By Olisemeka Obeche & Phil Okose
Almost four weeks after a fuel-tanker crash spewed fuel and fire, consuming everything on its path at the auto spare parts, Ochanja and Emordi Shoe & Bag markets in Onitsha, victims of the fire disaster are still waiting for the much-advertised government’s assistance. Orient Weekend gathered that official assistance is yet to reach about 300 traders whose properties, shops and wares worth billions of naira were consumed by the inferno that started around noon October 16, 2019 and raged for almost three days. Recall that the Governor Willie Obiano administration compiled a list of the victims through a Rebuilding Committee led by His Royal Highness, Igwe Charles Agbala of Uke, Idemili North Local Government Area. While some sympathizers such as Pastor Chukwuemeka Odumejeje, renowned transporter, Chief Godwin U. Okeke, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Chief Kennedy Okonkwo etc, had doled out monies to some of the victims,
the state government’s rebuilding committee is yet to deliver the much-awaited compensation to the victims. Kenneth Osita Nneke, one of the lucky traders who escaped death that ill-fated afternoon but lost goods worth over N3 million, told Orient Weekend from his sick bed that promises made by the Anambra State Government and other top politicians that visited the market in the aftermath of the fire disasterwere yet to reach him. “I did not receive any kobo from the state government or any top political leader. Nobody had contacted me or anybody I know as regards how they can assist us to mitigate our losses. It’s almost getting to one month since the incident happened and, so far, we have not seen anything in that regard”, he said. Chief Chinedu Anthony Okonkwo, spokesman of the landlords/plaza Owners Association at Emordi Shoe and Bag Market and one of the major victims of the fire disaster lamented the failure of the state and federal governments to come to their aide. Chief Okonkwo who is the
owner of City Plaza that was completely razed by the fire told Orient Weekend that the cost of the destruction at the Emordi Bag and Shoe Dealers Association section was about N20billion and that they expected Anambra State and the Federal Governments to have come up with financial package to assist them mitigate their losses. “Our cry is for government to help us recover what we have lost. We are not fighting anybody. We only want government to hear us”, he said, stressing that “most of the victims now have nothing to do. Some are frustrated and have gone to their villages and more are dying while some are in the hospital”. Okonkwo, however accused the President General of Ochanja Central Market, Chief Nelson Ojukwu and his executive of not only preventing sympathizers from coming to the plazas where he said much destruction was done, to see the extent of damage, but also diverting money given to the fire victims by the sympathizers to their own personal pockets. “They misinformed the government and the people that it
was Ochanja market that was in flames. But this is not true. It is only a little touch of the inferno at Ochanja Central Market. The bulk of the damage was at the Shoe and Bag Market where you have the plazas”. But Ojukwu swiftly denied the allegations leveled against him and his executive, claiming: “Nobody gave me a dime for the victims of the inferno”. According to the Ochanja market President General, “those accusing and blackmailing me are the same people who are eyeing my seat. There was a time they carried coffins and ambulances and dumped them in my office premises “. According to the market leader “a 10-man committee, five each from the government side and the rest five from traders, has been constituted and charged with the responsibility of receiving all monies, relief materials, among others from sympathizers on behalf of the victims of the inferno”. He stressed that, “names of the victims and shops affected have been compiled by the state government and we are awaiting the help from the state government”. Orient Weekend also recalls
that the Minister of Human Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, had on visiting the scene, pledged that both food and non-food relief materials would be shared among the victims but one month after, the relief materials are yet to arrive. Efforts to ascertain when Anambra State Government would begin disbursement of the relief materials and financial assistance to the fire incident victims were not fruitful as the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, M C. Don Adinuba did not respond to the inquiry seeking his clarification on the subject. However, a top government official who spoke to Orient Weekend in confidence expressed doubts that the Onitsha fire incident victims would get tangible package from the state government. “It’s less likely that the help they expect from the state government may come any time soon because the government is still struggling to meet some of its financial commitments. There are more pressing things on the government’s priority list”, the source said.