[Part 1] The year is 1976. The city is Aba. In the thick of the night, smoldering embers morph into a petite fire in an unfortunate stall in the heart of the city’s Ekeoha Market. Encouraged by the market’s dense layout, the rogue blaze stealthily spreads to neighboring stalls packed with dry goods and garments―the perfect kindling. Thick plumes of black smoke are soon seen wafting into the air. Like a courrier, the midnight breeze picks up the troubling aroma of ash and burnt wares, signaling the on-going disaster.
Concerned, sleepy-headed neighbors peek out from their windows.
The local fire service is alerted.
La lo loo! Hwe kena o bu ngiri eh?! [Ngwa for: oh my goodness! What is this?!]
By the time the fire service arrives onto the scene, the situation has grown dire. A raging inferno can be seen from the market’s gates and desperate traders, hellbent on rushing into the blaze to salvage what little they hope still remains of their goods, are being restrained by empathetic citizens. Almost comically, the municipal fire brigade arrives on-scene with lorries that are empty of water. After a fruitless search for nearby water taps, reinforcements are frantically radioed from Umuahia and Ikot Ekpene. Eyes watch helplessly as the greedy fire rages on, consuming everything in its path.
The calamity that befell Aba on the night of Saturday, May 29th, 1976 is known as the Ekeoha Market Disaster. Ekeoha Market was a large commercial complex that had grown from its humble roots as the weekly Eke market of the local Ngwa community. Over the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, the market evolved into a bustling commercial hub that housed numerous businesses in a variety of industries ranging from textiles and shoemaking to metal-forging and china. Punctuated by a brief decline during the Biafran War, the market saw tremendous growth following the resurgence of economic activity in the post-war years of the early ‘70s. The Ekeoha Market Disaster proved to be the market’s demise. Over the course of a single night, the complex was razed to the ground and uncountable fortunes were lost by thousands of traders and businesspeople. The effects of the calamity throughout Igboland were resounding and the pain and frustration were deep. Artists and musical groups including Oliver de Coque, the Apostles of Aba, the Chuks Dandy Orchestra, and the Abigbo Mbaise Cultural group took to the microphone, producing records that eulogized the old Ekeoha Market, as a soothing balm to help heal the Aba business community.