Goods worth hundreds of millions of naira, including hundreds of goats, were razed at Ekiosa market in Benin City, Edo State on Sunday.
The inferno which lasted for several hours also spread to the Edo Development Property Authority (EDPA), and consumed a section of the high-rising building.
It was gathered that the fire which started at about 12.10pm, was as a result of a spark arising from power surge in one of the locked-up shops.
The rampaging inferno reportedly defiled all efforts by sympathizers to put it off and later razed the entire market.
Fire fighters from the state department and those of the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company allegedly arrived the scene about 30 minutes after the fire broke out were chased away by traders in the believe that they may be given special attention to the government owned building.
A trader who gave his name as Edosa, said he was at home when they heard people shouting fire in the market.
“We all ran into the market and discovered that the shop that was burning was locked. So we could not do much to put out the fire and before we could say jack, it (fire) has spread to other shops.”
The area however became tensed after angry youths confronted the University of Benin (UNIBEN) fire service truck emerged to put off the fire at the EDPA.
One of the youths who identified himself as Yinka Tony, alleged that the fire fighters deliberately delayed before coming to their aid.
“From what we are seeing, this people (fire fighters) deliberately did not come and save these traders goods.
“You can see that now that the fire has spread to EDPA, they came and want to put off the fire… and we are saying no way. It won’t happen here,” Tony said.
The timely arrival of soldiers and other security agents saved what could have degenerated to anarchy.
An eyewitness who simply identified himself as Edosa said: “I live around here, I was in my house when we heard the market women shouting fire, fire shortly after BEDC brought light around 12 noon.
“We all ran into the market and discovered that the shop that was burning was locked. So we could not do much to put out the fire. And before we could say jack, it (fire) has spread to other shops.
“Some people called fire service, their response was that they don’t have water and at this time, we could not put the fire out with bare hands,” Edosa said.
Meanwhile, the Edo state government has vowed to investigate what it called suspected arson
The government in a statement by the Special Adviser to the State Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said the state government has commenced investigation into the fire incident in Ekiosa market.
The statement noted that the increased fire incidents in markets around Benin metropolis may bear political connotation.
According to him, “The state government has commenced investigation into the Ekiosa fire incident as we have received preliminary information indicating that the fire may have been caused by arsonists, who are bent on painting the government in bad light.
“The information we have show that the arsonists may be working on the instructions of the disbanded Edo Peoples Movements (EPM), who are shopping for avenues to discredit the Governor Obaseki-led government.
“It is also curious that when officials of the Fire Service and other stakeholders in emergency response mobilised to the site of the fire at Ekiosa market, they were attacked and chased away by the arsonists. This is a serious offence and government will not condone the action of these persons, as anyone found culpable will be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
“Relevant stakeholders are being rallied around to carry out the investigations into the incident to establish the case of arson, even as government agencies and departments responsible for emergency response are being debriefed on what transpired when they responded to the incident.”