By Magnus Eze and Adanna Nnamani
Barely a week after the authorities of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) reopened Wuse Market, Abuja, shut down over a fracas between pro and anti-President Muhammadu Buhari groups, traders in and around the place are still counting their losses.
Trouble broke out in the area on Tuesday, August 15, 2017, when popular musician and leader of #OurMumuDonDo group, Charles Oputa (aka Charly Boy) and his allies came to the market to protest against ailing Buhari and were resisted by the president’s supporters.
It was a herculean task for the security agents on hand to control the free-for-all that ensued, with many people injured and property, including cars and wares, allegedly destroyed in the process.
When Daily Sun visited the market Saturday, traders and customers were transacting business as if nothing was amiss. There was, however, apprehension among some of the traders as many of them expressed fears of possible reprisal.
Nevertheless, chairman of the Wuse Market Traders Association (WUMATA), Raphael Okorie, declared that there was no cause for concern.
“We have all returned to the market; there is peace and harmony in Wuse Market. Nobody died, there was no inter-ethnic or inter-religious fracas in the market; all of us Muslims, Christians, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, every tribe is here and the market is peaceful and safe. That is why people are continuing with their businesses,” he said.
Okorie commended the FCT Minister, Mohammad Bello, the FCT authorities and security agencies for the manner they handled the incident, and for reopening the market in good time.
Two traders, a dealer in curtains and furnishing materials, Vincent Ngene, and livestock dealer, Ibrahim Yari, also lauded government for preventing the situation from escalating.
Counting their losses
However, traders have been counting their losses because the disruption of the market that fateful day caused many to abandon their wares for dear life while others, especially dealers in perishables, lost them to wastage as they were unable to continue trading after the clash.
One of the traders at the market, Joy, who sold snacks, said her merchadise was not destroyed in the stampede but, as a result of the closure of the market and the tension from the fracas, she was unable to finish selling her wares, and all was wasted at the end of the day.
A moi-moi seller, who gave her name as Hawa, said she usually made about N6,000 daily from her business at the market but on August 15, she was unable to earn even half that amount.
Hawa narrated how she had to give away a better part of the remaining moi-moi to her family and neighbours rather than throwing it all away.
Another food seller, Nana, recalled how she ran for her life leaving her food behind, and, on returning after a little calm, she could not continue selling due to fear and the disruption of the marketday. She was left with no option than to pack up her things and go home.
In her words, “When I saw people running helter-skelter; I tried to inquire what was going on. I ran too, leaving my things behind.”
However, one of the security men at the market, who did not want his name mentioned, told our reporter that the incident claimed one life, outside the market.
Daily Sun gathered that the traders’ association working closely with the security agencies ensured that life and property within the market were fully protected. One of the strategies, according to Okorie, was to quickly shut the gates of the market; preventing miscreants from taking advantage of the crisis to loot and destroy people’s property.
That move paid off inside the market but the hoodlums had a field day outside. One of the places mostly affected was Café De Rock, located opposite the market’s entrance, where many of the traders had run to take refuge.
Efosa Obasohan said the place was completely ravaged, with chairs, refrigerators, drinks, and other valuables destroyed; in addition, money and other items, including edibles, were looted.
He added that attempts to set the place ablaze failed because the early morning rain of that day had left the thatched roof damp.
Recalling the experience, he said: “A lot of people lost their wares and other items; there was a food vendor whose things were damaged. At the end of the day, the woman had to give out what was left to the same people that attacked and scattered her wares, the almajiris.
“On our part, most of this place was damaged; the louvers, the seats. We can’t operate effectively, as three refrigerators were damaged. We had to rent these white chairs for those who come to watch football matches. Some cash, two cable TV decoders and sound mixer were stolen. They destroyed the alcoholic drinks we had stocked and carted away the soft drinks. Even though we made representation to the police, they did nothing to save this place.
“And because of what happened, we are afraid that this place might be a theatre of war by October 1 due to the Arewa youths’ quit notice. So, we are not ready to effect repairs here; we would want to maintain a low profile because nobody knows what would happen next.
“There’s anxiety, most traders in this market mainly from the South are not sure of their status. It’s not yet October 1 and what is coming out of this part of the country against the South is worrisome. Many people are travelling out of Abuja; some traders are not ready to renew their stocks because of what happened that day; they are running down on their inventory. Some are even relocating down South because there could be events leading up to October 1. So, the issue of life and security is very critical here.”
Obasohan, who said he had not been able to do any financial assessment of the losses, described them as enormous, adding that the aftermath was adversely affecting the business because some customers were apprehensive that, in the event of a recurrence, the place could be a sure target of attack.
He, therefore, called for proper profiling of people in the market, regretting that most of the youths allegedly responsible for the attack were the barrow pushers, many of whom had no visible means of livelihood.
According to him, “there is probably the need for the security agencies to sanitise the market. There should be some forensic work to weed out those who don’t have anything doing in the market or those who can’t be traced if things happen.”
Enormous goodwill gone
Chairman of WUMATA said no property was lost within the market as every effort was made to protect traders and customers. He, however, noted that the sales of that day were gone while the market may have lost the enormous goodwill of customers.
He said: “We can’t quantify what was lost in terms of majorly goodwill; it’s unimaginable how many billions we had lost in terms of sales. Average sales turnover in Wuse Market in a day is about N20 billion. The incident of that day may have also scared away habitual Wuse Market shoppers and they may not come back to the market again.”
On how they were able to handle the situation, the market leader said: “The moment the pandemonium started, we assessed the scenario and decided in the best interest of the market and the general public to shut down the gates. This became very necessary because the influx of miscreants from Jabi and other locations that surround Wuse Market was enormous.”
Okorie explained that for several hours, the security services, working with the FCT authorities and WUMATA, went round the market assuring people that there was peace and security, before the decision was taken to completely evacuate the market and shut it down in the interest of public peace.
He was optimistic that such an incident would never replay in the market.