Samuel Bello, Abuja
Roadside traders in Garki, Area 11, specifically around Gimbiya Streets, Abuja, counted their losses on Thursday, March 14. They watched as their wares burnt to ashes in the early hours of the day.
It was gathered that Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), stormed the area around 8am to evacuate traders and stop other illegal commercial activities in that vicinity.
The heavily armed force on arrival reportedly set ablaze goods of the traders. Many recounted how they had lost all they laboured for over the years, while passers by commiserated with them.
One of the affected traders, Isah Usman, said: “They have been warning all of us here for some time now, but unfortunately we didn’t see it coming. We were surprised when we saw police officers and some others with heavy guns everywhere like they were expecting us to fight back or cause chaos. They came with six Toyota Hilux vehicles in various uniforms.
“I lost food items, detergents, cooking tools and others. Normally, we give bribe to task force officers and they are not always this much. We pay N500 each per trader. Some of us sell cooked noodles, fried foods, and some others and we all pay these people.
“The officers came a day before they burnt my things, making the same threats they have been using and still asking for bribe. Most of us refused to pay; I’m not so sure if anyone paid. I think that provoked them and made them storm at us like that with guns. They even burnt a kiosk with goods inside after we begged them to help the owner keep his things because he was not around.
A witness, Buchi Ofulue, a panel beater who works in the area, said: “They should have respected themselves when they warned them a day before the incident. They specifically said they were coming to destroy. They have been coming but never took it that far. Normally they carry one Hilux and start charging all the traders N500 each. A day before they stormed the area, environmental task force came to take their usual money and the traders shunned them. I think that’s the problem.”
Although the incident might have caused serious economic disaster for many, but some of the traders heeded to the warnings by packing their belongings very early in the morning before it was too late.
The trader who pleaded anonymity, said: “I came very early this morning to pack my things because I don’t want problem. I had already arranged with someone to help me pack my things when I noticed how serious those people sounded a day before. I knew I couldn’t fight them because I know I don’t have any right to be trading there. I was not ready to lose what I laboured for.
“My problem now is where to start from. I want to get a shop of my own where I won’t be scared and nobody would be able to use my weaknesses against me. I’ll keep hoping on God that everything would fall in place.”
Head of Information and Outreach Program Unit of AEPB, Muktar Ibrahim, explained: “When people trade in unauthorized spaces, it would open the room for criminally minded people to take advantage of them. This is what usually happens when you hear people complain that some people come to extort money from them. It has even been discovered that there are imposters who already have the understanding of the workings of AEPB. They go round posing as AEPB staff, collecting money from people.
“That place is actually not a trading area. There is a big notice board there, stating the purpose of that place that has been left undeveloped. It is a road corridor meant for a rail track for maybe metro line. I think we should respect that, instead of putting illegal structures. Whatever structure you see there now is only a temporary thing because it is actually meant to serve the people. Abuja being a modern city, it’s expected that there would be rail lines running through the length and breadth of the city to make transport easier.”
When asked if it was necessary to burn the goods, he said: “If they seize their goods, I think the goods can be carted away. The logic behind that is when you tell these people to take their goods away, the very next minute they are back again there. I think that should part of the reason for them to destroy these goods. I don’t think it’s the first time they’ve been given such warnings.
“They recycle themselves. You can remove 50 people in a week and next week, you’ll arrest 50 other people, but you’ll discover that among these 50 other people are those that were arrested in the previous week. So they just keep going round and round because when they are arrested and penalized, they are back on the street and why is this. It is the problem with the act that setup AEPB.”