From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Controversy is currently brewing over the designated site for the construction of the new Coordinated Wholesale Centre (CWC) market for drug distribution for the South-East zone in Anambra State.
While some traders supported the already approved site at Oba in Idemili South Local Government area of the state due to the location, some traders at Ogbogwu Market are kicking against the site.
The federal government has prohibited open markets for drugs in the country, which has necessitated the construction of new markets for drugs in Lagos, Kano and Anambra states.
In Anambra State, a vast land with over 50 hectares by the former Oba International Market was designated for the market.
Former Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole had visited the site in 2017 and approved the place for the project. Officials from the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria (PCN) and Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, (PSN) also visited and approved the site.
The new wholesale drugs market will be built in line with the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria, (PCN) standard and specification of Coordinated Wholesale Centre (CWC), it was gathered.
Upon completion of the project, the existing drugs market at Bridgehead, Onitsha, and other drug markets would be closed, and the traders relocated to the new market.
The Registrar of Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria, (PCN), Mr Elijah Mohammed had told the medicine dealers in Onitsha during a workshop few years ago that open drug markets in the country would be replaced with coordinated drug centres. He said regulatory agencies would have offices within the markets, noting that the challenge with fake and adulterated drugs would soon be over.
Elders of Oba in Idemili South Local Government area of Anambra State have also appealed to the federal and state governments, as well as Onitsha Medicine Dealers to commence the construction of the coordinated wholesale centre market in the community.
But on February 18, when the Registrar of PCN, Mr. Mohammed was to visit Onisha for the commencement of the Oba project, he was greeted with protests by some traders at Ogbogwu, who kicked against the Oba site. The protest stalled the kick-off of the project, even though Muhammed was already in the state.
The ceremony was cancelled “to avoid bloodshed and clash among the traders” and rescheduled for a later date.
The reporter gathered that all arrangements had been made, with most of the invited guests already seated when reports filtered in that the event had been postponed.
The news that the registrar would no longer come for the ceremony angered the elders who had waited at the venue for hours. They thereafter held a ceremony to signify the kick-off of the project, noting that elders would not be called out for a function and be turned back.
The elders, who were led by Chief Boniface Onyeka, the second in-command of the Igwe-in-Council in Oba community, performed the ground breaking ceremony of the new drugs market. He also blessed the land.
“We have performed the foundation-laying ceremony because the project is irreversible. God has chosen this place to site the project and no man can stop it. The Federal and state governments chose this place and no individual or group can stop it.
“We have flagged-off the project. Any time the government or PCN is ready, they will come and perform their own. We are the owners of the land and we have prayed and blessed this land and we have willingly approved the place for the market.
“What they should know is that in everything you do, you must have an opposition. So the opposition against the construction of this market will not succeed. The site of the project is very exciting because people from Imo, Abia, Port Harcourt, Cross River, Enugu etc can easily access this place,” Chief Onyeka stated.
But the Chairman of the Ogbogwu Market, Chief Donatus Ajamma said the traders were ready to relocate to any other place apart from the proposed site at Oba.
Ajamma alleged that the former chairman of the market, Mr. Uche Eze wanted to make the proposed market his personal enterprise which made him not to hand over to the new leadership of the market.
“I was at home when I got information that there was a protest at the market. So, when I got to the market, they told me that they were protesting because the former leadership wanted to go to Oba to flag-off the new project, which they rejected.
“The traders said they don’t want to go to Oba. When I looked at the tense situation, I decided to call the Commissioner of Trade and Commerce on phone to alert him. He told me that he had stopped the ceremony in Oba.
“The traders’ annoyance was that the former chairman of the market, Mr Eze refused to hand over documents of the drugs market. He said the Federal Government approved Oba site for the Central wholesale drug market, but it is not true. It is only traders that will decide where they will relocate, not the Federal Government. It is the traders that will spend their money for the project and not government that will build the market for the traders,” Ajamma stated.
But the former chairman, Mr. Eze denied all the allegations by the leadership of the market. He said the Oba Market site was approved by the both the state and federal governments as well as the community as a suitable place for the wholesale market, since the site is on over 50 hectares of land.
He said that the former Minister of Health as well as officials of PCN and PSN visited the site and approved it. He said the project had already kicked off in Lagos and Kano.
“The problem will be resolved amicably soon, and the PCN will come for the ceremony,” he said.
A Director of the Central Pharmaceutical and Allied Products Wholesale Limited and former Public Relations Officer of the market, Chief Okwudili Maduka, addressed the crowd that had gathered for the ceremony. He assured that the project would go on as planned.
“We have gathered here for the ground breaking of the new wholesale centre at Oba. We were expecting the registrar of PCN to come here for the ground breaking but of all a sudden we learnt that there was a kind of protest at the Ogbogwu Market. Some opposition traders protested, saying that the programme will not hold.
“Because of that, the registrar said he would not come to the site. He said he would not allow any bloodshed because of his visit to flag-off the project. The owners of the land, the Igwe-in-Council, decided that since they had come out, they had to perform the ground breaking. We still believe that the registrar of PCN will still come back to perform the ceremony. The registrar then gave us some time to resolve the matter and reach out to him again, so that he could come back.”
On the reasons for the protest, Maduka said: “The issue of relocation started when we were leaders at the Ogbowgu market. Some businessmen were not comfortable that the market would not be under their control, so they started fighting against the project.
“When we were looking for a convenient site, we visited the Oba site and also visited Umueri site. When we came back, we gathered at our office and cast votes. The majority, 56 out of 57 voted for Oba site, and we moved in and acquired the land. The process has been on till now.
“I want to make it clear, according to PCN standard, the project is not specifically for only traders at Onitsha Ogbogwu alone. Members of PSN, members of Main Market, Ose, Ochanja, Ekwulobia drug markets are involved in the project. The PCN has been interacting with the directors, not the leaders of the markets.
“When the Coordinated Wholesale Centre (CWC) was registered, Uche Eze happened to be the chairman, Board of Directors. We have other directors from the markets and other places including in Oba community. This project is not an Onitsha Ogbogwu programme alone, neither is it anybody’s private business.”