This is probably the most trying time for Francis Daniel Azi, a businessman and a furniture maker at the popular Kugbo Furniture market in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
Azi lost a large part of his investment in a fire incident that occurred on Sunday, January 10.
His four shops which were lined up in the timber sheds were all burnt down. They housed industrial machines for furniture production, finished furniture, Mikano generators, and other working equipment -all worth millions of naira.
According to The Nation newspaper, over 80 timber shades and 300 furniture shops were burnt, including countless valuables in the inferno that started at about 6 am.
According to the father of four, three of his five shops at the furniture market were in a spot and all served as his production factory.
A fourth shop, his warehouse, is where the finished products were kept and the last one, in a different location, is where he displayed his furniture products.
Building From A Similar Fire Accident
In his over 13 years in furniture making business, Azi has suffered loss twice in the market to fire incident. Like every peasant, his days of little beginning were as a roadside furniture maker at the same Kugbo market.
“I started with one shop by the roadside at Kugbo furniture market. Gradually, I grew my business and moved to a bigger area,” he recalls with nostalgia and sadness, because, six years ago, his shops at the same particular ‘timber shade’ as the market is known, got burnt.
Before the Sunday disaster, he had just purchased an edging machine last month that cost about N9.5 million.
Four of these machines got burnt alongside a cutting machine worth N4.5 million, a wood sawdust dryer, some six to seven million naira worth of machines — big and small, he told HumAngle.
Sunday morning when the fire incident believed to have started from an electrical installation, Azi was out of town. He was in Jos, the capital city of Plateau State when he got a call around 6 am there was a fire in the market.
“I placed some calls to see how the fire could be controlled,” he said, adding that no one knew what caused the outbreak.
The Federal Fire Service Station at Nyanya, few kilometres from the market was first contacted but did not respond early enough.
Help, however, came from a close-by Military barracks that has a fire service. A Chinese construction company working on a project in the neighbourhood also came to the rescue with water tanks, HumAngle learnt.
Asked to estimate how much he lost entirely, Azi just gave a sad smile and kept silent, preferring not to remind himself of the magnitude of his setback.
He had 10 people working for him and paid them between N20,000 and N300,000 monthly. But, he can longer afford to retain their service. His shops and equipment were not insured, nor were they purchased through loans.
“This was all my hard-earned money,” he told HumAngle. “God knows best,” he would later mutter in response to a question about his plans to revive his business.
The following morning, some of the debris was still burning as little fires engulfed the timber shed. Many traders were seen walking around the devastating scene and counting their losses.
This is not the first time the Kugbo market would go on fire. In 2013, there was a similar outbreak at the furniture market. And, in January 2020, about N25 million worth of furniture from 39 shops was destroyed by fire at the same market.
Azi recalled that his shop was affected eight years ago.
“In 2013, my shop razed down before my very eyes. I was just driving into the market and I heard the boom, I was told to turn back because people were not allowed to go close to the fire,” he narrated.
He pointed out that, although his shop was quite small in 2013, he lost some millions and a customer who was already present at the scene to get his goods.
“I was just making little furniture at that time when I was at the waterboard side of Kugbo,” he said. That same year, he had an accident that confined him to crutches. But he bounced back nevertheless.
“I gradually recovered and started the business from the bottom in 2016 and, that year, I bought my two machines. One for filing edges and the other for cutting. One was worth N7.5 million and the other N2.7 million.”
But the Sunday fire outbreak was much more than any other fire that has happened.
Any Succour From The Government?
“There was no plan from the government. Although the government came with promises, I, in particular, did not receive anything and people I know also did not receive anything,” Azi stressed.
Following the fire outbreak, Dr Ramatu Aliyu, the FCT Minister of State has called for the reorganisation and remodelling of the market.
“We will look forward to the reorganisation of the market. FCT Emergency Management Agency will come and take stock of the extent of damaged goods, even though we have some figures here,” Aliyu said during a visit to the market after the incident.
Conducting the minister round the scene, Sani Sa’idu, the Acting Director FCT Fire Service, was reported to have informed the minister that the fire outbreak could be linked to an electrical upsurge.
The minister after seeing the extent of damage at the market tasked traders to take precautionary steps because the goods sold in the market were highly inflammable.
She also appreciated the efforts of the firefighter service.
Azi pointed out that officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) came around earlier to assess the damage and promised they would do something. He advised that a fire service station should be established close to the market to easily calm subsequent fires.
“I will first blame our leaders here at the market for not putting any structure to curtail a fire outbreak,” he said.
Protest By Shop Owners
Shop owners were protesting on Monday when HumAngle’s reporter visited the market. Holding placards, they complained to the government that their business is being done in a risky environment.
“If productivity is well appreciated in Nigeria, we cannot be doing such good works inside the bush,” said their spokesman, Kenneth Mary Amobi.
“The government should give us a place to stay, we are not touts but registered businesses.”
Policemen of the Kugbo Area Command were soon after deployed to disperse the crowd of aggrieved demonstrators.
Leading the team of the law enforcement agents was Ogar Linus who told the protesters the government was already aware of their plight and urged them to halt the demonstration.