Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD – an environmental and human rights advocacy group – is aware of Abia State government’s directive that parts of Ahia Ohuru Market (otherwise known as New Market) be demolished.
This initiative, FENRAD understands, is aimed at building a better market with facilities like parking lot and others. While this may not be entirely bad, it is not timely and ideal given the short notice government served the traders – only on Saturday, May 22, 2021 – whereupon marketers learned the demolition was to happen in few days’ time. The notice, if it achieved anything, only created panic on the part of the poor traders and presented the state government as unthinking and callously insensitive. There is no logic in removing a market or its part(s) without wider and proper consultation that leads to a healthy dialogue between the marketers and shop owners and government or its agencies. FENRAD condemns this as both untoward and entirely undemocratic wondering if the purported plan to bring down the market is in line with recovering Aba plan or just a new initiative of the government.
To this end, FENRAD, after consulting with the traders and shop owners, also participated in the town hall meeting between Hon. Obinna Ichita (Member Representing Aba South at State House of Assembly) and the marketers and shop owners on Thursday, May 27, 2021. While Hon. Ichita could be given kudos for his intervention in the said issue as the market falls within his constituency, FENRAD wonders what relevant state ministries like Works, Information and Commerce are doing to engage the traders than mere releases and in some cases outright silence.
Government should not treat marketers and traders unjustly – or as those to whom it goes only when election is near – given the revenue numbers they return as part of state independent revenue (internally-generated revenue, IGR) and given also their role in driving the economy of the state as the mainstay and locomotive for growth. For a state without much industries like Abia, there is greater need for government to be in the same page and at pace rather than at disparity with traders.
Again, given the lockdown and other too many post-pandemic challenges that have affected the cost and ease of doing business everywhere in the nation and the state – Aba included – government’s role ought to align with policies of recovery and growth at a time like this. If this plan is carried out, there is no gainsaying that it would create economic displacement among traders and their families; even affect inter-state trade that happens between Abia and its neighbours.
What does the government aim to achieve in all this? FENRAD urges the government not to worsen the already fragile security situation in the state in the name of market removal or demolition because such move could lead to protest and such protest are capable of being hijacked by hoodlums in these days of ‘unknown gunmen.’ There is that saying that: ‘You do not beat a child and stop his mouth at the same time’, and so policies like this may likely instigate a protest that could be infiltrated – as recent events had shown.
Though there is a claim that government has alternative for the traders – the provision made at Good Morning Market – the traders are not yet at home with such idea since most of them built the shops themselves or bought same directly from state government.
What is more, the traders, all who spoke during the town hall meeting feared the Ikpeazu-led government is embarking on shops redistribution policies that favour his cronies having used them as a voting bloc. This fear, FENRAD understands, may not be the case but has been heightened by lack of communication between the state government and the traders or perhaps by the failure of the traders’ union – Ngwa Road Market Traders Association, NGWAMATA – to communicate to their people what the policy of government is. Many traders who spoke to FENRAD in camera said their union leadership is not drawn from their ranks, a clear sense of alienation they feel and suffer. FENRAD urges the state government to, in the interest of democracy, begin a conversation with the people which must elucidate the plans of government; the goals and benefits of same if put in place; how recompense is to be made to see losses are not borne by poor traders; assurance that no shop owner loses his/her shop after construction, all which are to be captured in article of agreement.
FENRAD thinks government should vertically initiate a two-party talk involving traders on the one hand and the marketers at the other hand. For example, marketers understand that many of the levies they pay many not be coming directly from the government. Such levies like fire extinguisher and other imposed charges are obnoxious to say the least.
Though as at the time of the town hall meeting announcement was made at the market that demolition may likely start the next day, May 28, 2021, it is undemocratic to displace people economically with such a short notice. This is similar to the experience of most shop owners who lost their title and right after the Ekeoha Market in Aba was reconstructed.
Government should think of dialogue and not of to demolish.
Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
FENRAD Executive Director
Barr Olusegun Bamgbose
Head Legal Team
Head Human Rights Enforcement
Aba.Abia state, Nigeria
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