In Benin, families inconsolable the day after the fire which killed 34 people

“Four members of my family perished in the flames,” says Antoine Djanta in a trembling voice the day after the fire at an illegal fuel depot in southeastern Benin which left 34 dead and 20 injured

In Benin, families inconsolable the day after the fire which killed 34 people

“Four members of my family perished in the flames,” says Antoine Djanta in a trembling voice the day after the fire at an illegal fuel depot in southeastern Benin which left 34 dead and 20 injured.

In the house of this 54-year-old man, a few kilometers from the scene of the tragedy, neighbors flock in small groups to offer their condolences to the bereaved family.

“What have we done to deserve to lose our loved ones like this?” exclaims the trader, inconsolable like the other members of this family who survives thanks to the trade in contraband gasoline with Nigeria.

The day before, one of the main gasoline storage warehouses located in Sémè-Kraké, a border town with the neighboring oil country, went up in smoke in a few minutes.

Twenty-four hours later, all that remains are walls and the charred carcasses of cars and motorcycles.

In the surrounding area, all the shops have their doors broken down. The day before, the occupants and local residents had to do everything they could to recover what could be saved before the arrival of the flames.

Massavo Houngbo, 42, a trader who also makes a living from gasoline trafficking, still can't believe it. He and his eldest son narrowly escaped death.

“I had dozens of cans there,” he says. “I had completed formalities for one of my loads which was leaving for Cotonou. But the transport vehicle was delayed and I had to leave the place with my son to return later.”

Ten minutes after his departure, an explosion, then enormous black smoke.

"We lost a lot in this fire, but we cannot mourn the losses. We are alive and that is priceless," the man said, holding his head in his hands.

According to a report from the authorities on Saturday evening, 34 people including two babies died in the flames. And twenty people were injured, some seriously, and admitted to hospital.

The government had not communicated a new report on Sunday evening.

An investigation was opened to determine the circumstances.

Since the 1980s, fuel from Nigeria, one of Africa's leading oil producers, has been transported illegally to neighboring Benin where gasoline is resold along the roads by a multitude of informal sellers.

This contraband gasoline, called “Kpayo”, has become the main source of fuel in Benin, and it supports tens of thousands of people.

Until last May, it was almost three times cheaper than that sold in Beninese service stations, because Nigeria had until then subsidized its fuel.

But this trade carries great risks due to the precarious conditions of storage and transport, and fatal fires are frequent.

Since 2018, the government has been trying to put an end to this trafficking and formalize the sector, by encouraging the creation of service stations but also the reintegration of players in the sector through training.

But the scale of the sector is such that even the end of fuel subsidies in neighboring Nigeria, decided at the end of May and which tripled the price of Kpayo, making it more expensive than gasoline sold legally in stations, does not did not put an end to trafficking.

“The drama that has just occurred reminds us of the urgent need to resolve the kpayo issue,” Beninese Minister of the Economy Romuald Wadagni told the press on Saturday evening.

“There are 54,000 points of sale of contraband gasoline in Benin,” according to him.

“And we all realize that we can no longer continue to sell bottled gasoline... We are convinced that by giving these actors a decent job, they will be able to change activity,” he said. -he adds.

According to him, more than 5,000 people have already benefited from training in textiles to change activities.

At the border, dealers say they are in shock.

“There was too much damage,” said one of them, on condition of anonymity. “The State must help us because we have no other job to do apart from this one.”

24/09/2023 22:46:00 - Sémè-Kraké (Benin) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP