Tony John, Port Harcourt
Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt is as old as Rivers State. The market located at the heart of Rumuokwurusi community in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area earned its name because of the quantum of palm oil sold there several decades ago.
Situated at the popular Eleme Junction by Port Harcourt /Aba Road and Rumuokwurusi /Eleme junction axis of East-West Road, in the state capital, the is a household name not only in Rivers State, but neighbouring South East states (Abia and Imo) and Bayelsa State.
On the market day, which is every Wednesday, traders start converging as early as 4am for business activities. Just mere mentioning of the name make the heart flutter, not because of any problem per se , but due to gridlock that is caused by vehicles and human traffic of hawkers and buyers. Oil Mill Market day usually affects business activities in other popular markets like Mile 1, Mile 3, Creek Road and Town New Market in Port Harcourt and others in different cities in the state.
However, the market has more ugly sides than good. It is not situated or confined in a particular place. Over 60 percent of the traders carry out their businesses in the open, whether under sun or rain. The market also spreads to Elelenwo, as traders hustle for survival.
Talking about the ugly side of the market, it is usually a day miscreants and touts do not take chances. Drivers, particularly private-car owners, who are not conversant with the area on market day, fall prey to miscreants. Commercial drivers already know them and, therefore, they discharge passengers at designated bus stop.
It was learnt that the issue of ticket fees collection and the community leadership to oversee income generation, had at various instances, caused disharmony in the area. However, that did not stop the collection, which the boys designated to carry out the assignment execute whether painfully to the traders or not.
Also, pick-pocketing and handsets (phones) theft happen at will, as the bad boys, who pretend to be buyers, carry out their criminal acts, especially, towards evening, at the end of the day’s business. When traders are packing their wares and rounding off for the day, the bad boys bare their fangs.
Notwithstanding the challenges, some of traders told NDC that nothing would deter them from Oil Mill Market every Wednesday. They said the market affords them a rare opportunity to make brisk business.
One of the traders, Chimezie Kalu, from Abia State, said he leaves Aba, where he lives, for Oil Mill Market every Wednesday, by 4:30am. He said that without leaving house early, he might not get a good space to display his second-hand shoes.
Kalu said: “It is not easy. We are here for hustling. What we do here is sharp-sharp business. If you think about the challenges like transporting your goods down to Port Harcourt and going back home, you won’t want to do it. But nobody looks at that. This is because we know that if you’re patient and hardworking, you cannot go home without smiling.
“In fact, I make enough gain every Wednesday I come here than I make in Aba in a whole week. That is why I can’t stop coming. In fact, I have some customers, who patronise very well. They know that every Oil Mill Market day, I bring new and quality goods,” he stated.
Also, Obinna Uchendu, who sells second-hand clothes, recalled that he had once lost large sum of money to hoodlums.
“In fact, anytime I remember what happened to me that day, my mood changes. But, it didn’t move or stop me from coming to the market. I know that if I come, I will sell my clothes. This place is a good market for people like us, who do not have stalls and have no money to pay for shops (rent).
“What we do is pay the ticket people their money and they allow us to sell our goods. What we suffer here is mostly sun and rain. We stand from morning till evening, but we are not complaining. To be a man is not an easy thing. We hustle and crack jokes among ourselves and life goes on,” he expressed.
Similarly, a traders, who simply gave her name as Mama Joy from Bayelsa State, said the huge population at the market gives her hope that whatever she wants to sell or buy would be successful.
“I come every Wednesday from Bayelsa. Sometimes, I come to sell fish and when I want to go back, I buy items people within my locality would need. And they are always affordable.
“One thing very important about this Oil Mill Market is goods are cheap compared to other places. Not minding the security challenges along the East-West road, we take risks because we know the goods are affordable,” Joy said.
Laatem Emmanuel, who has provision shop in Bori, Rivers State, stocks his shop every Wednesday after buying variety of goods from the market. He disclosed that the prices of goods have wider margin when purchased outside Oil Mill Market.
“It doesn’t cause me much to transport here, buy things I need and return. The truth is that if prices of goods are not affordable at this market, there is no way people from far places would take the risk of coming to Port Harcourt to buy goods.
“The challenge we face sometimes is how to go back with your goods, especially if you are not mobile. Also, sometimes, these bad boys that claim to own the make frustrate customers. You might be looking for where to park your car and fall into their hands.
“Traffic gridlock is another headache we have. Sometimes, after parking your car and you want to go, you might not see who parked behind you. These are some of the headaches people go through.”