• Over 300 business owners at loggerheads with council chairman over alleged hijack of market elections
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Recently, human and vehicular movements were temporarily grounded in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State following a protest staged by the members of the Ophoke-Aba Kpirikpiri Traders Association.
This followed alleged hijack of the election of the traders organized to select new leaders of the market by some state and local governments’ agents.
The protesters numbering about 300 marched from Abakaliki Township Stadium, the venue of the election, through old Enugu-Abakaliki Road to Government House where they were addressed by the Deputy Principal Secretary to the Governor.
The protest, Daily Sun gathered, came about following the reported failure of all peaceful options adopted to resolve the one year old leadership tussle rocking the market.
Some of the traders who during the protest narrated that since the expiration of the tenure of the caretaker committee reportedly set up by the government to manage the affairs of the traders pending when an election would be conducted, peace has eluded the business place.
They said they decided to boycott the election and lead protests to demand the reversal of the exercise which they tagged as “kangaroo election” allegedly supervised by some government officials.
Leader of the protesters and Vice-Chairmanship contestant, Mr. Nwota Uchenna Charles, alleged that the government’s pecuniary interests have robbed the market the peace and progress it yearns for.
He specifically alleged that the Chairman of Ebonyi Local Government Area, Mrs. Chinyere Nwogbaga, foisted unpopular candidate on them against their preferred choice, Mr. Friday Anari from Amike Aba village, Abakaliki.
“The local government chairman is trying to rig the election and we the traders are not in support of any plan she has. She forced me and the chairmanship aspirant to move inside the pitch.
“When we got inside there, what we saw was not what we expected. They were trying to force us to endorse somebody who is not our candidate. So, that is the reason we decided to bring the matter to the governor so he can come to our rescue,” he alleged.
Giving insight into the genesis of the imbroglio, Nwota narrated that the tenure of the past executives expired in March 2017 and since then, they have written protest letters to all the security agencies to come to their rescue.
“Then, on December 19, they fixed the election. When we got to the stadium, the Chairman of Ebonyi Local Government Area, Mrs. Chinyere Nwogbaga, addressed everybody saying that the election would not hold at the stadium; that the governor was having a function in the stadium on same day; that we should all move to Ugwu Odo where the election would be conducted.
“Since the inception of the market, our election has never been conducted at Ugwu Odo. We requested that the election should be conducted at the premises of the Presbyterian Church or Pastoral Centre but they insisted that they don’t allow such things to happen in that place. We accepted that condition.
“From there, they postponed the election and shifted it to March 3. When we got to the stadium, what they were doing there was not what we expected.
“We had our list in the market. Instead of them to be calling the names of the marketers, they prepared another list and all the people they called don’t have a single shop in that market and they are not traders. They were all students. Some of them were members of Neighbourhood Watch.
“They said that the government has taken their own decision; that the governor has decided; that they are projecting someone else. All the people that were contesting in their own group, they inaugurated them as the executive and they have started to operate in the market. It is on that note that we decided to bring the matter here,” he narrated.
Corroborating Nwota, another trader, Mr Chijioke Ude, accused the government of insincerity, insisting that the government was not being fair to the traders.
“This issue started from last year. Government sold forms to us and conducted the screening exercise. When they released the list of those who passed the screening, the list contained names of a particular line up.
“They disqualified some key persons in the race. We endured it believing strongly that whatever they do, we will still win provided it is free and fair election because the traders believe in us; they love us.
“Now, since March last year, it has been like this. The election held but it was cancelled. Even December last year, it was cancelled again. It continued this way till this one that has been hijacked.
“At a point, the local government said the pressure was too much; that we should wait for things to settle. We agreed. As time went on, the traders agitated, saying that election should be held.
“When we now came for the election, the government stationed boys at the entrance and they refused us entry. They were only allowing our opponents to go in. If you dared try to enter there, what they would do to you is better imagined. They would beat you to stupor using heavy logs”, alleged Mr Ude.
But Mrs Nwogbaga dismissed all the allegations levelled against her, describing them as falsehood.
“I came here to observe the election and as you can see, the election is going on quietly and peacefully. When somebody was telling me about the protest, they said that the people protesting were villagers; they are not traders.
“They are not aware that the election is meant for marketers; people that have shops inside that market. So, this election is Kpirikpiri Market election and not village election.
“The allegations against me are not true. The committee that is conducting the election, they are with the list of the people that have shops inside the market and it is the list that they made use of.
“The people that came to this stadium to vote are the marketers. How would they say that they are the vigilante members? I didn’t bring anybody here. I just came to observe the election. I have no hand in the constitution of the electoral panel,” she explained.
Also speaking, the Senior Special Assistant on Internal Security, Dr Kenneth Ugbala, described the election as peaceful. He said various security agencies including police and the DSS were mobilised to ensure adequate security during the exercise.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Electoral Panel who doubles as the Organising Secretary, Ebonyi State Amalgamated Traders Association, Mr. Ofoegbu Emeka, said the election was fair and transparent.
“What we tried to make sure of was that all the traders all came to participate in the election. They all participated in the election and the final results have been declared to the hearing of everybody,” said he.
However, a copy of the election result obtained by Daily Sun indicated that Mr. Nwambeke John beat Mr. Anari Friday with 432 votes to clinch the position of chairman against the latter’s 11 votes. Mr. Omegu Linus beat Mr. Nwuzor Moses with 370 votes against 16 to clinch the position of Secretary while other positions were won with various figures even as some others were unopposed.