Some residents of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, whose businesses were destroyed by the fire outbreak that occurred at Next Cash and Carry, a popular mall in the Jahi District of the city on Sunday have lamented their huge losses.
The fire, which started around 9:00 am, razed the entire mall owned by a former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi.
Obi is also the vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 election.
The fire began on the first floor of the facility as workers settled down to begin operations for the day before spreading to other parts of the shopping centre.
Decrying the situation, the owner of a fast-food outlet at the mall, Funmilayo Modupe, revealed that her entire investment and a major source of livelihood had gone down with the fire.
She said, “I run my business to support myself and my family but now everything is gone with the fire. I am left with nothing. I could not save anything.
“The situation could have been different had officials of the Federal Fire Service and National Emergency Management Authority arrived on time to help put out the fire and rescue valuable items.
“Firefighters only showed up when the entire building had been reduced to ashes. This type of thing cannot happen in a country where things work normally.
“I don’t know where to start from after this huge loss. I am totally confused at the moment.”
Another business owner within the burnt mall, Ifeanyi Matthias, said he was looking forward to raking in huge profits from sales on Boxing Day before the fire broke out at the place.
According to him, efforts by him and others to help combat the inferno didn’t yield much result as the fire was too wild and spreading fast.
Matthias revealed that he doesn’t know if he will ever recover from the loss the incident plunged him into.
He said, “I’m in pain. I have lost everything. With rapid emergency rescue, I may have at least salvaged something.
“We called the fire service and NEMA, none of them showed up until after the damage had been done.
“If those two agencies cannot respond immediately when there is an emergency, I do not see any reason why they exist. I feel really sad over the huge loss.”
A handful of other business owners, while also lamenting the loss of their investments as a result of the fire outbreak at the Abuja shopping mall, called on the Nigerian Government to enact policies that will make emergency agencies respond fast to crises.
“There should be sanctions for agencies such as FFS and NEMA whenever they fail to respond quickly to an emergency.
“If there are sanctions in place, it will ensure that officials of these agencies are more responsible while on duty and help save a lot of lives and valuables during tragic events,” Stella Odeh, another affected business owner, said.
Revealing that many items could not be saved during the fire, Mustapha Samson, a security guard at the mall, said it will be difficult to put a monetary value on what was lost to the inferno.
He said, “I witnessed everything. The fire condemned many items worth billions of naira.
“We tried to recover the little we could, we did our best but a lot of money was lost.”
The owner of a barbershop close to the shopping centre, Austin Daniel, confirmed that firefighters and other emergency teams arrived at the scene when the entire building had gone up in flames.
He said, “When we got to the place to help them to remove electronics, particularly Plasma televisions and home theatre, the firefighters had not come. The reason why the fire spread to the other side is that the firefighters came late.
“Some people came to loot but we stopped them with the help of vigilantes.
“Those firefighters came about one hour after they were called and some of their trucks that first got here did not have water, it was here they started looking for a fire hydrant to fill their tanks.”
Disaster management expert, John Okewu, while reacting to the incident, called on the government to scrap the FFS and NEMA for failing to respond swiftly after the fire outbreak.
He said, “Do you know that FFS and NEMA receive millions of naira monthly? How many times did we have fire outbreaks in Abuja this year that they responded immediately?
“I think both agencies should be scrapped by the government and replaced with more responsible agencies that can save lives and valuables during emergencies.”
Spokesperson for the Federal Capital Territory Police Command, DSP Josephine Adeh, while revealing that at least four persons had been arrested for looting items from the burnt mall, said an investigation was currently ongoing to determine the cause of the fire outbreak.
In July, another popular mall in Abuja – Ebeano Supermarket – was consumed by fire following an outbreak.