The rate at which fire is destroying markets in Nigeria is becoming alarming. Since the beginning of the 2019/2020 harmattan season, hardly does a week pass without news of fire incidence in different markets scattered around the country. This is painful because, in all these recent cases, affected shop owners barely escaped with their lives and were, therefore, unable to spare their wares. The worst thing is that help rarely comes from the state fire service until fire has done irreparable damages.
It is quite unfortunate that the incidents of fire outbreak in markets have not taught other market unions and local government authorities in other parts of the country some lessons. These market unionists and local government agents are more interested in revenue collections than in putting in place, measures that will ensure that fire accidents are prevented or handled swiftly when they happen. Because of this neglect, markets, among other things,s are continually attacked by fire.
Causes of Market Fire Outbreaks
From the reports of fire incidents in markets, one couldn’t help but wonder what causes them. While growing up, there were speculations that fire outbreaks in markets were causes by miscreants, especially those that hide in corners to smoke marijuana. Later, it was said that they were deliberate acts by opposing unionists, who wanted controversial market squares to be moved from their current locations (that was the claim when the popular Orange Market in Mararaba, Nasarawa State was completely razed down in 2016). These claims could be true, but it will be important to point out some other preventable reasons why the fire starts and spreads faster in Nigerian open markets.
1. Types of Buildings
Most of the shops that are razed to the ground are shanty houses made with woods and metal sheets. This is not to say that concrete shops aren’t affected in cases of heavy fire, but casualties in concrete block shops are lesser than that of shanties. Some market authorities have already started handling this situation by building concrete shops all over their markets. And truth be told, this has reduced the cases of fire outbreaks in many markets these days.
2. Poor Electrical Wiring
There are some markets you will go into and couldn’t help wondering if the electricians that did the electrical connections were at tug of war. They criss-cross wires all over the place and leave some dangling dangerously. Even inside the shops, some electrical connections are nothing to write home about. The only way out of this situation is if the market authorities ban traders from tampering with electrical connections in their shops and the electric poles.
3. Use of Generators inside the Market
Using generators inside the market doesn’t only cause noise and air pollutions, but can also cause fire outbreak or fuel its spread. How this can cause fire outbreak will be understood if someone considers the fact that generators use fuel (petrol), which can easily ignite when it comes in contact with heat. Some market authorities have been able to discourage individuals from using private generators by providing power plants that serve the whole market or a section of it and insisting that those that wish for constant power supply connect to the general power plants. The general power generators are usually mounted outside the market so that they rarely cause harms to traders and shoppers.
4. Cooking inside the Market
In markets such as Onitsha Main Market, restaurants are situated at the outskirts of the market. Those that wish to eat either leave their shops to visit these restaurants or order for foods, which are sent over to them. Alternatively, they can buy from the numerous food vendors that are found in their numbers within the market. The major thing here is that people are not allowed to cook inside the market. But some markets don’t observe this simple strategy. They allow restaurant owners to situate their shops right in the middle of the market. You can also see women that kept small kerosene stoves and camping gas cookers in their shops, which they use to cook or heat up food for their children.
5. Filling Stations and Gas Plants near Markets
Of course because of the large number of generators inside the market, business owners have decided to bring filling stations closer to markets. This cannot even be compared to those that sell fuel in kegs right inside the market (they target those that can’t leave their shops and walk over to the filling stations). Most of the times, Nigerians cause their problems by themselves.
Fire can be a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe. The fire incidents that happen in our markets are man-made and preventable. But because people are so much interested in making money, they put their lives at risk. For this, I call on traders to help themselves to reduce the loss of their properties and goods. It’s true that some markets already have measures on ground to prevent and battle this, but they still need to do more. They can start by keeping fire extinguishers in their shops (which are not there as far as I can tell) and avoiding actions that can ignite fire.
As for the local government authorities and the market union executives that are only interested in collecting money from traders, I want to enjoin them to make their markets safe. It is a shame that markets in Nigeria cannot afford to install mini fire stations that will be immediately used to quell fire outbreaks. If a market cannot afford one, they can partner with a close-by market to do so.
The market authorities should also consider using the revenues generated from their markets to build concrete lock-up shops for traders. Shanty shops should be discouraged. Rather, open stalls could be built for them, or spaces allotted for containers installations.