*Suspect Foul Play By Politicians To Remodel Shops For Cronies’ Use
National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has said its members have lost goods worth over N5.3trillion to market fire between May 1999 to March 2016.
A statement by the National President of NANTS, Ken Ukaoha, said in the past three months alone, fire has gutted not less than 10 markets across the country.
While commenting on the grave implications of incessant fire outbreaks in the market across the country, Ukaoha said, “It is so unfortunate that such destruction of goods and property belonging to the poor traders and sometimes what constitute their entire means of livelihoods are lost to fire with no remedial or alternative means of survival.
“Needless to say, that market fires have unquantifiable implications on the economy, especially the financial services sector, given the role of traders in the redistribution of wealth.
“Market fires are also associated with grave psychological and emotional trauma and its multiplier effects on the society.
“Most importantly, is that many lives have been irretrievably lost to market infernos with no serious investigation carried out at least to forestall further occurrences. These leave us to question the presence, the existence and the role of government.”
He explained that NANTS had conducted a census and analysis of market fire across the country spanning over ten years, adding that the most shameful and annoying result of this analysis revealed that Nigeria has had more market fire during the civilian rule than under the military regime.
He queried, “Could it be therefore that there are unseen hands of politics in many of the market fires?
“Can some of these market fires be linked with political maneuvers and intrigues related to the quest or guise to construct more shops or stalls for the compensation of political supporters?”
He lamented that “most painful to us is that in all of these instances, all we receive is either a sympathy visit from government representative or a pronouncement of support that results in nothing but soon condemned and forgotten in the dustbin of history.”
He noted that given the provisions of the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that markets are under the control of the Local Government Authorities.
He said while the Constitution truly empowers the Local Governments to “construct, regulate and manage the markets”, there was the need to emphasise that such powers presupposes managing the markets to the extent that such investments must be adequately protected perhaps through insurance.
“Unfortunately, markets are constructed, and Local Governments collect revenue from traders thereupon without caring about the security and sustainability of such investments.
“The result is that today, no single market in Nigeria except a few malls is fully insured. Therefore, when there is any fire incident, the traders are left alone to suffer and bear the entire consequences.
“Government clears the debris and embarks on reconstruction and eventual reallocation of the shops, and oftentimes, the original owners or occupants are denied.
“It is rather sad and unfortunate that while successive Nigerian governments have continued to chase Foreign Direct Investments even with tax incentives and other attractions, the local traders who constitute the largest domestic investors in the country are neglected while their investments are left to wither away through fire.
“The consequence of this neglect is that Nigerian traders, and by extension the Nigerian economy has lost over N5.3trn to market fires between May 1999 and March 2016,” he said.
While not throwing the entire blame on the doors of the government, Ukaoha also identified some of the factors responsible for fire incidences in the markets which include “storing of fuel, power surge or electric sparks, illegal connection of electricity, lighted match or forgotten candle lights, stoves, cookers and gas cylinders in the markets as well as the total ignorance of safety procedures.”
To this end, NANTS appealed to government to as a matter of urgency, consider the production of a national investment protection architecture that is laced with a comprehensive fire policy.
Ukaoha also suggested that markets construction plans must consider making provisions and installation of firefighting equipment and adequate space for vehicular movements in case of fire incidents.
“Specifically, governments and relevant agencies should ensure the installation of fire suppression and fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers at strategic locations in the markets as ways of containing cases of these fire incidences.
“We further appeal to government to revisit the nation’s Firefighting Agency (the Fire Service) with a view to re-organizing and retooling it for effectiveness wasting resources and tax payers fund on an Agency that is always weak to respond, engage and address their calling – the rescue mission and operation during fires.
We call on government to set up of an Advisory Committee that would come up with ideas and implementable action plans targeted at curbing the menace of market fires in Nigeria.
“Such Committee must include NANTS as the traders’ national umbrella, Insurance body (NAICOM), the Federal Fire Service, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, and of course the Presidency.”
The National President of NANTS further urged insurance companies to wake up to their responsibility by investing resources in the marketing and promotion of their products and packages and educating traders on the need for and procedures for subscribing to Insurance cover.
“It is important that government prioritizes solving the problem of the country’s epileptic power situation which is the major cause of traders storing petrol in shops especially for operating their generators.
“We urge our government to assist us on the need for massive/concerted campaigns and enlightenment targeted at traders in the markets on the dangers of combustible substances so that even remote cases of fires can be controlled and contained.
“Traders must also be sensitized on the dangers of using fake electrical materials for legal/illegal connections.
“While disbursing the planned N500billion targeted at traders and SMEs, we call on the Federal Government to consider and prioritise such affected traders as first set of potential recipients.
“Such funds would go a long way in helping and providing alternative livelihoods for the affected traders and their dependents.”
It would be recalled that last week that fire gutted one of the largest markets in Nigeria – the Sabon Geri market in Kano State.