There have been controversies surrounding the fire incident that led to the destruction of a fire truck belonging to the Abia State Fire Service by some angry traders at the Old Express area of Aba on Monday, August 10, and the consequent closure of the Umuehilegbu Industrial Market, popularly known as Bakassi Line and Shoe Plaza in Aba by the government of Abia State.

With a view to unraveling what really transpired, newsleverage.com sent a reporter on an investigation to the area.

When this reporter visited the scene on Tuesday, some individuals who are suspected to be traders were seen clustered in groups, discussing the incident that took place a day earlier.

Though some of them declined comments on the fire outbreak, this reporter was able to chat with some eyewitnesses who preferred to remain anonymous as they
relayed some details of what happened the previous day.

Contrary to earlier reports by some news outlets that the privately managed mini power generating plant from where the inferno sparked off was located inside the Bakassi Line and Shoe Plaza and razed some shops in the market, newsleverage.com can authoritatively report that though the
ill-fated power plant supplied electricity to the shoemakers at the popular market, the incident did not take place at the Bakassi Line and Shoe Plaza; rather, it happened at the Old Express area of Aba where the plant is located and destroyed some shops located within its premises.

From eyewitness accounts, NewsLeverage gathered that the inferno started Monday morning when a staff of the private power generating company that supplied electricity to some shops in the market was reportedly refueling their power generating set when suddenly it caught fire.

An eyewitness who chose not to be mentioned said “The fire actually started in the morning, somebody went to switch on
the generator which was in the engine house packed with gas and other inflammable objects. The person switched on the generator and it sparked, touching the gas which was there, and that triggered the fire.”

Recounting what happened afterward, he said “People around started trying to put off the fire with pure water and even the gutter water. People from the two-story building there were throwing water from there. That’s when you know that Aba has people because people came out in droves to make sure that it did not escalate more than it already had.

When the fire service truck came, knowing how Aba people behave, they destroyed the vehicle and beat up the driver of the truck and turned the truck upside down. SARS then came around, started shooting sporadically in the air, people started running and some people were caught and taken in but nobody lost their lives. These shops you are seeing are the only things that burnt, nobody lost their lives.”

According to the eyewitness, the fire had already engulfed the whole place when the firefighters were called in – resulting in their arrival to the scene when the fire had
already been put out.

Another respondent corroborated this claim as he told this reporter that “the fire started around 9 am, there was a fire the outbreak which gradually spread across to the building.”

On what may have caused the fire outbreak, he said it was complicated. “The cause of the fire outbreak is really complicated. We cannot say for sure what happened.”

Speaking further, he explained “The main victims of the fire accident are not here because all these shops you see here are
owned by people and were stocked with working materials for the owners. As you can see, everything here has been burnt
down. The fire started from the engine, the engine supplies power to shoemakers inside the market but the information
the government got is that the engine is situated in Bakassi shoe plaza but as you can see, this is old express, outside the
market.”

On the alleged late arrival of the fire service personnel which irked some irate traders – leading to the destruction of the fire truck, this reporter was told that they (the fire service personnel) got to know about the fire incident over the radio station and before they could arrive at the scene it was too late; but the people were angry and took laws into their own hands.

On the claim that the fire service truck did not have water when it arrived at the scene, this respondent says “I do not think that is true because no fire service truck will come to a fire accident location without water. I think that information is wrong.

This respondent who also chose not to be identified attributed the incident to carelessness.

What happened yesterday was simply out of carelessness. Somebody was trying to switch on the generator which supplies power to mainly Bakassi, old express, and its environs.
The person poured fuel inside the generator and some dropped on the floor but he didn’t wipe it. When you switch on the generator, there will be an initial pomp sound that comes with fire. The drops of that fire poured on the floor and that started the fire.”

However, it was also alleged that there was the presence of adulterated fuel and cans of gas in the generator house as well as a woman food vendor who also cooked and sold food nearby the scene. These are believed to have caused the fire to escalate.

Meanwhile, in its response to a media publication on the incident with the title, “Fire Razes Ariaria Market in Aba,
Destroys Goods Worth Billions of Naira” the Abia State Government speaking through the state’s Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu in a release on his Facebook account, refuted the claim.

Okiyi Kalu said “Aside the property housing the generator of the private power supply company, no single shop in the industrial market was affected by the fire.”

Below is the detail of the release.

Re: Fire Razes Ariaria Market in Aba, Destroys Goods Worth Billions of Naira

Our attention has been drawn to the above-titled article published in a national news medium and we wish to state as follows:

1. Early yesterday, a private company that supplies electricity to some shops in Umuehilegbu Industrial Market, above-titled Line, and Shoe Plaza in Aba was reportedly adding fuel to their power generating set and the equipment caught fire.

2. While making efforts to put out the fire, those around the area called in the state fire service for support. But when the men of the fire service moved close to the area affected by the fire, they were attacked by hoodlums who attempted to destroy the fire truck thereby preventing the vehicle from getting to the scene of the fire incident for yet to be determined reasons.

3. The attacked fire truck never got to its destination as the driver and other firemen on the service were badly injured with one still in critical condition after being rescued by a good Samaritan from the hoodlums who also demobilized the vehicle.

4 Those at the scene of the fire ultimately put out the fire using fire extinguishers and other improvised fire fighting techniques even as security agencies were mobilized to the location to protect the market, rescue the remaining firemen, and tow the fire truck to safety.

5. Aside from the property housing, the generator of the private power supply company, no single shop in the industrial market was affected by the fire.

6. Ariaria International Market is different from Umuehilegbu Industrial Market even though located in contiguous locations

7. Around the same area, there is power supply from EEDC and the Ariaria Independent Power Company established by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) of the Federal Government. It was some traders that chose to pull together and bring in the private company that uses generators to supply power to some shops in the market.

8. Fourteen (14) of the suspected hoodlums who were arrested at the scene of the incident were arraigned in a magistrate court today, granted bail and the matter adjourned.

9. It is worthy of emphasis to state that none of the more than 30,000 shops in Ariaria International market was affected by the fire.

10. While the state government directed the immediate closure of the Umuehilegbu Industrial Market as a precautionary measure, Ariaria International Market remains open without interruption.

11. In addition to the suspension of the executive committee of the affected market, the government wishes to direct an immediate cessation of the activities of the private power company pending a full investigation by security agencies.

Thank you.

Chief John Okiyi Kalu
Honorable Commissioner for Information
11/08/2020

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