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Tribune Online
How 400-yr-old Oyo market was razed in its first fire incident


During the reign of the Alaafin Atiba in Oyo came the Akesan Market, located till date at about 100 metres from the frontage of the Alaafin’s palace. Its immediate neighbours also include the Oyo Central Mosque and the famous Atiba Hall, which overlooks the market from the western part. It’s a day and night market where varieties of items, especially consumables, are sold.

In its over 400-year existence never had the Akesan Market witnessed a fire incident because, Nigerian Tribune learnt, of its management which strictly observed and maintained preventive measures both in the day and night. That was the days when one Aroja was in charge of the big market ably assisted by lieutenants such as Otun, Osi and Eketa, all of whom superintended the affairs of the market according to the dictate of the Alaafin, regarded as the owner of the market.

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi gave an insight into the management and relevance of the market. According to him, “The Aroja was appointed by the Alaafin to oversee the affairs of the market on his behalf. He drew his remuneration from the palace and ensured full implementation of rules and regulations guiding the business of the market. With him and his subordinates, the Alaafin could sleep and close his eyes on matters over the market because Aroja was a competent and disciplined man who would not compromise his strict management of the market.”

The Aroja’s strict management of Akesan Market was complemented by a unit of eagle eye guards who ensured no trader, for instance, was permitted to return to his or her stall after the official closure of the market. The vigilant guards would not only prevent the trader from entering the market, they would also take him or her to higher authorities for interrogation and subsequent sanction.

Nigerian Tribune also gathered that owing to the efficient management of the market, the Akesan is called the head of all other markets not only in Oyo metropolis but also in the whole of Yorubaland. This is contained in a popular Yoruba panegyric which states thus Akesan bale oja. Every successive Alaafin owes the market an obligation to ensure the standard is sustained, hence for six consecutive years, the Akesan Market, it was further learnt, emerged the best organised and neatest market in the old Oyo State.

However, the inevitable taking over of the management by the local government secretariat with traders remitting market levies to the government was said to have made it susceptible to practices inimical to the hitherto orderly manner in which the market had been run. So, when in the early hours of Sunday, fire gutted a section of the market and spread to others, those who knew quickly reminisced the beautiful old days when such incident was non-existent.

Before filing this report, no one could pinpoint what triggered the outbreak which destroyed the livelihood of about 700 shop owners. To come up with a conservative estimate of the loss was a herculean task for the Iyaloja of Oyo, Mrs Adepeju Bakare while conducting member of the House of Assembly representing Oyo Federal Constituency, Akeem Adeyemi round the wrecked shops in the company of our correspondent.

The visibly devastated Iyaloja replied: “As I speak with you, I cannot just gather myself to make an estimate of this loss. You can see the extent of destruction. You can see that only few shops located outside were spared. I thank my father the Ikubabayeye for his words and actions since the incident occurred.”

It was learnt that no sooner than the news broke than the Alaafin visited the scene. Before the day broke when sympathisers stormed the scene, Oba Adeyemi had returned to the palace with enough pieces of information, especially the conduct of a gang of hoodlums who allegedly prevented a team of fire fighters from the neighbouring fire service station, from stopping the spread of the outbreak.

The hoodlums were said to have armed themselves with weapons to unleash harm on those who ran against their rule at the scene. “Honestly, these area boys caused the spread of the fire by blocking the officers who rushed to the market when the fire started. They had mobilised themselves to the spot, desperate to loot shops. I was told that they even beat and injured one of the officers. These hoodlums have constituted a nuisance to the town, doing things as if they are above the law,” one Wasiu Adepoju who claimed to have arrived the scene from his Owode residence told Nigerian Tribune.

The Alaafin lamented the fate of the society as regards respect for humanity, saying painfully that this generation had lost compassion for fellow humans. Oba Adeyemi said the lawlessness demonstrated by the hoodlums at a time they ought to have used their strength to assist in quenching the fire, was a demonstration of unemployment explosion in the country, calling on the government to see the violent reactions beyond the surface level and investing in them to prevent further danger.

