From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Tension is brewing in Onitsha markets in Anambra State over the delay in conducting election into the leadership/executive positions available in many of the markets in the city.
From Onitsha Main Market to Ochanja and Bridge Head, among others, most of the traders are agitating for proper election of officers in the markets.
Enquiries by Daily Sun showed that there are about 64 major markets in Anambra State. At present, most of the markets are operating with caretaker committee leadership constituted by the state government through the Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Wealth Creation.
The arrangement for caretaker committee arose when the tenure of the democratically elected leadership expired. government instead of conducting elections to fill the leadership positions chose a caretaker arrangement.
In some of the markets, the former chairmen of such markets whose tenure expired were also returned as chairmen of the caretaker committees.
Government, in explaining the rationale for appointment of caretaker committee, hinged its reason on the outbreak of COVID-19 which made it imperative to appoint people instead of allowing general election that normally pulls crowd because most of the elections are conducted, using Option A4 .
The Option A4 method allows all registered members of the market to file out and queue behind the candidate of their choice during elections.
The city hosts various markets where many traders are big time importers of various goods and control large capital.
Government is also aware of the huge capital inflow that circulates in these markets, hence it has been very interested in controlling affairs in most of the markets so that the accruable revenue can enter into its coffers.
Ordinarily, the control of market revenue rests under the function of local governments but in Anambra State, following the gradual eroding of the local government system by the refusal of the state government to conduct proper local government elections, the local governments have existed as mere appendages of the state government.
The state government has practically taken over the control of all major markets in the state. They collect revenue from the markets, supervise the election of its officers and also bear undue influence over its affairs.
Sometimes too, the market leaders becomes an extension of the ruling party in the state as they wear party uniforms, attend political meetings and also endorse candidates of the ruling party during elections.
But the agitation this time is the delay in the conduct of proper elections into most of those markets. Some of the traders, who spoke said they are tired of caretaker arrangement and the recycling of old executives of the markets.
The subdued voice of the traders literarily exploded last week at Ochanja Market when the monthly prayer session normally hosted in the market ended in fiasco as the angry traders disrupted proceedings at the arena while protesting the delay in conducting election into the existing leadership positions in the market union.
The prayer session had moved on smoothly with praises and preaching of the gospel until the concluding part of the exercise when the embattled caretaker committee chairman of the market, Chief Nelson Ojukwu, wanted to give vote of thanks and also make some announcements.
The angry traders who had waited patiently suddenly sprang to their feet shouting on the chairman to allow the traders elect their leaders.
Some brandished placards chanting protest songs drowning the voice of the chairman despite the fact that he was using a microphone.
They chanted in loud voices saying: “We don’t agree, give us a date for our election, you have overstayed your welcome and we won’t allow you to address us,” among others.
The atmosphere became tensed as vigilante operatives guarding the market fired several gunshots into the air and the traders scampered in different directions, thereby bringing the prayer session to an abrupt end.
Some of the angry traders, who spoke including Charles Eze, Onyekachukwu Anigbo and Sir Clifford Iloduba, said the traders were angry over the elongated tenure of the Nelson Ojukwu leadership in the market.
They disclosed that the leadership has served out their first tenure of four years before he was appointed as caretaker chairman for an initial one year which elapsed too but has been renewed twice for another three months interval.
They also accused the leadership of sit-tight syndrome alleging that the game plan of the caretaker committee was to extort the traders over the planned building of new shops about to commence in the market.
“The tenure of our chairman has expired. Government has also ordered markets to conduct elections into the markets but the case of Ochanja cannot be different. He has the right to contest again under a free and fair model. We are not against any individual but let the right things must be done,” Charles Eze said.
Some leaders in the market, Ikechukwu Mbah, Chairman, Shoe Materials Dealers Association; Ekeigwe Emmanuel, Chairman Rubber Footwear Dealers Association; and Linus Onuoha, Chairman Association of Block F all in Ochanja Market appealed to government to avert bloodbath and violence by conducting election at Ochanja without further delay. They disclosed that Ochanja Market leadership was zoned accordingly, noting that A and B zones have taken their turn while that of C is now affected by extension without end.
“When this present caretaker committee who served as elected leadership was inaugurated, the Commissioner for Commerce, Uchenna Okafor told us that they will only stay for three months. He told us he will also visit at the end of the third month so that machinery can be set in motion for a democratic election but we have not seen him again since then.
“We told him that it is through the efforts of some of us that the market has not exploded into violent protests because we have been waging the agitated traders. The caretaker committee chairman has been sitting tight because of the high volume of money he is allegedly making from the market. That is why he is also not making any move for the election to be conducted. If that is not the reason, tell me why Building Materials Market, Ogidi, Leather Market and others whom our own market tenure expired before theirs have conducted election but we have been in caretaker since March 2020,” they said.
A former Chairman of Ochanja market, Gabriel Obumneme appealed to the present leadership to resist the temptation of sit-tight syndrome and allow a free hand for the traders to choose their leaders.
When contacted, the caretaker committee chairman, Chief Nelson Ojukwu denied any tenure elongation plot and said they were simply awaiting directives from the Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Wealth Creation so as to conduct a fresh election. He also confirmed that he has received the directive from the government informing the traders that ban on market elections have been lifted.
“I wanted to read the letter from government to them during the prayer session but they shouted me down and prevented me from doing so. My leadership was not embarking on any construction of new shops also except a recent approval to rebuild dilapidated structures in the market,” Ojukwu said.
Commissioner for Trade, Commerce and Wealth Creation, Uchenna Okafor when contacted, said the issue of caretaker committee came as result of the COVID-19 but the markets have been directed to conduct their elections.
He said that the grievances of Ochanja Market traders have been addressed and they have chosen a date for their election.
“Returning popular candidate unopposed in an election is not an offence. Those who performed well and the traders decided to return him, I don’t have any problem with that. As for that of Drug Market, Bridge Head, they have not given us a date for their election and I cannot pre-empt what is going on.”
“The rule is that the particular market should give us a notice of their election now that government has lifted the ban and we then take it up from there. I have no vested interest in any of the markets. We subject every electoral process in Anambra markets to the court of public opinion and allow the will of the masses to prevail,” he said.