Sadly, the burnt Owerri market (Eke Ukwu Owerri, Nworie Lane) was on NTA network news on the night of Monday, 25th October 2010. Firstly let me commiserate with the traders over the loss of their goods, services, money, efforts, etc. Your plights will directly and indirectly affect the rest of the society. The multiplier effects will surely take its toll on the local economy (Imo State and beyond). Times are really tough. Just as I was still thinking about the Owerri market inferno, I read another news on 26th October 2010 that some stalls at the new Benin market went up in flames destroying goods worth millions of naira. I pray this should be the last.
Incidences of fire on our markets (either by accident or by design), are becoming a threat to the nations economic growth/development. Physical markets in Nigeria are perhaps the largest employers of labour in the private sector. The economic activities associated with physical markets are equal to none. It’s a national treasure. No doubt, Nigeria has large markets, which has, and will continue to attract foreigners (Chinese, Indians etc). Nigerians also export to other African countries from our markets. Which means that our markets are also a major source(s) of foreign exchange. Therefore, every effort must be made to prevent future fire outbreaks.
Remember that if we don’t prevent fire outbreaks, fire will prevent those of us (traders, manufacturers, distributors, middle men, lenders, etc) from achieving our goals. Both the micro and macro society will loose in the long run. As a preventive measure, I will propose the following to market leaders, traders, and the government.
Switch off all lights at the end of each market day(s). All the market leaders in Nigeria should consider switching off all lights at the end of each market day, and switching on at the beginning of each market day(s). Efforts should be made to have general control switches. Markets leaders should consider initiating legislation from the government to back this up. I am not under any illusion that power is unstable, but despite that, it will be a very good idea to have a control switch for all markets. Those using generators should also comply with switching their generators off and on at the end of each market days.
Accredited electricians should only do wiring in the markets. Every market should maintain a list of qualified, tasted and trusted electricians from which traders can hire. No unaccredited electrician should be allowed to do any work in the market. Here I will recommend each market having as many electricians as possible. In event of any electrical related fault/fire, the electrician that did the job should be held accountable. It is high time we learn to take responsibilities for our actions and inactions.
Those using gas to cook in various markets should be regulated. It should also apply to those, using other means to cook, like firewood, kerosene stoves etc. People should be made to sigh an undertaking not to be careless with gas, kerosene, firewood etc when cooking. Any one or any group that violates the rule should take whatever responsibilities that may arise from such actions.
Every stall in the market should have a fire extinguisher. This should be compulsory. Market leaders should make it a point of duty to carry out routine checks of this item. Traders should undertake trainings on how to use the various types (spray form, dry powder, water etc) of extinguishers. The appropriate extinguishers should be recommended. I will also suggest fire drills/exercises for all traders in any particular market. I have been privileged to witness when traders are doing cleanup exercises and praying times. At such occasions, high team spirits are exhibited. Same attitude can be applied to fire drills. In the United Kingdom, it’s a rule that all establishments must have fire drills and fire exits. There is no reason why Nigerians cannot adopt this method, being that fire is a big threat to our markets and other establishments.
Next strategy should be long-term plans to decongest most crowded markets. Most markets are over crowded. This might make fire rescue efforts very difficult in emergency times. I will suggest a long term, but gradual process of relocating most congested markets to more modern markets. In building any new marker henceforth, fire preventive strategies must be incorporated in the building/market plans. I will suggest relocating markets to outskirts of cities.
Aside from markets, we have also witnessed fire destroying other establishments and homes. A recent case being when fire burnt down, the African Independent Television studios in Lagos. Perhaps there might not be an accurate number(s) of people’s residential homes/houses destroyed by fire. I doubt if the Fire Services in Nigeria will have such records. Be that as it may, some of my recommendations above will be useful in preventing fire at homes also. I will add that private estate developers should onwards design Nigerian houses with fire prevention in minds. Fire doors (special doors that could stop fire from entering a room for at least 30 minutes or more) are highly recommended.
Let me appeal to the government (even though most appeals/recommendations fell into deaf ears) to equip our fire service departments. Refurbish their equipments. Get new vehicles for them. Increase their remunerations and welfare packages. Insure them incase of accidental deaths in service. On the part of our fire service, I suggest to them to design a volunteer scheme, whereby some Nigerians can volunteer their time and energy to help in fire rescue exercises. May God bless Nigeria.