Isigate Market demolition: Abia govt crackdown on street trading; the untold story
By Joe Akwarandu, Umuahia
Hundreds of traders, who left Umuahia for their homes at the yuletide returned to meet an unprecedented disaster as their containers and attached projections situated along Aba-Umuwaya roads in the metropolis were demolished by bulldozers.
The action was an aftermath of consistent warnings and directives from the state government against illegal roadside trading that has persisted since the regime of the past administration of Governor Theodore Orji.
Ochendo, as the governor was fondly called, had spent billions of Naira to build an ultramodern market at Ubani Ibeku along Umuahia-Uzuakoli road after demolishing the old Ogwumabiri-Beach Market at the heart of the state capital, which was constituting environmental hazard and embarrassment to and image of the state.
The Orji administration went further to rehabilitate a 4 kilometer road leading to the market and provided commuter buses at cheap rate to ferry traders from Umuahia to the modern market at Ubani Ibeku. He went further to convince an entrepreneur billionaire from the state to erect a housing estate, furnished with every necessary state of the art equipment, including a police station to protect lives and properties at the environment.
Having done all these, the government expected that all the traders, who were displaced at the old market (Ogwumabiri) would happily relocate to Ubani Ibeku, but were surprised that instead of moving to the new market, over 80 percent of the traders preferred to pitch their tent at the rail line, street and adjourning resident houses around the demolished market. Every effort made to force them to the new market at Ubani Ibeku proved abortive, instead, the remaining 20 percent of the traders at Ubani made a U-turn and joined them to further worsen the already bad situation.
As if that was not enough, all the streets, roads and lanes in the state capital became infested with traders of all kinds of wares ranging from second hand clothing, electronic equipment, perishables (tomatoes, pepper, onions, vegetables), hand barrows, containers of all sizes/makes and projected roofs to mention but a few.
The illegal traders nicknamed the area as ISIGATE. The Isigate became a beehive for criminals and pickpockets, who would snatch your belongings and stand tall to fight you without fear. Sometimes, the security men around would see such scenario and look the other way. Isigate became a ghetto in Umuahia, where there is no rule of law, no control, no security.
At Isigate, you are on your own. The environmental pollution at Isigate was uncontrollable. The traders there refused to take part in the monthly clean up (sanitation) exercises. These scenarios went on unabated until the coming of the new regime of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in 2015. The Isigate ‘crisis’ Ikpeazu inherited was like a midnight snake where you cannot identity the head or the tail. (I am sure the Isigate illegal market and the abandonment of billions of naira Ubani Ibeku Market must have given Ikpeazu’s regime a severe headache). Sources close to Orient Daily hinted that early last year, one of the task forces setup to handle the evacuation or Isigate traders mapped out a severe strategic option that would have put rest to the problem but had to suspend its operations because of the last general election.
Economic strategist, who spoke to our reporters, have blamed the state government over the stalemate insisting that the government was wrong in allowing the existence of Orie-Ugba Market and the newly erected Amuzukwu Relief Market, which was commissioned recently. They opined that the existence of these emerging markets would continue to stall the movement to Ubani Ibeku Ultramodern Market.
They went further to indict the former administration’s task force that handled the relocation to Ubani Market to high handedness and incisive in bloating the fee payable for usurpation of the stalls at the market, stressing that it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back and sent many traders rushing to Onuimo Market at Obowo in Imo State, where the government of Governor Rochas Okorocha had offered them free accommodation.
Before the bulldozers struck, the Abia State government had given 31st of December, 2019, as deadline to traders doing business at the city center to relocate to government approved market at Ubani or be ready to face severe consequences of their recalcitrance.
However, it was observed that all the warnings fell on deaf ears. Sources close to the Orient Weekend disclosed that the government further went round on Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 to intimate traders along Umuwaya-Aba road of the demolition exercise the next day but the traders stuck to their guns.
A trader (name withheld), alleged that they were deceived by some government officials on the eve of 2nd January, 2020, who told them that they were given up to Monday January 6th, 2020, to remove their projections. The sources stated that they were surprised instead of the Monday deadline, their shops were demolished on Friday, 3rd January, 2020 when “many of us were in our various villages observing the yuletide”.
Eyewitnesses explained that the demolition team were in company of security personnel and some hired hands and heavy duty bulldozers, who commenced demolition around 9pm when traders had closed their shops for the day. The demolition affected part of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) fence near some of the demolished shops as well as the pulling down of a projection at a relaxation joint under the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) Abia State council secretariat along Aba road.
Subsequently, the source maintained that as at 7am, Friday morning, most of the victims of the demolition, who rushed back to the scene, alleged that the demolition team looted their shops and carted away their money left inside their drawers.
Another reliable source told our correspondent that two state commissioners, Dr Solomon Ogunji (Environment) and Dr Cosmos Ndukwe (Trade and Investment) led the demolition exercise and directed the affairs up till 6am the next day.
When Orient Weekend visited Ubani Ibeku on Saturday, January 18, to see if the traders were responding to the relocation order, some bulldozers were busy clearing the bush and there were some mad rush of traders mostly the fairly used wares (Okirika) pitching their umbrellas and selling their wares, meaning the exercise was yielding fruits.
Further investigation also revealed that some recalcitrant and diehard opposition to the Abia government had, instead of relocating to the more spacious and comfortable Ubani Modern Market, have preferred to further congest the Orie-Ugba mini Market and the Amuzukwu Relief Market around the town.
Many cellphone calls made to the Commissioner for Environment, Dr Solomon Ogunji, to get his reaction to the exercise proved abortive till the time of going to the press.
Meanwhile, information have been filtering in that some dubious elements have started to frustrate the government effort at making sure that traders relocate to the abandoned Ubani Market. Sources have hinted that these elements have gone ahead to collect N5000 Naira from each trader, who steps into the market to do business.
Secondly, traders are not finding it easy to transport themselves and wares to Ubani Market as almost all the commuter buses provided by the last regime of Governor T.A Orji, have all disappeared and the privately own commuters have increased their fares from N50 to N100 for each trip. These are some of the impediments that would stall willing traders from moving permanently to the Ubani Ibeku Modern Market.