On Thursday night, a fire burnt over 200 shops at the Ojoto market in the Mile 2 neighbourhood of Diobu, Port Harcourt, destroying goods and property worth millions of naira.
The took place around 9:15 p.m., after the majority of the dealers had already closed for the day.
Although the fire’s origin was unknown at the time this report was filed, witnesses claimed that when the public power supply was restored that evening, an electric spark caused it.
Some of them added that the fire might have started because someone was cooking in the market.
One of the eyewitnesses, a lady who did not want her name mentioned, said, “There was no light that night. So as soon as light came. We saw an electric spark.
“They said some people were cooking inside the market. So, as soon as that electric spark happened, the fire started in that shop. Before you know it, there was fire everywhere. All the shops burned down.”
Following the tragedy, the neighbourhood became chaotic as some of the market vendors who reside close hurried to try to save some of their wares but were unable.
It was reported that some locals could be seen frantically calling friends and family to alert them of the unfortunate news.
According to our source, some irate youngsters chased the fire department’s workers as they arrived at the area at 10:42 pm, more than an hour after the incident, and threw stones at their trucks.
Speaking to newsmen about the fire outbreak, the Chairman, Ojoto Market, Arinze Akupue, said nothing was removed from the market, saying he was at home a few minutes to 10pm when a security man called him and that there was flame coming out of the market.
Akupue said after discovering it was a fire outbreak, he put calls across to some people around the market to see what they can do to put out the fire, while he drove to the state fire service.
He stated that at the state fire service, he was advised to go to the Federal Secretariat to inform the Federal fire service, as the state fire service was handicapped.
Akupue disclosed that he drove to the Federal Secretariat where he informed the Federal fire service and their Commander approved immediately and they followed him to the scene.
He debunked claims that there were people storing petroleum products or cooking in the market and condemned the attack on the firefighters.
“Nothing was removed from the market. The fire has nothing to do with somebody cooking. The market had closed and traders had gone home.
“It was a security operative who told me that there was a fire in the market. I asked him which area he told me and immediately I started calling the state fire service.
“There was no response, so I had to drive down to their office. They told me they cannot do anything. In fact, they directed me to the Federal Fire Service. I drove down to their office at the Federal Secretariat and they gave me attention.
“I said please the market is going down. They called one of their bosses who approved immediately and they had to call one of their trucks stationed at the INEC office to join me to the market immediately.”
He further said while they were on their way, he put a call across to the Divisional Police Officer of Iloabuchi Disional Station and they responded because the fire service needs security too to be on the ground.
“But as we got there, a lot of hoodlums were entering and looting. And they started throwing bottles and stones at the fire truck and their officers and tried to mob them,” Akupue stated.
The Ojoto market chairman said he pleaded with the hoodlums to allow them to do their job, saying they paid deaf ears and continued pelting stones to the extent that the firefighters with the help of policemen drove to the Illabuchi Police Station for cover.
“At this point the market was already 85 percent down. I lost three of my shops and I didn’t pick up anything and others too. We have over 200 shops in that market. A lot of people have lost their livelihoods,” he said.
While noting that none of the traders picked anything out of the marker, he called on the state government to assist the traders start their lives again.
When contacted, the Commander, Federal Fire Service in Rivers State, Abdullahi Alfa, confirmed the attack on his men and their truck, describing it as “unfortunate”.
Alfa stated, “One of our major mandates is to save lives and property and we try our best to respond to distress calls and we must do our job.
“In this case, I was part of the team that went there to put out the fire. We were attacked by these boys and one of our trucks was slightly damaged and we had to run for our lives.
“We were not the ones that caused the fire. Ours is to go and help. So if they continue to attack us like this, what do we do?