Some traders at Euroasia Plaza on Breadfruit Street, Lagos State, say had the firefighters responded quickly to their distress calls, the fire which devastated the building would have been put out on time.
The five-storey building housing wholesale and retail shops as well as a branch of a commercial bank was engulfed in an inferno on Saturday.
The traders, who spoke to PUNCH Metro on Monday, said even when the firefighters came, they were complaining of poor remuneration, conditions of service, lack of water and firefighting equipment.
They also said the incident had plunged them into debt due to the losses incurred.
General Manager, Bestway Plaza, Mr. Ikechukwu Obuegbu, said the traders lost unquantifiable amount of money.
Bestway Plaza is one of the plazas in the five-storey building, comprising dealers in ladies and men’s wears as well as boutiques.
He said the plaza had more than 32 shops, stressing that no shop had less than N3m worth of goods.
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According to him, the fire started from the fifth floor around 4pm on Saturday.
Obuegbu said, “We were downstairs. Suddenly we saw smoke coming from the top floor. Initially, we thought it was dust but we later realised it was fire.
“We started calling firefighters. They did not arrive on time. Before the firemen arrived, the Union Bank Fire Service did their best. Some traders managed to salvage the few goods they could.”
James Mouneke, a trader, was of the view that the late arrival of firefighters made the inferno to spread.
He said, “It is only in Nigeria all this rubbish can take place. The fire that could have been easily put out was allowed to assume this dimension because people are not punished for their negligence.
“It took the firefighters more than two hours, after our distress call, to arrive. When they came they started complaining of poor remuneration and conditions of service.
“I have a fashion designing shop and I have lost millions of naira. I do not know where to begin from.”
As for Emeka Okoye, a dealer in jeans and other men’s wears, he said the situation had put him in a confused state.
“Where do I start from? As I speak with you, I am not composed. I borrowed some money to stock my shop, now fire has destroyed them. I cannot ascertain my loss now,” Okoye said.
Another trader, Chinedu Ezebuife, said he lost goods in the region of N3m.
He said now that the place had been cordoned off, the time of fixing the building which had been seriously destroyed was dicey.
When our correspondent opted to speak with the head of the federal fire service on the scene, he initially declined comment, saying he was not ready to say anything.
“You can see our people are on ground. They have been here since the incident occurred,” he said after our correspondent pressed further.
General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Femi Oke-Osayantolu, said investigation on the cause of the fire was ongoing.
He said the next action of the government would depend on the findings of structural engineers.
He said his agency, officials of the state Ministry of Health, policemen, firefighters have been working together to achieve a common goal of protecting lives of the people.
On why the smoke was still billowing from the building after claims that the fire had been put out, Oke-Osayintolu said, “The fire has been put out. Don’t forget the building is a commercial building and there are a lot of inflammable materials. That is why we have stationed our rescuers here.”