. No more street trading, shop owners must relocate to new International Market- Govt.
Street traders in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital has lamented over the sealing of their shops in some parts of the city by a combined Task force team working for the State government.
The traders who were seen milling around their locked shops while counting their losses in an interview with journalists said they were not informed of the reason behind the action of the government which they said came without a prior notice.
The action was carried out by members of the Ebonyi Neighbourhood Watch who came in about six Hilux vans.
The affected areas are; Gunning Road near the Abakpa Main market whose former occupants have relocated to the new International market, some parts of the popular Ogoja and Afikpo Roads among other major streets where businesses had been thriving.
One of the traders, Mathew Okorie who owns a super-market in an interview narrated “on Friday (last week), I was attending to a customer, before I knew it, I saw people running helter-skelter, carrying things. I just managed to be able to lock my shop. Every other shop around our area was locked down. We thought that it was just the normal routine they do here because it had happened in the past when they were relocating the Abakpa market.
Since the market was relocated in February, the first two months, they were coming and harassing us every now and then. So, I was thinking it was a normal thing. But on the following day being Saturday, there was a total lockdown and we didn’t sell. This morning again being Monday, I came out as a business man because that is the only source of income I have to feed myself, my family and my aged parents to care of only for them to come and seal my shop again.”
He said it was baffling that the action of the task force was coming after they had already paid for their shops for the year. “I pray the good people of Ebonyi State to hear my voice and intervene because where we are doing business is not part of the relocated market. All through the period they were talking about market relocation, we were not carried along, we were not asked to buy shops in the new International market because we are not part of the (Abakpa) market. I am asking that the government should allow us to continue our businesses because we have paid all our IGRs to the State and we are not inside the market”, he maintained.
Another trader, Mr. Nnaemeka Anayo who deal on Computer accessories recounted that all through 2018 and 2019 they have only been hearing of market relocation but were never part of it. “In February 2020 which was the last date for the relocation of the traders, there were security agencies everywhere who blocked the market and people in the market started packing out. While they were packing out, the security agents came to where we are staying which is about 100 metres from the market. They only told us to close. They didn’t tell us that we are part of the market and we were also relocating. We closed and the relocation to the new market took over a week. The market has been fully relocated and even the roofs have been taken off.”
He said he made the recollections because they have not been given any reason for the sealing of the trader’s shops. Mr. Anayo however said that they have been hearing rumours that the government wants them forced out their current business premises into the new International market, decrying that they were never part of the relocation plans ab initio.
“I cannot fathom a reason why they sealed our shops with ribbons. I have tried to lay my hands on a reason why we have been asked to close and our shops sealed and I can’t find any. I am very disappointed because that is not how businesses in other States are treated”, he stated, adding that it is clear the government has already achieved its aim of relocating the (Abakpa) market to the International market.
Mr. Anayo who described the situation as an abuse of their rights called on the government to allow them do their businesses and make their daily livings from it.
Another trader, Sunday Uchenna who deal on Phone accessories lamented that the actions of the task force has affected them morally, financially and materially. “This is because we were concerned with the global pandemic, upon that, the government boys came again and we are being traumatized. We are appealing to the government to please call them to order because if they are pushing everybody away from the street, there is no way everybody can find their feet. In the recent NBS report, Ebonyi is being rated poorly and with what is happening now, Ebonyi will still go down the lane”, he urged, insisting that people are not walking freely again due to fear.
He called on the Governor of the State to temper justice with mercy and intervene in their pitiable situation.
Another trader, Mr. Franklin Nwafor who deals on Clothings also decried the development.
“I’m not feeling okay with this development. I was very disappointed that a man can come out of his house to open your shop and they have blocked the road and people cannot have access to your shop. And when you ask questions, they say it is from government. I don’t know the reason why they have not called us for any meeting yet to tell us why they don’t want us to stay here”, he lamented.
Mr. Nwafor added that they were unhappy that some of them have already paid up to two years rent for their shops in advance. “When I called one of them and asked him, he said the government doesn’t want us to do businesses here again. But at least they should have called us to inform us to prepare ourselves to face that kind of situation because there is no town in Nigeria even abroad that you don’t see street trading. I’m not feeling happy at all.”
But the Special Adviser to the Ebonyi State Government on Markets, Mr. Emmanuel Uzor in an interview said the Governor had warned the traders that he doesn’t want street trading. “That place (Gunning road) was initially mapped as residential areas, but because of its proximity with the defunct Abakpa market, the landlords there, unfortunately turned their houses to commercial buildings. Now, with the relocation of traders from the Abakpa market and the Urban plan of the State government, if we want to bring the area back to the residential area which it used to be because there is no more market there that would warrant them to continue to sell there.”
Mr. Uzor said it is either they relocate to the International market, return the building back to the residential areas or it will remain shut-down.
Reminded that some of the traders claim to have paid some years rent in the said property in advance, the SA said “It is the hazard of the business. But one thing is sure, government is not revoking the land, government is not demolishing the buildings. Rather, the landlords are expected to renovate their buildings to be in tune with the Urban renewal plans of the State government.
For the traders, Uzor said he won’t guarantee that they are coming back any moment soon. “But for now, the shops will remain sealed while the traders move to the designated commercial area which is the International market.”
He further hinted that the government intends to have a meeting with the landlords to tell them the plans of the State government. “In the interim, they are expected to renovate the buildings and turn it back to the residential buildings they were before.”
He added that the traders were also given notice alongside the Abakpa traders who had moved into the international market because they were part of them. “It was even surprising to see some of them still trading along that road because we thought that with the movement of the traders to the International market, they should have moved with them. They have every notice, they have even the court order and if they are serious, they will show you all these things because we pasted it on their walls”, he concluded in a telephone interview.