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Onitsha fire victims: relief materials be hijacked

Onitsha fire victims: relief materials be hijacked

First, the good news: six persons hospitalised in last week’s tanker fire in Onitsha, the commercial capital of Anambra State, have been discharged. Two, however, are still receiving treatment.

But the army of Ochanja Market traders who lost millions in burnt goods said they are afraid that promised relief materials may not get to them.

Federal and state governments have pledged to send relief to those affected by the inferno.

But speaking on behalf of the traders during the visit of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Hajia Sadiya Umar-Farouq, Chairman of Progressive Line, Ndubisi Onuoha said, “I know the reason why President Buhari sent you to us is that he wants to help us. But how the help will get to us is what we can’t guarantee.

“How can we be sure these things you promised us will not be hijacked by those big men? The worst part of it is that we don’t have their numbers and they don’t have ours.”

The visibly devastated chairman wondered how he would bounce back to life again, having lost everything to the inferno.

“I couldn’t remove anything, even a pin. Even when I wanted to, I fell down. It was God that lifted me up before I ran away. Those who insisted on going for theirs were consumed by the fire,” Onuoha narrated in tears.

The Minister had allayed the traders’ fears, assuring them that the assistance would not be diverted.

She said, “I’ve directed the National Emergency Management Agency and the State Emergency management agency to assess the extent of the damage and report back to the president.

“I’ve directed the SEMA to make available relief materials including food and non-food items to the affected population of the market.

“There’s going to be a need assessment. Our team will be meeting with the leadership of the market. The ministry will work closely with the state to ensure the materials get to you.”

The Medical Director of Toronto Hospital Dr Emeka Ezeh said six persons admitted to the hospital had been discharged while two who received severe burns were still in the facility but responding to treatment.

Dr Ezeh revealed this when Dr Obiorah Okonkwo, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) visited the victims.

Ezeh said two bodies were still at the hospital’s morgue waiting for identification from their relatives.

He said the two patients Blessing Egbugo from Imo and Ani Onuchukwu remaining at the hospital had severe burns when they were rushed in. Okonkwo prayed to God to grant them a speedy recovery.

Okonkwo was at the Ochanja Market where traders were still counting their losses. He promised to send a good fire-fighting van to the market, adding that it was negligence to allow such a place to function without such equipment. He also announced that his organisation Pro-Life Foundation would make sure those affected by the inferno would be rehabilitated even though the state government had promised to do so.

He said, “Anambra is a godly State, otherwise what happened on Wednesday would have been more than what we are seeing today.”

“Our markets deserve the best attention from any government because they are the places that pay major taxes and generate enough Internally Generated Revenues IGR for the state

“What happened could have been avoided. It was pure negligence. We cannot continue to weep all the time because we have abandoned our duties and responsibilities.”

“This market should be re-designed and fire-fighting equipment provided the way they are in other climes. What happened here a few days ago is pathetic and should not be allowed to happen again.”

Okonkwo promised to offset the remaining patients’ medical bill. The prospective beneficiaries were happy about the gesture.

House of Representatives Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness has said that it is initiating an inquiry into the fire incident.

Committee chair Hon Tunji Olawuyi described the incident as a preventable tragedy that “has led to the loss of precious human lives and enormous economic dislocation.

“The gory tales of the fire tragedy of Wednesday, October 16, 2019, in Upper-Iweka area of Onitsha is one preventable disaster too many,” Olawuyi said in a statement

He said that the committee was shocked and saddened by the sad event.

Specifically, he said that the “committee is working in earnest concert with the leadership of the House of Representatives to unravel the factors responsible for the apparent dismal level of response of fire service officials in this index case.”

The lawmaker said the committee would not neglect the associated factors that occasioned the petrol-tanker fire in the first instance.

This inquiry according to Olawuyi will afford the committee an opportunity to review country-wide disaster prevention, mitigation and response mechanisms, collaboratively with multilateral stakeholders.
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