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‘A colossal loss’ - Fire destroys Nigerian seminary buildings

‘A colossal loss’ - Fire destroys Nigerian seminary buildings

A fire in the northwestern Nigerian state of Kaduna engulfed several buildings in the St. Peter Minor Seminary complex on Tuesday, destroying more than $445,000 in property.

The seminary had not been in use for two years — political insecurity and attacks on Christians had forced the Archdiocese of Kaduna to transfer its seminarians to a safer location.

But seminary rector Fr. Edward Sati said the archdiocese had hoped to bring the seminarians back if the area becomes more secure. Now, that may be impossible, unless the archdiocese can rebuild.

The Pillar spoke with Fr. Sati about the recent fire, what may have caused it, and the local reaction in the archdiocese. That conversation is below. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Fr. Edward Sati, courtesy photo.

Can you walk us through what happened on Tuesday?

On the afternoon of January 10, I got a call that the seminary was on fire. Immediately, I put in a call to Archbishop Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso, to [inform] him about what happened. I found my way to the seminary and discovered that two dorms were on fire. The youths in the town rushed to assist us to salvage the situation.

As we were doing that, we got another call that the dining hall and the kitchen were also on fire. We tried to stop the fire from affecting other structures. By the time we succeeded, the youths left but I was still there. The archbishop called to say he was close to the seminary, and he met me there.

While we were there, we noticed that the bathroom was also on fire. By the time we were trying to put it out, our attention was drawn to the fact that there was another fire somewhere. When we turned, we found out that the laboratories were already on fire. There was nothing we could do. We had to let it be.

Was anyone hurt? What was the damage?

No student, staff or community members were affected. The insecurity in this area made us transfer our students to the seminary in Kafanchan and Zaria. So, none of them were on the compound. So, no life was lost and there was no injury.

In all, two dorms, the dining hall housing the kitchen, and the laboratory block which has three laboratories for physics, chemistry and biology were destroyed. When you assess what was destroyed by the inferno, it would be over $445,000 (USD) worth of building, furniture and laboratory equipment.

St. Peter's Minor Seminary in the Archdiocese of Kaduna after it was destroyed by fire. Courtesy photo.

Has the cause of the fire been identified?

I cannot say exactly what caused the fire, but [it] might have come from a bush fire outside the seminary. I do not know who set the fire. Perhaps people hunting for rats or other rodents. The fire crossed over to the seminary and engulfed the structures.

Our students have not been around for two years, because of the insecurity. So, there was no light for [it to be] caused by electricity. There was nobody there except the security guards, who had taken their [rounds] and were back to the gate to continue their work.

So, we are not sure of the cause of the fire, but what we saw was that the fire outside the compound may have found its way [over] and engulfed the seminary. However, we are still merely speculating.

Were there measures to prevent the incident, such as fire extinguishers in place?

Well, I want to reiterate that for now, we do not have students. Because nobody is there, even those things that we had put in place to forestall these kinds of occurrences were carted away by vandals.

Because we ask the security men to go home at night for their safety, our fire extinguishers were stolen; even the transformer cables, security and solar lights have been vandalized.

If students were around, the tall grasses would have been [maintained] and the fire may not have taken over the buildings; even if it did, students would have alerted us and we would have done something about it.

What has been the reaction in the archdiocese to the fire?

We are so sad. This is a colossal loss to the Kaduna Archdiocese. Being mindful of the economic situation in the country, where do we get money now so that when security improves, we can call back the students?

For now, we have held a press conference. Two TV stations, AIT and Channels Television, have covered the story, and the news is all over Kaduna state, and Nigeria and beyond.

The archbishop is consulting on what to do next.