DAWN INFERNO GUTS THE SUN, HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS LOST
It wasn't exactly the Armageddon; but for those who witnessed it firsthand, no other word could have aptly described the fiery scenario. At the corporate headquarters of The Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of Daily Sun, Saturday Sun, Sunday Sun, Soccer Star and The Spectator, Tuesday, June 29, 2010 was an unusual day. It was the day an unwanted guest visited, devouring items worth hundreds of millions of naira.
It was the day a mysterious fire came calling at the complex housing the offices of Nigeria's highest selling newspapers, spreading unmitigated gloom among the workers.
By the time the air cleared, several offices had been greedily consumed by the mystery inferno even as millions of naira worth of equipment and, especially, newsprint, lay in ruins.
As Monday night dissolved into dawn on Tuesday, several weary staff stood with mouths agape, as they stared at the disaster caused by the early morning conflagration.
What they had on their lips were questions: 'How did it happen? What brought about the fire that almost turned this beautiful dream into a nightmare?'
Israel Akiode is a panel beater as well as a staff of the circulation department. Having finished his job on Monday night, the young man had packed a few chairs with which he made a bed in the Sports Desk located beside the Press hall. Not too long after, he woke up with a start and discovered that he was almost choking. He was the first person to notice the smoke.
'It was a few minutes before three O'clock,' he told the reporter. 'Everybody was sleeping. I was also sleeping inside the office of the Sports Desk with a few other people, including Femi Eseku, the graphic artist. All of a sudden, I noticed a thick smoke. So, I woke Femi up and we both ran out. We went straight to inform the head of security. By the time we came back, we discovered that the smoke had covered everywhere. We discovered that the fire started from the clinic.
'We then went to wake everybody sleeping in Sports and Soccer Star offices. We also wanted to force the door to the clinic open, but the security man, Emma, told us that there was nobody inside. When we opened the door, we discovered that the entire place was on fire. We tried to put out the fire with the fire extinguishers, but we couldn't do much. At this time, people had started gathering. Everybody was trying to quench the fire, using buckets to fetch water and everything. But by that time, the fire was becoming uncontrollable. Then it burst into the Sports desk. That was when we knew that things had got out of hand.
'Then I collected the keys of some cars parked in the premises from the security and I started driving them out. Ndubuisi, the driver of the staff bus, also joined me in moving the vehicles out.'
Femi Eseku also relayed his experience. Corroborating Israel's account, he said by the time he rushed out, he was already blinded by the smoke and couldn't see anything. As such, neither him nor Israel was able to retrieve their personal belongings from the fire.
'We lost everything,' he recalled. 'I mean everything. Our phones, shoes, bags and everything that belonged to us were consumed by the fire. By the time the fire fighters came and battled the inferno, we had lost everything.'
He also recalled the moments after he was rudely roused from his early morning slumber. 'By the time Israel tapped me, I was already choking. By the time we woke everybody up, the whole place was in darkness. We ran out and the alarm that we raised woke everybody in the press hall and in the other offices.'
The senior security man on duty, Mr. Emmanuel Igwe, was one of those who helped contain the fire before the fire fighters came. 'We began to fight the fire with all available tools,' he said. 'I called the fire service first before I called my security manager, Mr. David Ugbudian. Eventually, the fire people came and helped us put out the fire.'
Editor of The Spectator, Mr. Shola Oshunkeye, was in his office when the unwanted guest called. He told Daily Sun that he had just concluded producing his paper for the week and was about nestling down on a couch in his office when he got an unusual call.
'I was in my office on the second floor when I got a call from the Night Editor, Mr. Oluwole Ogunbameru. He said I should come out, that the place was on fire. I rushed out. When I got to the floor, the fire was actually belching out ferociously. I was alarmed. But the staff on night duty did a tremendous job curtailing the fire. People grabbed whatever they could and started fighting the fire. I quickly called the MD and the DMD to inform them about the incident.
I tried the numbers of some senior police officers in the state, but they were not going through. I then drove to Julius Berger and was given the numbers of their fire department. I called and called, but they did not go through. I started coming back in frustration. At Mazamaza, my car just packed up in the middle of the road, but miraculously, I saw a police patrol vehicle. I went to meet them and they now took me to the Festac fire station. Another patrol team soon joined us, and that was how the fire people started coming. Eventually, about six or seven fire trucks came and battled the fire.'
Mr. Rasak Fadipe, assistant director, Lagos State Fire and Safety Services led the team of fire fighters to the scene. He said that the outfit, knowing the importance of The Sun in Nigeria, had to deploy no fewer than five fire-fighting trucks to the scene.
'We want to commend the workers,' he noted, 'especially the security men and the drivers of forklifts who helped us. We also commend the federal fire service for providing one vehicle, and we commend the Nigeria Navy for providing their fire-fighting vehicle.'
Very early that morning, top management staff of The Sun gathered at the company's headquarters in Apapa. The managing director and editor-in-chief, Mr. Tony Onyima, his deputy, Mr. Femi Adesina, as well as other directors, editors, their deputies and other management staff, all watched as the fire was brought under control.
In an address to the staff, Onyima expressed appreciation to God that no lives were lost in the inferno. He said the fire was not enough to kill the spirit of The Sun and vowed that the newspaper would continue to attain greater heights. He assured that the newspaper would not be daunted by the inferno.
Former managing director/ editor-in-chief, Mr. Mike Awoyinfa and his erstwhile deputy, Mr. Dimgba Igwe were also at the company to express their solidarity with the management and staff. In a short address to the staff, Mr. Igwe said:
'Looking at what happened, it could have been worse. We thank God for His divine intervention.
'The Bible says that in whatever circumstance, we should give thanks to God. The latter rain shall be greater than the former rain and by the time this whole place is rebuilt, it would be better than what it was before. Let no man's heart fail him. I want you people to encourage yourselves, be loyal and committed and support your management.
Awoyinfa, the former MD, added: 'The Sun must not die. It will continue to shine, and grow from strength to strength.'
Principal Manager, Human Resource, Pastor Patrick Enilama, said it was cause for thanks that no lives were lost to the inferno.
'We thank God for His mercies,' he said. 'We are grateful to him that no life was lost in what happened. This is no time to apportion blames on anybody.'
And for Mrs. Ify Anyalechi, the Procurement and General Services Manager, the incident actually provided an avenue to be grateful to God.
'We have every cause to bless the name of the Lord,' she said. 'Whatever has been lost would be restored. The Lord's hand is upon us; no life was lost. We are grateful to Him for He has done great things for us.'