This time of the year synonymous with carols, lighting, shiny decorations, gifts, Santa Claus and firecrackers. But the old practice of setting off firecrackers at yuletide may never happen at Jankara market, Lagos Island, again.
Last Boxing Day, December 26, 2012, an explosion reportedly caused by fire crackers, rocked Jankara market, killing at least one person and injuring about 40 others. The explosion started in a warehouse at 45, Ojo Giwa Street, Jankara market, where firecrackers were stored. The building which housed the warehouse was razed to the ground, while about 13 adjoining buildings were badly burnt, some of which had to be pulled down.
One year after
Almost a year after the incident, the mood at the market was still sombre as traders and residents on and around Ojo Giwa Street are yet to recover from the losses incurred through the explosion. Many traders said the incident had changed the community as they declared their dislike for firecrackers.
Should anyone attempt to set off a firecracker in the market area as part of Christmas and New Year celebrations, one of the traders, Obinna Okoye, said the person would be risking his or her safety for the action.
“People will rush and fight anyone who tries to set off a banger here. Nobody plays with banger in this area since the incident. Nobody dares it because we have lost so much. I lost all the electronics I was selling and I had just paid rent for two years in advance and still had about eight months left when the explosion took everything away,” he said.
Another trader, Oluwaseun Shiyanbola, who blamed the incident for his father’s death, added that he would react strongly to the selling or setting off of firecracker in the market, considering his family’s tragic experience.
He said, “I can’t even predict what I would do if I see anyone lighting bangers here, but I know I won’t take it lightly. Nobody does that again here. There has not been a sound of firecracker here this year. In fact, if something like that happens, the police will have to be involved.”
Earlier in the month, on December 12, traders at the market gather to hold a special interdenominational prayer service. A trader, Chigozie Aghalu, described the programme as a “celebration of the lives of those who survived the incident.”
Aghalu, who lost two shops to the explosion, said he had been to hell and back since the incident occurred about a year ago.
He said, “Before now, they used to sell firecrackers here during Christmas period, but this time around, no one can sell or use them here. The incident changed everything for us. Nobody can light a fire cracker here, not just this place, but the whole of the Lagos Island. People will come together to fight the person before the person will be handed over to the police.
“When the explosion occurred, I lost everything and I had a family and my aged mother to feed. For a long time, we were relying on others to feed. Some of us who did not die in the explosion have died from worrying. Some took loans from banks and lost everything in the fire.
“Some are still dying till today because there is no way for them to get money to pay back their loans. After the incident, I went to hell and came back. I’m still not fully back; I’m still on my way back.”
At the makeshift stalls where the affected traders have been putting up since the incident, the stories of loss seemed to have become a binding factor amongst them.
Shiyanbola, who lost his 56-year-old father, Segun, a few months after the incident, said his father had slipped into depression following the incident.
“I lost my father due to the incident because he was always thinking about it. He died in his car but we knew what killed him because he was thinking a lot at the time. We lost about N10m worth of goods and it was a major setback for the family,” he said.
Shiyanbola said the trader using the adjoining stall, also lost her daughter to the explosion. However, Shiyanbola’s neighbour was not in the market when our correspondent visited the place.
Another trader, Mr. Wasiu Ajetumobi, lost two shops and almost lost his life as well, to the explosion.
Ajetumobi said he spent two months at the General Hospital, Odan, Lagos Island, spending about N500,000 on hospital bills. He claimed to have lost goods worth N2m to the fire.
One other issue that the traders were united on was their disappointment in the government for not coming to their aid since the explosion. Ajetumobi, who accused the government of insensitivity, said those affected had waited for close to a year for assistance from the Lagos State government.
He said, “Some government officials from the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency came around January 2013, about a month after the incident to get our names and other data, promising to assist us. But it’s been 11 months since they came and we have heard nothing from them.”
Shiyanbola urged the government to assist affected traders with the provision of funds and good shops to cut down their losses, saying such a move would “positively impact on the economy of the state.”
Since the explosion, the state government has taken a tougher stance on the buying and selling of firecrackers. Consequently, the rate of bursting of fire crackers seemed to have drastically declined within the metropolis.
Efforts to reach the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, were not successful as he did not answer calls nor respond to text messages sent to his mobile phone. Similar efforts made to reach the spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Ngozi Braide, for comments, were also not successful.