…EPM lambasts Gov over allegation of sponsoring Arsonists.
As anothermarket, Ekiosa, located in the heart of Benin City, Edo State capital, went upin flames on Sunday, the tragic fire, described as one too many by the majoropposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has sparkedoff a tirade of abuse between the governor and the now rested Edo People’sMovement, EPM, on the one hand, and the governor and the PDP on the other hand.Following the razing of the market, Obaseki had accused the EPM of allegedlysponsoring arsonists to burn down the market so as to rubbish his image andthat of his government. In the past four months, it had been a tragic harvestof market fires which started August 13 with the complete destruction of over90 shops at the biggest spare parts market in Benin, Uwelu Spare-parts Market.It was followed the following month, September 16, when 13 shops were razed at thepopular Lagos Street around the Kings Square while on October 20, it was theturn of Santana Market along Sapele Road where over 300 shops were burnt. Thelatest is Ekiosa where the joy of the Yuletide has turned to sorrow.
Like in previous ones, a statement by thespecial adviser to the governor on media and communications strategy, CrusoeOsagie, said the state government had commenced investigations into allegationsof suspected arson, declaring that the increased fire incidents in marketsaround Benin metropolis may bear political connotation. According to him, the government had “receivedpreliminary information indicating that the fire may have been caused byarsonists who are bent on painting the government in bad light” adding that“the information we have showed that the arsonists may be working on theinstructions of the disbanded Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), who are shopping foravenues to discredit the Governor Obaseki-led government”.
Osagie said“it is also curious that when officials of the Fire Service and otherstakeholders in emergency response mobilised to the site of the fire at Ekiosamarket, they were attacked and chased away by the arsonists”. While describingthis as a serious offence, Osagie warned that the government would not condonethe action of these persons, as anyone found culpable would be made to face thefull wrath of the law. According to the statement, “relevant stakeholders arebeing rallied around to carry out investigations into the incident to establishthe case of arson, even as government agencies and departments responsible foremergency response are being debriefed on what transpired when they respondedto the incident”.
Osagie saidefforts were on to ameliorate the losses suffered by traders, promising that governmentwould provide support to the affected traders to enable them return to theirbusinesses. “We are mindful that these traders would have stocked wares for thefestive season. The state government will ensure that they’re fully compensated”the statement said, and reiterated the need for Edo residents to be careful andavoid habits and actions that may lead to fire outbreak in the dry season.
However, contrary to the allegation of arson against EPM, investigations by the magazine revealed that the fire started a few minutes after mid-day from a locked-up shop which eyewitnesses attributed to power surge. One of the residents opposite the market who simply gave his name as Kadiri explained to the magazine that “I was just entering the house when light suddenly came and soon after I started hearing shouts of fire o, fire, fire from the market. I quickly switched off my electrical appliances and ran outside to see where the fire was burning”. Kadiri said he met people gathered around the particular shop but they could not gain access inside because the shop was locked and the owner was not around. “People started calling Edo fire service but they said they were told they did not have water. We don’t know how the fire service from the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company, NPDC came; there was another one some said was from government house but the people were angry and prevented them from doing anything because they believed they came because the fire has now spread to a government building, the EDPA (Edo Property Development Agency). In fact, they were driven away”.
According to another eyewitness, a worker at EDPA who would not want to be mentioned, top officials of the agency made frantic calls to the University of Benin Fire Service “and they came but they were almost prevented by some angry traders and youths who attempted to also chase them away because they felt priority was being given to government building at the expense of the helpless traders”. The intervention of soldiers, however, saved the situation from degenerating into mayhem as the angry youths were ready for a complete showdown following the complete destruction of the market by the raging fire with millions of naira worth of goods reduced to ashes.
But in hisreaction to the governor’s allegation of complicity by EPM, an outraged HenryIdahagbon, co-convener of the now rested political group, told the magazinethat “government, by this statement by Crusoe Osagie has clearly shown that itis clueless and directionless. We in the defunct EPM, we are not arsonists. Weonly agitated for the revival of the party and to condemn in the strongestterms, the governor’s disdain for members and leaders of the party that broughthim to power. We have nothing to do with the burning of markets. Unlike thegovernor, many of our mothers are traders in the markets – Uwelu Market, OlihaMarket, Ekiosa – so we cannot burn down markets our mothers are traders in”.
Carpeting thegovernor for shirking his responsibility to secure the lives and property ofEdo people, Idahagbon, former attorney general and commissioner of justice inthe state, said “instead of reviving the fire service in the state, which thecommissioner, Michael Amodokha made proposal for the revival of fire service inthe state, the governor instead, turned down the proposal and accused thecommissioner of looking for avenue to steal money. The outcome of that failureis what we are seeing today”. Idahagbon was not done yet. In his words, “everybody knows that we are inthe hottest part of the year; and now, harmattan started a couple of days ago.These are ingredients for fire outbreaks. Let the governor be informed that inAustralia where fire had been burning for the past eight weeks, the governmentof Australia did not attribute it to arsonists. So, this government,unfortunately, President Jonathan’s government was described as clueless,whereas Nigerians, if they want to see a government that is clueless, theyshould come to Edo State. Edo State is the capital of clueless governance inthe country as we speak”.
Reacting to thenews of yet another market fire in Benin City, the PDP said the Obaseki-led governmentshould not bother to visit Ekiosa or the adjoining Edo Property DevelopmentAuthority, EDPA building ravaged by the fire. A mocking statement by the statepublicity secretary of the party, Chris Nehikhare said “they have visited allfour other fire incident sites and they are still not able to proffer, provide,or even articulate a strategy to minimize losses or damages whenever theseunfortunate fire incidents occur!”
The PDP statedthat “in its almost 12 years in the saddle, the APC-led government has failedmiserably to address the incessant fire outbreaks especially in markets duringYuletide periods” adding that “they have taken cluelessness and lethargy ofideas to a new level”. Sympathising withthe traders and families of those who lost valuables, and those who weredirectly or indirectly affected by the inferno, Nehikhare said “this outbreakis one too many! It is sad to know that it occurred during the day when helpfrom a functional fire service would have minimized the damage. Edo PDPcondemns in very strong terms the lack of an efficient, well-funded, equipped,and trained fire brigade service. We have over the years lamented thedeplorable state the APC-led government has plunged the state fire service; asituation that has eroded confidence and destroyed the morale of the few bravemen and woman that have remained in the service”.
Further tongue-lashingthe governor, the PDP advised that instead of just setting up another committeeto probe the cause of the fire “as it’s the playbook of the APC government ofObaseki”, he should also apologize to the traders in Ekiosa “for his sluggishapproach in revamping and reorganizing a fire service worthy in name”. Accordingto the opposition party, Obaseki “should as a matter of urgency, pull up hissleeve and begin to govern, and spend less time, energy, and state resources ina needless battle of superiority with his Godfather”.
Nehikhare said EdoPDP would not tolerate a situation whereby governance takes a back row seat to politicalshenanigans, sounding a note of warning that “let it be known that the behaviorof the APC-led government is not politically bailable!”