It was supposed to be an April fool’s day but it was no joking matter for Mr. Onyeka (first names only used) as the angry fire completely burnt down his shop filed with raw rice worth millions of naira.
The fear and the feeling of loss were the emotions that were palpable as the large rice shop close to the electric high tension poles in the popular Masaka market was engulfed by angry flames. The incident took place at about 7pm on the 1st of April along the Abuja – Keffi road .
Thus, because the fire was very close to the express road, barricades had to be made to stop the oncoming traffic from driving into the flames. People stood in their numbers to observe the tragic scene while those who were brave enough to go close, tried to put out the fire.
It was all in vain as the flame increased with intensity with every effort to put it out. Being that it was a Sunday, most of the traders, including the owner of the rice shop were not at the market when the fire started.
So no one exactly knew how the fire started. Everyone who saw the fire believed it was going to burn down the whole market but to the amazement of everybody; did not touch the very next shop.
Speaking to Leadership Sunday, the owner of the phone shop situated next to the rice shop that caught fire, Mr Lawrence said that he was very grateful to God for sparing his shop. “my sister, I know that the God that I serve will not let me down. People will not believe what happened here but when I was called about the fire, I consoled myself that I am still young enough to start all over again.
When I came the fire was so intense that the heat was choking me” . The young man told Leadership Sunday that a lot of people still marveled at how his shop escaped being engulfed in the flames. He continued: “You may laugh at this but the truth is that when I saw the fire, I went and leaned on the other side of the wall of my shop and said ‘God if I did anything dirty to make my money in this shop; let it burn down now but if I did it with my honest sweat, God let this fire stop before it gets to my shop’ and that was it. Before 30 minutes the fire went down. It is a great testimony for me,” he said, his face beaming.
As to how the fire started the most consistent story was, that there was a guy that had been selling fuel next to the transformer for some years now. On that fateful Sunday, the young man (we could not get his name at the time of this report), turned on his generator.
After a while he decided to pour fuel into the generator without putting it off. This was not a new practice for him; he had been doing it expertly for years and as a result some people were doubtful that it was true that he started the fire.
According to the story, as he was pouring the fuel, it touched the exhaust of the generator which was already hot and so the generator burst into flames lighting up the arms of the young man. To prevent the fire from engulfing his body, he flung the still working generator away from himself and unknowingly towards the gallons of petrol there.
The aftermath was a raging inferno that burnt part of the fence surrounding the high tension poles, an electric pole and the rice shop, turning the pole to charcoal and the shop to a completely gutted shadow of itself. Mr Onyeka, the owner of the burnt rice shop was not really in the mood to talk about the incident when he was contacted on the phone, exept that, “half a trailer load of rice was burnt in my shop. Now am just trying to rest. I don’t know how I will recover from the shock of this incident. Even if I hold the fuel guy for it, can he pay me for loss?”.
A very close friend of Mr Onyeka, who gave his name as Tommy, owns a boutique shop just opposite the burnt shop. Tommy told Leadership Sunday that Mr Onyeka had been planning to get married to his fiancée before the fire outbreak and this may affect the wedding arrangements. “It was a Sunday so a lot of traders were at home. I was called on my phone that a shop close to my own was on fire and that it was very serious.
When I arrived, I saw that it was Onyeka’s shop that was on fire and knowing who he was, I did not tell him that his shop was on fire. I just told him, to come quickly to the market. If I had told him that his shop was on fire, he might have had an accident on his way to the market. He said ok that he was coming.
If he had come as he said, he would have been able to save some of his goods. But he relaxed and told his fiancée that I wanted to play April Fool on him. Believe me I completely forgot that that, day was April fool’s day. It din,t even occur to me.
He should have known that the time of April fool was far gone at that time of the day. Those people around tried to get those bags of rice out. They were the ones that broke the wall.”
According to Tommy, Mr Onyeka had gone to the police and was attached to an IPO. “They came to take pictures and they were interrogating him but he was not here when the fire started. And this story about how the fire started, I don’t believe it.
This is somebody that has been selling fuel for many years. The guy is even a graduate; he just finished his youth service in February. He was using the money from the fuel business to train himself in school. Now I don’t know where the guy is because of the fear of this incident since everyone is blaming him for the fire”.
Tommy who was very bitter about the incident made an appeal to the government to station a fire service offices close to outskirts of the city in case of emergencies like that one that happened in the market.
“The government should wake up from their slumber so that the masses of this country will benefit from the government. It is our right. It is very painful that we should have to pass through this experience without much help from the government”.