The popular Oba Market in Benin City, the Edo State capital, has been razed by fire.
The fire, which affected almost the entire market, according to eyewitnesses, started around 12.05am on Monday and raged till around 6am before it was successfully extinguished by firefighters.
It was learnt that there was no public electricity supply when the fire started, thereby ruling out the possibility of electrical spark, while the actual cause of the inferno had not been ascertained.
Many of the traders cried uncontrollably over the loss of their goods estimated at millions of naira and pleaded with Governor Godwin Obaseki and others to come to their aid.
The busy road in front of the market, near the Ring Road, was cordoned off by policemen and traffic was diverted to the adjoining roads and streets.
Men of the Edo State Fire Service, whose office is close to the market, were helpless as they blamed lack of water and moribund trucks for their slow response to the inferno, making some passersby to abuse and attack them.
The Assistant Controller, Federal Fire Service, Asaba, Delta State, Samson Karibo, who was in Benin with his men on a special assignment, assisted in extinguishing the inferno.
Karibo stated that the Chief Security Officer to Obaseki called him shortly after the fire started and he quickly moved his men to the scene.
He said he then contacted firefighters from the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, as well as those of the Nigerian Air Force and the Edo State Fire Service, who later came to the scene.
In spite of the early morning downpour, the fire was still smouldering as of press time, but policemen and other security agents prevented hoodlums from looting goods in the market.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Chidi Nwabuzor, could not be reached for his comments as of press time.
Meanwhile, Obaseki has set up an investigation panel to ascertain the cause of the fire.
The governor said this during a visit to the market for an on-the-spot assessment of the site.
Obaseki, who sympathised with the traders who lost their goods to the inferno, said an investigative committee had been constituted to ascertain the cause of the fire.
The governor said efforts were being made to identify the victims, who lost their goods to the inferno, for adequate compensation.
He stated, “The investigation committee will consist of officials of the Oredo Local Government Council, the Nigeria Police Force, Federal Fire Service, the state fire service, Department of State Services and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Special Duty, Yakubu Gowon.
“The committee will also ensure that suspected arsonists, who perpetrated the dastardly act, are arrested and prosecuted.”
Obaseki said the committee was expected to submit its report within 10 days and advise on measures to equitably rehabilitate the victims.