Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

A Note on the Frequent Onitsha Market Fire

In this part of the world, we never learn lessons. We neither document events nor do we build from them. We prefer victimhood. It’s seemingly cheaper than hedging against risks or future unintended problems. We also have a bad trait of forgetting problems and the grave collective damage it caused us. And it’s quite astonishing that we invest a wild show of shock and emotions when there’s a repeat of the problem. Is it that we are superficial with our conversations or we are not intentional with growth?

What’s with all this prologue?

Well, I woke up today to the news of an Onitsha market fire. I also learnt that a fire truck from Asaba, a neighboring state was called to ameliorate the spread. AfiaTv reported that the fire broke out from a section called WhiteHouse which houses several warehouses and lace material shops. Millions worth of goods were definitely lost to the fire.

In October, 2019, a good portion of Onitsha market was razed down by fire. A few people died in the fire and hundreds of millions of goods were destroyed. Over 400 traders lost their shops and their means of livelihood. In the same October, Dr. Mcginger Ibeneme proposed a crowdfunding to assist these traders. I joined him and together we formed a small team. We shared a questionnaire to the victims to help us prioritize victims who had families and little children to cater for. Pictures of the questionnaires were sent to my WhatsApp and I collated about 170 submissions received out of the many entries. We then formed a partnership with Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation to reach a wider audience of sympathetic Nigerians. Through his foundation account, Nkemefuna Foundation, we raised a total sum of ₦4,854,309.80 between October 2019 and February, 2020. It was effectively disbursed to 92 victims at N52,500 each. Find the details here.

These details are important for documentation sake and to emphasize the fact that we do not learn from past problems.

We asked these traders if they had insurance and their reply was expectedly negative. For the average uneducated trader, an insurance scheme was a far cry. But is an organized market area, with motorable pathways rocket science? Even to the most simple, galvanizing as a market union to fund a stationery fire truck shouldn’t be difficult. But the story every other year is the same.

It will cost money to re-model our markets such that pathways are available for fire trucks to access buildings during such incidents. And at the least, for the market to look decent. Chaos is not the evidence of over-activity. It is just the result of a poorly organized people.

It will cost the traders monthly contribution to fund a fire truck domiciled in Ochanja market.

The cumulative value from the loss of lives and property worth hundreds of millions can sponsor these necessities that can forestall same fire outbreaks, over and over and over again. So, why are we penny wise and pound foolish?

As a people, we have become almost headless regarding having a collective vision. Is the plan to take 2 steps forward and 5 backwards? My conclusion on the matter is that It is cheaper to hedge risks than to rebuild after every inevitable and avoidable disaster. It is not a marker of the brilliant and business savvy people we like to pride ourselves in. Udo!