A trader at the Alaba International Market, Lagos State, Kamlotachukwu Arum, has accused guards at the market of looting her shop and stealing goods estimated at N65m.
The Anambra State indigene claimed that after perpetrating the act, the men also set her shop on fire to cover up their crime.
She stated that efforts to involve the police were frustrated by the market leaders, who asked her to see the incident as an act of God.
Reporters gathered that, on March 3, 2019, Arum received a call from one of the traders asking if she was aware that her shop had been burnt.
She told our correspondent that she was surprised when she got to the scene and observed that only her shop was affected.
She said she could not find the remnant of burnt goods, which aroused her suspicion that there was more to the fire.
Arum said, “When I got to my shop, I discovered that things were not normal, because inside my shop, where I had about 300 units of keyboard that I just took delivery of that week, there were no scraps or remnants of the goods. The few scraps were only arranged along the line of the shops but there was nothing inside my shop. The upper part of my shop, where I kept my goods, looked as if it was swept; so, I smelt a rat and rushed to the Ojo Police Station that night and an officer followed me to the market.
“According to report, seven security guards were on duty that day and they did not report the incident to the police or the fire service; they also did not inform anyone in the market when the alleged incident was happening. It was when I called the market’s CSO that he informed the chairman.
“I went back to the police station the following day and the DPO told me that an arrest could not be made in the market until the chairman instructed them, but our chairman travelled to Abuja and when I called him, he said I should tell the DPO to arrest the security guards on duty on the day of the incident until he returned and when I went back to tell the DPO, he said I should tell the chairman to call him, but the chairman said I should hold on till he returned from his journey; so, the police were unable to make an arrest.
“The chairman called when he got back to invite me to his office and when I got there, he said he and the elected officers had interrogated the security guards on duty and that his position was that I should take whatever decision I wanted to take to get to the root of the matter.
“The chairman called me the following day to tell me that the executive members said his decision was harsh and that they would set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter, because the rule of the market was that whatever happened there would be first looked into internally before involving any external agency.”
The trader further told newsmen that a seven-man committee was set up to investigate the matter and was asked to submit a report two weeks later.
Arum, who said that the outcome of the committee’s work was not communicated to her, said all efforts to get the report had proved abortive as the Chairman of the International Market Association, Electronics, Paulinus Ugochukwu, kept pushing her around.
She added, “I involved the chairmen of the other sections in the market and they advised the chairman to involve the police, because the incident was not something that could be handled by the market, but the chairman told them that he was waiting for the report of the panel that probed the incident.
“I sent a letter to the chairman in September 2019 requesting to know the outcome of the investigation by the panel, but he didn’t reply and after some weeks, I went to his office and he told me that if I did not want to let the matter go that I should do whatever I wanted. He said his advice would be that I should forget the matter and take it as an act of God.
“I went to the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and a letter was written to the chairman asking him to forward the names of the security men for prosecution and that the executive should live up to their responsibility to me and perform a duty of care, which they owed members, but the chairman wrote back to the OPD that they were not a charity organisation and that they did not owe me anything and that the fire incident was an act of God.”
When contacted by the newsmen, Ugochukwu refused to comment on the matter and directed our correspondent to the association’s general secretary.
“I have nothing to say on that matter. I have finished that case and I don’t want to go back to it; you can contact the secretary to give you the committee’s report,” he stated.
The General Secretary of the association, Ben Okolie, told our correspondent that the panel had submitted its report to the executive committee of the association.
The association, in a letter written and signed by Okolie in response to the OPD’s enquiry, stated that the victim’s shop was not broken into, adding that the security guards on duty made a frantic attempt to save her shop from the inferno.
He added that the fire was probably caused by Arum by switching on electrical gadgets in her shop at the close of trading.
The letter read in part, “The security men on duty tried to fight the fire to the best of their ability and in the event of a fire outbreak, the mindset of any rational man is to fight the fire and not to start making calls, which is tantamount to abuse of duty.
“The focus and diligence of the security men were what culminated in restricting the fire to that very shop; fighting it to non-escalation should be commendable and the misinformation that her goods were stolen is ridiculous and mere fabrication.
“The association did not prevent the police at anytime from carrying out investigation; after all, she reported the matter at the Ojo Police Station and all the security men were interrogated by the police. The panel of inquiry established that the fire might have been caused by your client, who might have left all electrical gadgets on, because she was in the habit of doing this in the past.”