By Hassan Musa K/Mata
There is no doubt that the latest fire disaster that ravaged the popular Sabon Gari Market in Kano has inflicted heavy loss not only on the traders but the economy of this country, considering the volume of trading activities in the market which prides itself as a commercial outlet for business activities that cut across the West African sub-region for decades.
In fact, the market, with the adjacent Singer and Kantin Kwari Markets represent the nerve centre of commerce for the whole of the North, from Sokoto to Maiduguri, Yola to Kontagora as well as for Niger Republic, Central African Republic, northern Cameroun and beyond.
Over time, critical sectors of the nation’s economy and infrastructure are consumed by fire leaving in their trail huge economic losses to individuals and the nation at large. The rate at which these fires occur is becoming worrisome, calling for urgent need to address the trend by way of implementing fire code among other expectations.
National Emergency Management Agency NEMA, confirmed that no fewer than 3,800 shops were burnt in the latest Kano inferno said to be the worst market fire disaster in Nigeria in recent times. Areas razed by the fire included structures, shops and makeshifts situated along D-Line, C- Line, M- Line and L- Line. Goods destroyed include drugs, shoes, cosmetics, fabrics, gold, ceramics, bicycles and provisions, among several others. Some of the facilities within the market were not spared by the fire. These included a mosque – Abacha Mosque – and an old generation bank that had served the market community for years.
Kano state governor, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, who was away in Abuja had to rush back to the city. In a state-wide address, the governor announced the inauguration of a 9-man committee to assess the level of damage and the traders affected by the inferno. The committee, chaired by Alhaji Alin Bagadaza, was also mandated to advise the government on how to resettle the affected traders.
The committee submitted its report to the government in five days, and traders, according to the recommendation of the committee, are allowed to rehabilitate their shops, a decision welcome by the traders, considering past experiences, while the state Urban Planning and Development Agency KNUPDA is mobilized to clear the debris left in the wake of the disaster.
Other immediate measures taken by the government to alleviate the suffering of the traders include resettling the victims at a convenient location, which would enable them proceed with their day-to-day economic endeavors, as KNUPDA and the three metropolitan local government councils have been directed to scout for suitable site for temporary relocation of the affected traders.
Governor Ganduje, who described the fire as a national disaster in view of its magnitude and multiplier effects, also set up an appeal fund committee under the chairmanship of the business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
The composition of the committee, which membership cuts across all strata of the society, is to organize a befitting fund raising with a mandate to scout for assistance from all the nooks and crannies of the country. They are also to reach out to state governments, corporate organisations, foreign multi-national corporations and well-meaning individuals that are willing to contribute.
In addition, the government extended the mandate of retired Justice Wada Aliyu Rano Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the fire incident at Singer Market three months ago to determine the causes of incessant fire outbreaks in Kano city by two weeks, to enable it cover the recent fire outbreak at Sabon Gari market.
Also in response to the fire outbreak, the government has constituted a Standing Inter-Ministerial Committee on markets improvement strategy that will advise government on physical restructuring, operational regulation, management and revenue generation in respect of major market in the state under the chairmanship of the commissioner for information, youth and culture, Malam Muhammad Garba.
The state government also planned to restructure markets in the state to facilitate improved business transactions, which will start at Kantin Kwari market, with the provision of roads, culverts and fire service points, including the provision of collapsible structures for petty traders to substitute the present wooden structures, which tends to disrupt hitch-free passage for emergency interventions during fire or other incidents.
The state government yielded to the demand of the traders to allow them reconstruct their shops. This opportunity should not be used to repeat the mistakes of the past by raising illegal kiosks, attachments, sheds and what not that not only block the road and make passage difficult but also makes it easy for fire to spread in the event of disaster. Traders should desist from the habit of keeping their cash in their shops, because that was why the losses incurred by the traders were enormous.
It is also important for the traders to accept in good faith whatever will be the outcome of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government as it is established with the best of intention to investigate the immediate and remote causes of fire disasters in our markets and proffer solution. Because while one is not trying to preempt the commission’s outcome, in the event it recommends the relocation of traders whose activities are deemed not fit within the market premises should not have a second thought but accept it wholeheartedly.
It is very imperative that the leadership of the various markets in the state should put their house in order by ensuring that peace and unity reign in the interest of development. This would go a long way in ensuring that the traders pay their taxes appropriately.
One economic expert during a radio discussion in the wake of the fire disaster, hinted that an average of 500, 000 traders make it to the market daily to carry out one form of transaction or the other. According to the expert, if the traders will task themselves to collect at least N50 from each person that visited the market daily, how much will they realize in a month. At least that will be enough for the market to acquire the most sophisticated firefighting equipment for the market.
Musa wrote in from No 160 Kofar Mata Quarters, Kano