Tony Okafor, Awka
No fewer than 108 shops were gutted by fire on Wednesday at the Nnewi Timber Market in Anambra State.
The incident was said to have generated a controversy between the police and the traders.
While traders in the market accused the police of complicity in the inferno, the police attributed the fire to some hoodlums who attempted to evade arrest.
The Chairman, Nnewi Timber Dealers Association, Chief Nonso Nnetu, said, “A combined team of security operatives made up of the police and a vigilance group arrived at the market in about eight patrol vehicles and moved straight to an erosion site at the south end of the market in search of cultists, hard drug sellers and their consumers.
“As soon as the operatives entered the valley around 12pm, I saw smoke with flames rising from the area. Though the operatives, while pursuing the suspects tried to put out the fire with the assistance of the traders, they couldn’t.”
Nnetu regretted that processing machines and goods worth millions of naira were lost to the inferno.
One of the fire victims, Chief Dozie Egwuonwu, said he had just stocked his shop with goods worth N30m, which were consumed by the fire.
The leader of the vigilantes in the community, Dr Maduka Atuenyi, who doubles as the Chairman of the Nnewi and Anambra South Vigilance Group, absolved the police of blame, saying the suspects started the fire.
The Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, Haruna Muhammed, also dismissed reports that the police caused the fire.
He said, “On Wednesday, a cult and drug sellers had a clash at 100 Foot Road, Nnewi, causing serious pandemonium in the area.
“Following the report, police patrol teams, in conjunction with a local vigilance group, quickly mobilised to the scene and arrested four suspects on the spot.
“The remaining hoodlums blocked the road and set fire to the sawdust in a bid to prevent the police from taking the suspects to the station. The fire overwhelmed the people who tried to put it out, which extended to the timber market.
“As a result, a police patrol vehicle attached to Otolo division and three vehicles belonging to the vigilance group, were stoned by the rampaging youth. Meanwhile, normalcy was restored in the area and a total of 35 suspects were arrested.”
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