Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
A leadership crisis between two unions currently threatens the peace and unity hitherto prevailing at the Bridgehead Market, Onitsha, Anambra State.
Two unions in the market, Old Zinc Dealers and Furniture Makers Association, Bridgehead Market, Onitsha (formerly known as Joint Traders and Wood Workers Association, Bridgehead Market, Onitsha), and the Association of Traders and Wood Workers, Bridgehead Market, Onitsha, are feuding over who controls the market.
The crisis, it was gathered, started when the leadership of the old market union, which was unregistered, led by Mr. Emmanuel Edochie, later got registered as with the “Old Zinc Dealers and Furniture Makers Association,” and another group, led by Mr. Wilfred Ezike, registered another union known as Association of Traders and Wood Workers. The crisis has since continued in both state and federal courts in the state.
In some courts, the two parties were told to maintain the peace pending the determination of the matter. But some other courts have ruled either in favour of or against either party.
The crisis took another dimension recently when the traders in the Old Zinc Dealers and Furniture Makers Association, took to the streets to protest what they termed a plot to set the market ablaze and to cause hardship for the traders.
The protesters, who barricaded roads, marched from Bridgehead to Fegge Police Station to register their grievances. From there, they proceeded to the Police Area Command, Onitsha, causing gridlock on the road. They called on the security agents to arrest and prosecute those allegedly planning the mayhem.
They said although the main suspect fled, the traders were able to arrest one of his boys, who they handed over to the police.
The traders, numbering over 500, sang various songs accusing Ezike, otherwise known as Mgbaligba, of sundry crimes and pleading with the state government to have him arrested.
The chairman of the market, Mr. Emmanuel Edochie, alleged that Ezike stormed the market with some thugs bearing petrol and matches with the intention of burning down the market at about 5.45pm when some traders saw them and raised the alarm. He said the traders pursued them but Mgbaligba escaped and one of his boys was arrested and handed over to the police. He claimed that the suspect later confessed that Mgbaligba brought them into the market to set it ablaze.
Edochie said Mgbaligba owned no shop in the market but the man had been a thorn in the flesh of the traders, causing crises in the market and dragging the leaders of the market to court for no just cause. He appealed to security agents to arrest and prosecute him.
Edochie said: “This is not the first time he has been bringing thugs into the market to harass traders and the leadership of the market. He is not a member of the market; he does not have a shop in the market. We want government to intervene and the security agents to arrest and charge him to court. We have evidence that he drove into the market in his car with the boys. And when we noticed their plot to burn the market, we pursued them but he escaped. We arrested one of his boys with fuel, which they intended to use to set the market ablaze.”
The market leader explained that the crisis forced the association to change its name from “Joint Traders and Wood Workers Association, Bridgehead Market, Onitsha,” to “Old Zinc Dealers and Furniture Makers Association, Bridgehead Market, Onitsha,” while Ezike registered his own union as Association of Traders and Wood Workers, Bridgehead Market, Onitsha. He said his union and Ezike’s have nothing in common and appealed to him to stop disturbing the union.
Secretary of the market, Mr. Cyprian Osuigidi, said Mgbaligba had been disturbing the leadership of the market since the election of the executive members. He said the union had reported Mgbaligba’s activities in the market to the police in the past but he had continued to foment crises in the market.
Said he: “We don’t want to take the law into our hands. That is why we are doing the peaceful protest to cry out to the government and security agents to help us solve the problem before it gets out of hand.”
However, Ezike denied the allegations. He accused the market leaders of framing him up after they attacked him and his boys in his shop, where they allegedly destroyed goods worth millions of naira. He also accused the other party of vandalising his vehicles. He said his boy was arrested and charged to court by the police, but he was granted bail because the case lacked merit, evidence and police investigation.
Ezike wondered why Edochie’s group accused him of attempted arson in the market and in the daytime when the traders were still in the market. He submitted that the leadership of the market was fighting him because of the court judgement against them that declared his union as the authentic market association.
“They attacked me and my boy in my shop and destroyed goods worth N40 million, and now they are accusing me of trying to commit arson in the daytime. The case of the authentic leader of the market union has been lingering, and the police have investigated the matter. The court has also recognised me as the board of trustees chairman, but the former leadership of the market refused to accept that. Yet we have remained peaceful as ordered by the court,” he said.
Ezike said when he was attacked in his shop, he ran to Fegge Police Station, where he was directed to go to the police area command. He said he owned two shops on the ground and first floors of the market building. He also alleged that those antagonising him in the market had no shop there, after the open space where they were operating was sold by the former leadership of the market.
Ezike also stated that he was in possession of letters from the authorities recognising his union as the authentic one. According to him, the high court sitting in Onitsha and presided over by Justice Ike Ogu, on March 19, 2018, gave judgement ascertaining his fundamental rights to personal liberty, freedom of movement and freedom of association. He said the case of the other party was dismissed.
“The court said the allegation was devoid of any merit, as the applicants failed to provide sufficient facts to establish their claims,” he said.
A member of the BoT of the Association of Traders and Wood Workers, and former chairman of the defunct Joint Traders and Wood Workers Association, Chief Patrick Azubuike Akputa, alleged that the leadership of the Old Zinc Union had no stake in the market. He accused them of having no shop in the market and so they could not pilot the affairs of the market.
Akputa said that the Onitsha South Local Government Area, which is in charge of the markets, recognised Ezike’s union with a letter duly signed and giving the union power to operate in the market.