Craftsmen, NCAC spoil for showdown as artists lose over N400m in Abuja crafts village fire

Posted: December 18, 2017 in general
Tags: ,

By VICTOR NZE

“We don’t do 24 hour

Abuja 1

The Abuja Art & Crafts Village before Friday’s fire

s. By 8:30pm in the evening, the place should be closed for business. It’s a business environment,” Otunba Olusegun Runsewe declared on visiting the iconic Abuja Arts and Crafts Village after his appointment as Director General of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in April 2017.

To the newly-appointed NCAC boss, 24 open hours would require security round the clock, a luxury the NCAC, as operators of the Art and Crafts village cannot afford for now.

However, that decision is now at the centre of a raging controversy that has pitched resident craftsmen, shopkeepers located inside the village on one side against the NCAC on the other following the circumstances under which a fire, last Friday night, razed the entire crafts village costing the keepers over N400 million worth of precious artworks and textiles.

Abuja 2

What is left of the Village after the fire

The Abuja Arts and Crafts Village is located at the Central Business District in Abuja, behind the Silverbird Cinema. The village has three distinct craft sections: arts and crafts, painting, and textile.

“This place is a national monument. Our mandate is to protect, showcase, and enrich Nigeria’s cultural heritage,” Mr. Kennedy quickly adds with a winning smile,” captures Eguakun Kennedy, who serves as the Public Relations Officer of the African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association in the Arts and Crafts Village, Abuja.

According to eyewitnesses, the fire started late Friday night.

“The fire started late in the night at about after past 10pm. But there was no NEPA, so I can definitely say it was not from an electrical fault or spark as is usually the case or as anybody else would claim. The place was pitch black that night,” said a craftsmen, who simply identified himself as Musa.

Musa’s claim may suggest a clandestine motive considering that enraged shopkeepers and resident craftsmen the following morning rushed to burn down the NCAC stand at the village that was initially not torched.

Many posit that Runsewe had not handled the resident craftsmen/NCAC relationship rather diplomatically in view of how previous DGs had found a way of navigating through the delicate waters of managing the craftsmen in the village, even as others have accused him of highhandedness in finding a common ground of co-existence between both parties.

“If he (Runsewe) had allowed us to continue sleeping inside the village with our artworks, perhaps that fire would not have gotten out of hand, because I recall that there have been similar incidents inside this village of electrical sparks resulting in fires which were effectively controlled due to the presence of craftsmen on site. But now because we are no longer there, this has happened. This is our anger,” Ifeanyi Obi, a crafts dealer lamented.

“And you cannot say we burnt down our own works. This is our livelihood. Our lives We could not have destroyed it deliberately. I’m saying this because you may hear somebody in government saying that because we were not allowed to sleep inside the village with our works, so we burnt the place down. It’s not possible. We don’t know who did it. But we know for sure that if we were there protecting our works, this would not have happened. And we blame NCAC for this. They want us out of this place by all means, it’s not a secret, but we have lost a lot. And there is no compensation,” cried out Yusuf Adamu, who owns textile shop inside the village.

It would be recalled that last Friday night, well over 20 shops filled with artworks were destroyed in the fire at the Abuja Arts and Craft Village last Friday night, Mr Kanayo Chukwumezie, president of the African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association (AACHA) said.

Chukwumezie speaking on Saturday in Abuja estimated that the disaster caused a loss of over N400 million.

“We have not ascertained the cause of the fire. When the fire started and the first two shops were burning, our members wanted to rush in to stop the fire, but the security at the gate by the National Council for Art and Culture (NCAC) prevented them.

“Before the Fire Service arrived, almost all the shops were burnt: they were only able to extinguish the smoke. Artworks and other products for Christmas sales worth over N400 million were burnt to ashes,” Chukwumezie said.

He said that the NCAC had promised to put in place a fire service unit at the village to ensure prompt response to fire incidence ‘but nothing was done.’

“We use to stay in the village over night, but when they told us to stop staying there and promised to provide security and anti-fire measures, we stopped staying overnight. If we were allowed to be staying overnight, this fire accident would have been controlled by those around.

“We appeal to the NCAC to come to the aid of those that lost their means of livelihood in the inferno,” he said.

Meanwhile one the victims of the fire, Mallam Mohammed Lawal said he left the village around 8p.m. on Friday.

“I was called later around 10p.m. that the village was on fire. Before I could come back, serious damage had already been done. I believe if we were allowed to be staying overnight, such an incident would have been controlled before it caused havoc,” Lawal said.

Another shop owner, Mr Kennedy Idowu said he lost everything to the inferno including new art works and crafts for December sales.

“All, including the one I had before now were burnt to ashes. It’s so unfortunate. I am devastated now, where do I start from?”

A security guard at the gate, who pleaded anonymity, said that the fire service was contacted immediately the fire started.

“Some people attempted to come in, but we were afraid of hooligans using the situation to loot and steal items from the shops. However, some of us attempted to control the fire, but it got out of our control because the shops’ roof was made of dried grass,” he said.

The Abuja Art and Crafts Village which was previously a property of the Federal Capital Territory in care of the Social Development Secretariat (SDS) was transferred to the NCAC which now reportedly owns the Certificate of Occupancy on the property that is decades old and houses artisans and craftsmen who have long existed and did businesses there.

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