Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
A businessman and warehouse operator in Onitsha, Anambra State, Chief Patrick Ezeifo, is fighting the battle of his life presently. Ezeifo’s once flourishing business of warehousing goods for people and logistics delivery is on the verge of total collapse.
The businessman is alleging that some powerful commissioners in the cabinet of Chief Willie Obiano have unleashed the instrument of violence and state machinery on his business. He said his adversaries want to crash his business so that his rivals, who are the commissioners’ friends, could prosper.
Ezeifo said he had been fighting the battle of his life, searching for help so that he could be saved from the attack by those he referred to as “powerful men.” He has sent a save-our-souls message to Obiano, asking the governor to save his business from total collapse.
He narrated his ordeal to the reporter: “About10 years ago, my cousin, Mr. Sunday Nkemdirim, who is based in Bayelsa State, bought two plots of land at 223 and 240 Obodoukwu Road and later developed one. Based on the nature of my business, he gave me the whole ground floor for my warehouse business, while the other undeveloped plot was used as a parking lot for heavy duty vehicles.
“I have been doing the warehouse business for seven years in my cousin’s building. We do not run a transport business; we only store goods for people until they are ready to carry them.
“Later, I applied and got approval from the Anambra State Government to do my business at 223 and 240 Obodoukwu Road, Okpoko, Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, and we have been doing the business and paying all the necessary levies. We have never at any time disrupted the flow of traffic in the area.
“I was, therefore, surprised to receive a telephone call on April 30, 2019, from the former commissioner for transport, who is now Commissioner for Trade, Commerce and Wealth Creation, Uchenna Okafor. He asked me some questions about my business and what we have been paying the government. I explained everything to him and he left without any indictment against me or my company.
“However, on May 1, I saw a group of people with three vehicles loaded with boys who claimed to have been sent by the commissioner and they started removing the vehicles in my company premises. The vehicles were taken to Urban Terminal Motor Park, run by another private company. When I asked what was going on, they said they were acting on the orders of the commissioner.
“I quickly reported the matter to the Okpoko Police Station and the Divisional Police Officer invited them and asked them to release our seized items because we did not commit any offence, but they refused. I then went to Awka to meet the commissioner, who called one of the boys and ordered the release of the six heavy duty vehicles they removed, even as they insisted that I must pay N212,000 to recover them, which I did.”
Ezeilo said he was surprised that one of the conditions given by the commissioner to release the goods and the vehicles was that he should assist another private business outfit.
According to Ezeifo, the commissioner said he should help the company, who are owners of Urban Park and involved in a similar business, to enable their own business to grow.
Ezeifo said he later reported the incident to his lawyers, who arranged a meeting with the commissioner. He said the managing director and manager of the company he was asked to help were also at the meeting.
“It was that day that I knew those who were behind my ordeal,” he said. “They even demanded in the presence of the commissioner that I must close my business at 223 and 240 Obodoukwu Road and come into the Urban Terminal Park to do the business.
“I asked them for a letter from the government, especially when I know that I do not default in paying what is due to government, but till date they have not come with any. Rather, they overpowered my workers and closed my business without any authority from the Anambra State government.
“I later heaved a sigh of relief when that commissioner was removed on September 19, thinking that my ordeal had ended. But I realised that my trouble was just beginning under the new commissioner, Dr. Christian Madubuko, who was former Commissioner for Commerce.”
Ezeifo said his workers were not spared, as they were intimidated, harassed and illegally arrested, using some government officials. According to him, he and his workers spent four days in Onitsha Prison after a ruling by mobile court allegedly instigated by his business rival.
“They started the trial of my workers around 5.30pm and anyone who pleaded guilty was released. When it got to my turn, I pleaded not guilty, like my manager and a few workers. They kept us on one side and from there they took us to Onitsha Prison, where we stayed from that Friday to late Monday night,” he said.
All efforts made to speak with Uche Okafor, the Commissioner for Commerce, were unsuccessful. He did not answered his calls to his phone neither did he reply text messages.
But the incumbent Commissioner for Transport, Madubuko, when contacted, dismissed all the allegations against him by Ezeifo. He said Ezeifo was being economical with the truth, insisting that government duly served him the necessary documents asking him to relocate his business to an approved park and stop running any private park in the area.
“Urban Terminal was not running when Uche Okafor was in charge of the transport ministry. I didn’t know Ezeifo before now and have nothing personal against him. He is causing nuisance along that Obodoukwu Road and the ministry wrote him but he ignored the letter. I sent people to seal his illegal park that has been causing gridlock around that area but he used his own power to unseal the park.
“I went personally to seal the park and he unsealed it again, so we had to take him to court. The court found him guilty and he was jailed. We have copies of letters sent to him for record purposes. He is telling lies and just telling journalists stories that would favour him. We are not after his business. If I close his business, will I train his family? We gave directive that all people running private parks should close them and enter into the bigger urban terminal but he chose to do otherwise, thinking he’s clever. If he has personal problems with the former commissioner, they should go and sort themselves out. I never knew him until now,” Madubuko said.