“This is not the first time but nothing has changed in the authority’s response,” hopeless Odim said.

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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