THE South-East business community on February 19, 2020, practically relocated to the industrial town of Nnewi,
Anambra State, when the third president of the South-East Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (SECCIMA), Mr. Humphrey Ngonadi, was installed.
There, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, who was decorated as grand patron of SECCIMA, extended an invitation to investors to come to the state. He specifically urged SECCIMA to visit Ebonyi and see how they can take advantage of the new international Ebonyi flaunts modern market revive the party: “Notable APC leaders from the two LGAs went into hiding. They did not even defend their party or principal, Rev. Eugene Onwubie asked the governor to reciprocate OMPALAN’s goodwill in standing market in Abakaliki, the state capital. He asked Igbo businessmen, especially, importers and exporters, to locate some of their businesses in the Abakaliki market. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State and national president of the Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Hajia Saratu Iya Aliyu, were among dignitaries at the Nnewi event.
Represented by his deputy, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, the governor noted that business concerns from
within and outside the country were already securing shops and outlets in the market, located along the Trans-Saharan Highway: “We are already partnering Chinese business concerns. We have an expansive market with
infrastructure. We encourage you to come and see how you can take advantage of what we have put in
place along the international corridor. We pledge that anytime you knock on our door, the door
would be opened for you.” Special assistant to the governor on markets, Kerian Ofoke, told Daily Sun that there were at least 4,000 shops and 400 warehouses in the market. It also boasts of banking halls, expansive parking lot and other conveniences. In March, the state government relocated the Abakpa Main
Market to the Margret Umahi International Market. This was after several failed attempts in the past. Some traders resorted to lawsuits to stop the relocation of the market, which had over the years caused gridlock in the metropolis. The traders had accused government of insincerity in its relocation plans.
The relocation of the market became a serious issue shortly after the re-election of Umahi in 2019. He noted that the idea was to provide traders a better environment more conducive to do business and reposition the capital city to meet the vision of the administration.
To prepare for the full relocation of the market, government embarked on the reconstruction of the market formerly called Ochudo International Market started by the administration of Chief Martin Elechi. The idea
was to construct more shops, re-touch the old ones and provide facilities such as hospital, police post, conveniences and a school for adult education to make the market comfortable for all users.
The traders had defied government’s relocation order in August last year, which prompted the governor to order the immediate shutdown of the former market. Attempts by members of the Akubaraoha Youths Assembly (EYA),
to enforce the order threw the market and Abakaliki into turmoil as the traders and the youth group engaged in a freefor-all, which reportedly left one person dead and many injured. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and some elders in the state intervened and convened a meeting between the aggrieved traders and the state
government at the old Governor’s Lodge. It was agreed that government should extend the relocation deadline to January 10, 2020, to enable traders prepare for the relocation while the traders would also withdraw their suit in court.
Umahi re-emphasized the determination of government to relocate the market, demolish
Abakpa Market and construct a modern fruits and vegetable market on the site. He said he would
enter the market on January 11 with bulldozers and demolish every building there; warning that
any trader who defied the January relocation deadline, would be doing so at his own risk.
However, few days to the expiration of the deadline, the traders, through the CAN, appealed
to government to give them another one month to enable them complete their preparations for
the relocation. The request was granted and February 10, 2020, was fixed as the new date.
The governor’s special assistant on media, Mr. Francis Nwaze, said: “The fancy dealers/babywear dealers will move on February 3; provisions and wine beverages dealers, February 4; and the cosmetics and hair attachment dealers on February 5; same date for stationery and medicine dealers.
“Also, kitchen utensils, articles and jewellery dealers will move on February 7, while footwear/ rubber slippers dealers are scheduled for February 6. Electronics, electrical, phones and accessories dealers are billed to relocate
on February 8; bags, luggage, miscellaneous goods and bicycle parts dealers, February 9, while ‘pomo’ (meat prepared from dried cow skin), foodstuffs and allied commodity traders are for February10.”
Government advised the traders to adhere strictly to the arrangement as it would not adjust the relocation timetable. It asked traders who had paid up to 50 per cent for shops and warehouses to submit photocopies of all their payments to the shop allocation committee for the issuance of allocation papers. But on February 6, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Kenneth Ugbala, announced a new date of March
1: “The extension is to allow all contractors working at the market to exhaust their sites latest by February 25, 2020, and for total clean-up of the new market to take place while movement of traders will start from February
26, 2020, and must be completed on or before March 1, 2020.
“Government warns that it will become illegal for any person to buy or sell at Abakpa Market premises or residential houses surrounding the market with effect from March 2, 2020, as commensurate action will be
taken against any defaulter to this directive. A large expanse of land within the premises of the international market has been mapped out to accommodate any trader who has not bought or rented a shop at the market to
build his/her own shop.”
It warned that the announcement served as the final notification on the movement of traders
to the Margaret Umahi International Market and purchase of shops.
Yet a few days to the deadline, over 400 women from the market staged a protest accusing government of insincerity and duping their members in the guise of giving them shops at the market. Leader of the protesters, who gave her name as Mrs. Nwode, said government had concluded plans to evict them from Abakpa, the only
source of their livelihood, without making alternative arrangement for them.
The protest prompted the governor to convene a meeting with the women, leadership of CAN, committee on movement of market, headed by the SSG, and some other leaders. Umahi numbered the women and directed
the SSG to provide shops for each of them while insisting that the March 1 relocation remained
sacrosanct. On March 1, while some traders moved, others stayed back.
But as early as 7am, government moved in security agents, members of the Akubaraoha Youth
Assembly and the Neighbourhood Watch who barricaded all entrances into Abakpa Market.
Government banned all businesses and all forms of trading along the road. That was how
traders at Abakpa Market relocated to the new market and commercial activities have since been
going on there.
A trader at the new market, Mr. Innocent Nwoyiri, an electronics dealer, told our correspondent:
“We like this place. It is better than Abakpa in many ways. It is spacious, more conducive and even more secure. But we thought that government only wanted to displace us from there and allow us to suffer.”
Another trader, Mrs. Eunice Njoku, said: “I like (it) here. The only problem now is that my customers find it difficult to locate my shop. Only those who have my number will call me and at times they get tired before reaching my shop. But time will take care of that.”