Ogbonnaya Ndukwe, Aba
Traders at the Ekeoha Shopping Centre in Aba, Abia State, are at daggers drawn with the management of the market over what they described as ineptitude on the part of the latter.
The traders also accused the chairman of their association, Mr. Friday Dimiri, of high-handedness and abuse of office.
The whole thing came to a head recently when the traders protested their plight; they marched along roads leading to the market entrance, expressing unhappiness that the chairman allegedly used vigilante known as “Bakassi” and thugs to harass and intimidate those opposed to his style of leadership.
They alleged that, since his appointment in 2018 as chairman of the market association’s caretaker committee, Dimiri had been at loggerheads with other members and elders in his management team, due to his disregard for laid down rules and regulations.
Their allegations against him included collection of unapproved fees and levies and pocketing the funds, building and personal acquisition of new stalls in restricted locations in the already congested market and damning anyone that refused to accept the trend to leave the market.
One of the market stakeholders, Ugochukwu Oriaku, told Daily Sun that they had made representations to the Abia State Government through the Ministry of Trade and Investment for the sack of the chairman, without success.
Oriaku said Dimiri had started construction of new shops on top of the one-storey buildings to make them two, without proper amendment to the original architectural designs, as well as building on alleyways and in small spaces in front of existing shops, which he claimed were approved by government.
He also accused the chairman of operating market activities during the coronavirus lockdown between April and June and collecting between N100 and N200, from traders that accessed the entrance to their shops, thereby ignoring government’s directives, and pocketing millions of naira collected from the traders.
Spokesman for the protesters, Kenneth Okoye, also alleged that the chairman had used law enforcement agents, including the police in Zone 9 and State CID, Umuahia, to harass and intimidate those he said, were against his leadership, by levelling allegations of attempted kidnapping against them. He further accused Dimiri of claiming that some traders were causing disaffection among supporters of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu within the market, all in a bid to blackmail them and get government’s sympathy.
In addition, Okoye said Dimiri unilaterally hiked annual shop renewal fees from N3,000 to N18,000, without consulting the traders or seeking approval from his committee.
Daily Sun gathered that the general manager of the complex who represents the state government in the day-to-day operations of the market, Chief Daniel Ohajuru, said to be indisposed due to sickness, had allegedly warned the Dimiri leadership at various times, not to derail government’s good intentions in setting up the centre as a business hub for textile and other consumer goods.
However, reacting to the allegations, Dimiri said there was no truth in the claims by those he called, “a few disgruntled traders” that he was operating unilaterally and coveting association’s belongings to personal use.
He said most of the traders in the market were in support of his style of leadership and were always carried along in the affairs of Ekeoha market.