It is cruel; we demand compensation – Victims
We bulldozed market to boost development, say traditional ruler, council boss
From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Some traders and shop owners in Amufie community, Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, have been left distraught and in tears after the recent demolition of a major section of the Eke-Umuitodo market.
The demolition, allegedly carried out by officials acting on the instructions of Igbo-Eze North Local Government Council, saw almost all the shops in the market reduced to rubble.
Victims of the demolition told the reporter that they were taken unawares and could not remove their wares.
However, the traditional ruler of the community and the local government chairman have denied the allegation. They said the demolition was in the best interest of the traders.
“We had just woken up that morning when we got the news of the demolition going on in the market,” one of the victims, Mrs. Mary Idoko, said.
According to her, most of the shop owners got to know of the exercise through the shouting and wailing of sympathizers, and before they arrived at the market, their shops were in ruins.
They said efforts made by some good Samaritans to save their goods were fruitless, as the demolition squad employed bulldozers to effect the demolition.
Salih Abugu, a Muslim scholar from Amufie who appeared to be the principal spokesperson for the affected traders, said the demolition was not only wrong but was carried out to render the people economically impotent. Salih said the Igbo-Eze North Local Government Council should have served the shop owners letters notifying them of the demolition before carrying out the exercise.
“Unfortunately, the people just woke up that morning to see their means of livelihood acquired over the years reduced to nothing,” he said.
Prince Samson Ezeiyida, an Enugu-based businessman and second son of the late traditional ruler, Igwe Sunday Ezeiyida of Amufie, said he came home as soon as he heard about the destruction of the community market. According to him, his family owned about eight shops in the market before the sudden demolition.
“The land was allotted to my late father in 1973 by the then government and he built the eight shops with his own money under the supervision of the government. I was not even born by then. Now, look at what these people have done to my family and me.
“Igbo-Eze North Local Government just sent Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), regular police, Igbo-Eze North Vigilante Group and Federal Highway Police to provide security to the workers demolishing our shops, thereby rendering our people incapable of even protesting,” he said.
Mr. Ernest Ossai, whose wife had a shop in the market prior to the demolition, said the local government council had taken over their market and consequently allotted the land to certain rich individuals who could afford to meet up with their stringent financial requirements. He said for one to get a shop in the market now or even reclaim the land area that he formerly owned in the market before the demolition, the person had to pay between N50,000 and N60,000 naira to a certain market committee set up by the local government.
“We pay this money to the committee, which, according to them, would be used for the upgrading of the market. But it is quite obvious that the committee has not been working. They are only after exploiting us,” Ossai said.
At the time of this report, no worker of any sort was on the scene of the demolition, though there were two uncompleted structures. Moreover, some of the victims were on the site, trying to salvage what they could from the rubble.
“I now live at the mercy of my parents in order to survive. I have not been going to the market because I have no shop anymore. My goods were equally destroyed,” Agnes Eze said.
The displaced traders have appealed to the Enugu State government to come to their rescue.
Salih noted that, “We have been law-abiding citizens and have been paying our market levies. Property worth billions has been destroyed. We only demand that our rights should be restored. The chief responsibility of any government is to protect and safeguard life and property of its citizenry. We, therefore, call on the Enugu State government to urgently come to our rescue.”
The traditional ruler of Amufie autonomous community, Igwe Lawrence Ossai, maintained that the demolition was carried out on the orders of the local government, noting that those raising objections were enemies of the community’s progress and development. He said the demolition was part of the project to upgrade the market to meet modern standards. He also averred that notice was duly served to all the necessary parties, including the allottees in the market. The traditional ruler, however, declared that anyone who wished to own shops in the market from now would have to pay some amount of money, which he said was not peculiar to the community.
On his part, the caretaker committee chairman of Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Uwakwe Ezeja, said the demolition was carried out by the people of the community in their efforts to upgrade the market while the local government council only provided security to avoid a breakdown of law and order. He noted that market development was a core function of the local government but the council had been exercising restraint in executing such functions unless on the request of a particular community.
“The entire Umuitodo communities, comprising Amufie, Ikpuiga, Olido, Imufu, Igbele and others, all sent a delegation to my office, appealing for the development of the market so that it would even square up with the Eke Ozzi market, which has grown so big now.
“In the first instance, the market was originally built by the local government in the days of yore while the shop owners have been there on lease, which expired 13 years ago. But we still did it in such a way that all the shop owners were given the chance to retain shops there in the new modernised market plan.
“We served them notice four good times and even had to beg, cajole and appeal to their senses. Even the oldest man in the community summoned them to let them realise that the market development was in their own favour. One of the people who are raising this false alarm is a thug that has been causing problem in the community for a long time.
“They should not lie against us in this and I challenge anybody who said he owned a shop there and wasn’t allowed to acquire a new one now to come forward and make his claim,” he said.