“I went to the scene in disguise at about 3:30 am and saw what they were doing. If not for the ‘Operation Burst’ officers, they had wanted to burn the fire service station. But before the officers came, they had vandalised the only operational truck parked in the premises of the service. I want to commend the security agencies, including the police who first responded to the incident. It is also unfortunate that we are, in a hard way, paying the price of unemployment explosion in the country. But looting a burnt market and vandalising property definitely can be disturbing.”

The Alaafin would return to the palace, freshen up to receive sympathisers and particularly representatives of Oyo State Government led by the Commissioner for Works and Transport, Professor Raphael Afonja. Inside the palace hall, the Alaafin gave on the spot narrative of the incident to the amazement of his audience, making a clarification that the fire service officers were not culpable of the allegation leveled against them by the impatient public who turned them to the culprits.

He said their truck had been, few days back, used at a scene of a similar incident in the town, adding that it could have also undertaken the market assignment but for a mechanical fault discovered at the last minute, a situation which necessitated reinforcement from Ibadan, not Ogbomoso, as being peddled.

While being conducted round the market, Honourable Adeyemi told our correspondent that he had contacted the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for intervention in the area of supplying the market and particularly the victims, relief materials which would cushion their losses.

“Going by what we have all seen so far during this inspection, you would agree with me that the losses are massive. Even if I were not the representative of these people in the House, as a human being, I should feel for them. That is why I am here to see the situation for myself with a view to having a clearer assessment of the losses,” Adeyemi said.

It was learnt that a good number of the traders hardly return home with their sales proceeds, not unmindful of robbery attacks on their way home. Some of those people were said to have slumped at the sight of the inferno eating up their valuables.

A particular trader (names witheld) was said to have owned about four shops all of which were consumed by the conflagration before dawn. “I was told the woman is not in a hospital because she could not bear the pressure of losing millions of naira to the fire just like that. This incident affects the entire Oyo town because there is no family which is not selling one or two things in that market,” a source disclosed.

“This incident is devastating. I thank the state government for its quick response. I am calling both state and federal governments to come to the aid of the victims. The public should also note that this is harmattan season when they need to be very careful in the way they handle inflammables,” Oba Adeyemi advised.

Despite the extensive destruction recorded, there was no report of any life lost in the fire, except the allegation that that the police opened fire on the rampaging hoodlums during which three fell. However, the Commissioner of Police, Oyo Command, Olushina Olukolu has washed the hands of his men off the allegation.

In a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, Olugbenga Fadeyi, a Superintendent of Police, the CP explained that none of the police personnel fired at the hoodlums.

“Instead, the police personnel under the able supervision of DPO Durbar and Area Commander, Oyo Area Command prevented hoodlums and the mob from attacking the Oyo State Government Fire Station in the town as well as the Durbar Police Station, Oyo from being set ablaze.

“More importantly, adequate security measures were provided at the market to deter hoodlums massed at the scene of the fire incident in the early hours of the day at about 2:30 am from capitalizing on the situation to loot shops and properties at the scene. But, at about 0700 hrs, a report was received at the Durbar Police Station by the DPO that a sister security agency arrived at the scene of the incident to assist in the provision of security,” the statement read.

Similarly, the Olu of Itori, Oba AbdulFataiAkamo also prayed for Oba Adeyemi with a declaration that the burnt market would give a way to a modern one.

However, the Oyo State government said it was ready to acquire 10 modern fire-fighting equipment. The state Commissioner for Infrastructure, Transportation and Public Works, Professor Raphael Afonja, made this known while inspecting the level of damage at the market.

How 400-yr-old Oyo market was razed in its first fire incident
Tribune Online

source https://tribuneonlineng.com/how-400-yr-old-oyo-market-was-razed-in-its-first-fire-incident/

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