A four storey ultra-modern shopping mall in Benin City, the Edo State capital popularly known as Phil Hallmark located along Sapele Road has been razed by fire.
Scores of sympathizers including Governor Godwin Obaseki, lawmakers in the Edo State House of Assembly and political bigwigs in the state have visited the scene to commiserate with the owner, Mr Philip Edigin.
The burnt mall which is the only ultra modern shopping mall in Benin is known as the ‘Shoprite’ of the state capital.
Sources said the fire started at about 12 midnight and lasted till about 8am Sunday morning when the fire was finally put out.
Goods worth billions of naira were destroyed in the fire as all the four floors, including an extension used for administrative purposes were affected.
Employees of the firm were seen around discussing what would become of them especially during the Yuletide celebration.
Some fire service men who pleaded anonymity said preliminary investigation showed that the fire was caused by an inverter that was wrongly connected.
Governor Obaseki who was at the scene at about 9am expressed shock that the State Fire Service claimed that they could not respond on time because of lack of materials like diesel.
Obaseki said investigation would be conducted into the activities of the state fire service to ascertain their level of preparedness for disaster.
According to him” This incident happening at this time of the year is a catastrophe. I have asked for written report and investigation into the cause of the fire. We will also investigate the claim by an official of the state Fire service on the allegation of lack of equipment.
“Because I understand that trucks were distributed by the NDDC and the State Government during the last administration”.
Managing Director of the Super Mart, Mr Philip Edigin, told the Governor that all efforts to get the State fire service to come to their rescue proved abortive as the fire service told him they have no diesel to work.
Mr. Edigin said help came from the Nigeria Air force fire service, IDSL NPDC and UNIBEN and that the State fire service came at about 6am.
A supervisor in the State Fire Service, Mr. Franklin Agbonlahor appealed to government for urgent upgrade of facilities and equipment of the fire service station.
The lawmaker representing Egor constituency in the House of Assembly, Crossby Eribo said, “It is very sad. Even if we had a very good and controllable fire service, it still would have been very difficult because it is large shopping mall. ”
“It is a massive loss at this festive period when people are trying to shop with the recession. In fact, I was in tears when I came.”
One of the staff said he heard about the incident through the radio and he was shocked when he resumed office to see that it was Phill Hallmark.
“When I came down to the place, it was very terrible. It was still burning then and everybody was shouting.”
“It is a big supermarket. We are just so sad. Nobody was expecting it; many of us were even supposed to resume after church.
“I think there was a wrong connection. There is an inverter there and it was not connected well. It think it caused the fire.”