No fewer than 200 shops at the Ojoto market, Port Harcourt were razed in a Thursday night fire with shop owners unable to salvage their goods, according to a market leader.
Firefighters who arrived at the scene late were chased away by hoodlums who looted goods from the billowing inferno.
Although the cause of the fire cannot be immediately ascertained, some witnesses claimed it was caused by an electric spark from those cooking in a shop after power was suddenly restored in the market.
Arinze Akupue, the chairman of the Ojoto market association dismissed suggestions that the fire has anything to do with anyone cooking in the market. He stressed that the market was already closed for the day when the fire broke out.
Mr Akupue lamented the slow response from the Fire Service.
“There was no response [from the Fire Service], 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,” Mr Akupue narrated.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
The commander of the Federal Fire Service in Rivers State, Abdullahi Alfa, confirmed the attack on his men.
“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?” Mr Alfa said.