n Saturday, February 3rd, 2024 when traders closed their shops at the sawmill and plank market located at Awori bus stop, Abule Egba, Lagos State, to retire for the weekend, it never occurred to them that disaster looms.
It was on Sunday, at about 16:20 hrs, that the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) received a distress call via its toll-free emergency numbers; a call which happened to be from the sawmill and plank market.
TheNewsGuru.com (TNG) reports the sawmill market at Awori bus stop in Abule Egba is one big community divided into three parts: the sawmill and planks association, the mechanics association, and the recycling association.
Within hours, the massive plank market was gutted to ashes, leaving traders in a state of complete shock. The arrival of LASEMA fire unit and the Lagos State Fire and Rescue Service did little to nothing to arrest the blazing inferno. Damage was already done.
How the Lagos plank market fire started
Investigations revealed that the fire was caused by a high-tension cable that detached and dropped on dry plywood in the market. The cable, it was gathered, ignited the plywood immediately, erupting into an inferno that spread across the whole market.
Speaking with TNG, Chairmen of the various market associations, lamenting their losses, gave insights on what happened on the 4th of February, 2024 when the market was engulfed in flames after the high-tension cable fell from the pole.
Mr Segun Alao, the Chairman of the mechanics association of the market, stated that the fire started around 3:00 pm and that only the security guards with the people monitoring the market were on ground.
“The fire incident happened last Sunday at about 3:00 pm. Nobody works here on Sundays, except for the security guards and people we have here to monitor the market. The cable fell and before anyone could do anything, the fire consumed everything,” Mr Alao said.
While Alao described the incident as sad and devastating, Mr Olayinde Abiodun, Chairman of the sawmill and planks sellers’ association of the market, described the fire incident as completely unbelievable.
The Chairman of the sawmill and planks sellers’ association of the market claimed the damage caused by the inferno at their section of the market was over a billion Naira.
“I am just trying to stand as a man”: Traders count losses, cry out for help
Alao revealed customers who brought their cars to his mechanic workshop for repairs had their vehicles consumed by the inferno.
“Some of the cars that I am supposed to fix were destroyed by the fire. The fire also consumed customers’ cars of other mechanics. Even a mechanic’s personal car was also burnt to ashes,” he said.
When asked if there was insurance coverage, Alao said: “some of the cars are insured by their owners and those that are not will have to fix their cars by themselves”.
Meanwhile, Comrade Afolabi, the Chairman of the recycling association of the market, disclosed that the goods lost to the inferno at his section of the market were worth over N40 million and that he personally lost about N7 million to the fire incident.
Afolabi explained that they recycle PET bottles at his section of the market, which they sell to companies for reuse. He said there are mostly women in their association and that when the news of the fire got out, there was panic and pandemonium.
“I am just trying to stand as a man, it is hard, we are hoping we can get help from anybody, maybe an NGO,” he said, adding: “we cannot even buy materials for the same price again, everything is times three, see some of the women now, where will they start from?
“The business you are using N3 million to fund before, you are now using 3 times the amount. So everybody is in panic mode as a result of this fire disaster. Most of the women here, you will feel for them but because I am a man, I have to stand. So we are hoping for help from anybody”.
When asked if any of the goods were insured, he said: “none of the goods were insured. It is not because we don’t want to but look around, which insurance company will agree to insure this place?”
Afolabi revealed that “out of 19 machines in the market, only one survived the fire and some of the machines cost over N45 million”.
He added: “Also, before the incident, a new stock of HDF boards had just been offloaded at the market, with one of those boards costing N45,000”.
Speaking on the bizarre fire incident, Mr Abiodun disclosed traders sell foam in the market and that some wholesalers and retailers sell plywood as well as other building materials in the market.
Abiodun confirmed that every shop in the market has a fire extinguisher and that the machines all had their extinguishers separately.
“The damage here is far beyond N1 billion. Of the 19 machines that we have here only one survived the fire. There is one machine worth N45 million and we have two of that.
“Each section has its generator. If not for the way I am feeling, I would have carried you around. That place [pointing] they are arranging that board, they just offloaded HDF board and one of that board is about N45,000.
“There are electric motors, the one of 10 horsepower, the price of one before the nation became what it is now was about N130,000. Everything got burnt.
“The loss is worth more than you can imagine; worth of planks, worth of plywood; all burnt down, worth of machines, bundles of zinc, you can imagine the amount of bundles burnt down, shovel, building materials everything gone,” he told our reporter.
Abiodun went on to say: “I am not the owner of all the goods but I am the chairman. So, in another way, I am the owner of everything. This fire disaster affected everyone in this market. The consolation I have is that God is ever faithful and no lives were lost.
“There is no safety measure that the federal or state government put in place that we did not follow. But you know man proposes, God disposes. There is no measure we did not follow; Every machine has an industrial fire extinguisher”.
He also confirmed that none of the goods were insured and that there was no way to recover anything from the loss.
Govt officials shocked by magnitude of damage
Meanwhile, the traders confirmed that government officials visited the market the following day after the fire incident. TNG reports that government officials who visited the market on Monday the 5th of February are from the State Ministry of Agriculture.
The officials expressed shock at the magnitude of damage by the fire and also voiced their dismay at the fact that traders at the market do not have insurance while pledging that the State Government would work out modalities to make it mandatory for plank markets across the State to insure their goods.
“Officials from the Ministry of Agric were around yesterday [Monday] and they were so angry because we do not have insurance and we have an affiliation with them. You know the thing is the belief of the people. Some believe the insurance people just want to collect our money while others say: “we never chop finish we wan do insurance”.
“One of the officials said he is going to make sure they enforce insurance coverage for the market. We have an emergency meeting on Saturday [tomorrow] where we will discuss everything that happened. I even support the insurance,” Abiodun said.
On why there is no insurance coverage for the market, he explained: “I don’t have any issues with insurance but, some of our members do not understand it and feel like they want to scam us or we never chop finish we dey do insurance”.
However, Afolabi explained: “the problem is most of these insurance people believe this place is not safe and you know these people will not insure where is not safe. You know we have association meetings and they used to come to meet us but when they came to this place, they saw the live wire above the market and said this place is not safe.
“There is high tension wire and also pipeline running across the market. So, the insurance people told us they could not insure the market, except we collected loan from the bank and insured that money. So, we cannot get anything back”.
Abiodun mentioned that Saturday’s meeting with the State Government will discuss future preventive measures and a way to help the market men and women.
Abiodun also disclosed he had earlier requested for a fire station to be cited around the market, but that it was denied because a fire station was already at Ile Epo market, which he said is about 15-minute drive from the sawmill market.
“I have asked NEPA people to put a net under the cable. They said that is not what they are around to do. In 2006 there was a net there but it caught fire. Since then they have not replaced it. I am waiting for their boss so that I can talk with him because I want it there. Honourable Olotu, the representative of the Ijaiye Constituency said they must put it.
“At least if the net is there, we are a lot safer, but then unless God builds a house, the labourer labours in vain.
“Also, we had earlier requested a standby fire station but it was denied because they said the Ile Epo fire station is not far from us, but we will still bring it up again hopefully now they will answer us.
“Moving forward, we will do whatever in our power to prevent this kind of disaster from happening again but man proposes and God disposes, God is the protector of all,” he said.