Ebonyi traders at war

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Tradersat Abakpa Main Market, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, are at war path with government over its attempt to relocate the market to a new site. In fact,some of their leaders have dragged the state government before the NationalHuman Rights Commission (NHRC), alleging that their lives were in grave dangerfollowing government’s insistence in closing down the market without a viableoption.

But the government said there is no going back on the relocation of the traders to the newly built St. Margaret Umahi InternationalMarket. Aside the Abakpa Market, government said theBuilding Materials Market also in Abakaliki has been relocated but to EzzamgboBuilding Materials Market in Ohaukwu council area.

Daily Sun gathered that some reprieve came the way ofthe traders recently, as Governor David Umahi extended the earlier relocationdeadline of October 18, 2019, to January 10, 2020, following the interventionof the leadership of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN): “I am going to movethe date of relocation of the market to 10th of January 2020 to honour CAN, butCAN, I must get an agreement from all of them. Anybody that is a market personthat does not sign this agreement individually must leave by 10th”.

However, the traders recounted their ordeals in thehands of the government and its agents. They claimed to have taken refuge indifferent parts of Enugu and Anambra states, alleging that their shops, homesand houses of their relations were sealed off and put under lock and key becausethey refused to withdraw the market union’s matter from the state high court seeking, amongothers, a restraining order on government over the proposed relocation: “The President, Inspector General of Police should call ourGovernor to order by asking him to unseal our shops as it is our only source oflivelihood.”

Thetroubled traders said their expectation was that governmentwould have built and equipped a new market for them to relocate insteadof a flooded and uncompleted market that was abandoned for bad terrain. Some ofthe representatives of the traders included Chief Mathias Obiaju,Elder Emenike Ugbala, Chief Pius Ifebuche, Sylvester Nwite Mbam and OkeminiOnwe.

The traders had asked the court to restrain the state government from carrying outany action that would negatively affect their businesses: “There is an urgent need to restrain the defendantsand their agents from victimizing, harassing or carrying out any punitiveaction against the applicants and their members in whatsoever manner inconnection to this matter pending the hearing and determination of motion onnotice.”

But the Commissioner for Commerceand Industry, Chief Donatus Njoku dismissed the allegations as baseless. He said governmentwas not after anybody but was instead modernising the market to meetinternational standard, adding that movement to the new site was not compulsory: “If anybody’spremises were sealed, there must be a reason. They should be able to tell youthe reasons because it could be somebody who doesn’t pay environmental fee. Orthey don’t have soak away or something like that. There are reasons why one’sproperties can be sealed and it should not be associated with the market issue.They should be able to tell you, my compound is sealed because of so, so, andso reasons. Government cannot because, may be you don’t want to move or youwant to relocate to another place now force you to say, now come. How can weeven begin now to seal shops or residential buildings before the time ofmovement? It is not done.”

He said all wasvirtually set for the relocation, adding that whatever that had not been donewould be concluded by the end of the month: “Government is already prepared. Ifyou visit the market, you will see it for yourself. Most of the shops are readyand with the number of shops that are ready now, there is no way the traders fromAbakpa Market will occupy all of them. So, we are very prepared.

“Every otherthing like leveling the whole place, and trying to make it look good, we areon it. In fact, before the middle of November we must have put everything inplace waiting for them. We have equally been meeting with them, telling themthat we cannot wait till January 10. The movement has to start gradually now sothat by that 10th, everything about the movement must have beenconcluded.”

Investigation revealed that ownership of theshops or the lease arrangement in the new international market has been part ofthe issues. Official records showedthat the traders were on July 25, 2019, served a quit notice bythe Chairman of Ebonyi Local Government Area, Mrs. Chinyere Nwaogbaga, directing them to exit the market latest August 31,2019.

It was reported that48hrs later, the governor himself issued another letter mandating them to quitthe market almost immediately.

In 2001, during the reign of the then Governor Sam Egwu, the space where themarket now sits was reportedly leased to the traders by the host localgovernment area for 30 years, to build their shops and further develop them before possible renewal. This is to mean that the traders still have 12 years left to stay in the market before any relocation or occupancytermination attempt.

Now, having agreed torelocate, the traders were said to have pleaded with the government to swapshops for them at the new market since they still have 12 years to stay at theAbakpa site, and the fact that they have committed substantial amounts of theirmoney to making the market what it is today. Their supplication fell on deafears as government insisted that they must pay N3.2 million for each shopat the new market. While the traders attempted a bargain, government then allegedlyupped the price to N 4.2 million.

They had paid between N20,000 and 300,000 as charges for the purchase of forms into the newmarket thinking that a swap option was going to be given to them by government.

Even though the shops have been advertised for sale,some traders were worried that allocation would be a form of politicalarrangement. They expressed the fears that the shops may actually be given out for political patronage who will now sublet to traders that may not get the allocations.

The commissioner dispelled that: “Ashop there, down stairs is N4.2 million, while upstairs is at N4 million each.”

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