Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Appointed Chairman of Onitsha Main Market Amalgamated Traders Union (OMMATU) by the Anambra state Government June this year, Kenneth Onyeka, is the youngest chairman since the inception of the market. He outlined his agenda in this interview.
How has it been since your appointment?
First and foremost, when I came on board, I noticed that the market was very dirty and I started to tackle it by clearing all the drainages and waterways. And now when it rains water will flow freely to the River Niger unlike before when there was no space for water to flow. Most time we wait for government to do everything for us without doing our own part and when we wait for government, things would be going wrong. So, we need to do our part as traders and allow government do theirs. It is our duty to clean and clear gutters in the market for easy flow of water and not government. Another place we have tackled was Bright Street where we dump refuse to ensure that the place is clean. We also intervened in decongesting the roads and lines’ streets. Some people are selling on the roads thereby blocking where customers use to go inside the market to buy goods. The problem I’m encountering is that when you want to do the right thing, those involved would like to stop you; trying to bribe you to allow illegality to thrive in the market. But I resisted and rejected all the offers made by some of them. So, I insisted that the right things should be done in the market and those who blocked the roads should vacate and go into their shops and those who don’t have shops should rent or attach themselves with those who have shops or their goods would be seized by our taskforce. I should do what government wants from me by decongesting the roads to ease human and vehicular movement. Since we started decongesting the roads, our market is free; customers now go into the markets to buy goods instead of buying along the road. And again, people are now renting shops inside the market because business is thriving there unlike before when we had empty shops inside the market. The decongestion of major entrance and junction of the market will continue this month.
What other areas are of interest to your administration?
To ensure that we pay our stallage fees to support the government in its developmental agenda. In our market, every line chairman collects stallage fees and pays into government account and brings the teller to our office for record purposes. Our job is to compile the tellers and check those who have not paid to ensure that they pay and on time because government needs it to carry out its work in the state.
People had raised issues about the time for prayers in the markets. What is the situation in your market?
Main market holds general prayers every first Monday of the month. Then, each market line holds theirs weekly depending on the day they chose to do it; some lines hold their weekly prayers on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, depending on the line. So, we did not stop line prayers. It is those markets that hold their prayers every week that were told to shift it to monthly. We did not stop individuals who preach in the market. But some people are misunderstanding what the president of the markets said about prayers in the markets, some said that he stopped prayers entirely in the market, it is not true. What he told market leaders was to pick any day in a month for their general prayers in any particular market. He did not touch the market lines prayers; he is a Christian and cannot stop prayers in the market.
You’ve not talked about touting in the market; what’s your take on the issue?
We have been clamping down on them; last week we arrested five persons who stood on the road displaying few items in their hands as goods. We had warned them before now to go into their shops and when we arrested some of them, we kept them in our office until evening before we released them as a warning and if we catch them again, they will face stiffer punishment. Some of them would display genuine goods but when the customer pays them, they will supply him fake goods, thereby bringing bad image to the market. That is why we don’t want to see them again along the roads. Some of them who don’t have shop in the market use accomplices who supply them goods and if there is such report, we will hold the owner of the shop responsible. In our meeting last month, we warned traders to desist from such deals and stop accepting touts in their shops.
What is security like in the main market?
Since I came on board, our security men have been up and doing. We have the central security and the various lines also have their security because the central security cannot do the job alone. We have not recorded any security breach or robbery in the market since I assumed duties and I pray that nothing would happen in the market, but the Chairman of Anambra North Vigilante Group, Chief Chinenye Ihenko (Okpompi) and his boys are working hard to secure the market. Regarding fire outbreak in the market, I can say that since the main market was rebuilt and demarcated this way, we have not witnessed any fire disaster. We have fire service office in the market though not fully functional. We appeal to the state government to help us provide equipment to the fire service in the market; because if there is any fire outbreak, when you call them, they will tell you their vehicle is not good or they don’t have water. So, we now hope on fire service from other places like Okpoko or Asaba which is not good in case of any emergency in the market.
Did main market benefit from the Governor’s N10 million ‘choose your market project’?
Yes, there is a health centre constructed in the market by the Gozie Okeke-led administration as part of the government’s N10 million project. The structure is there but it has not started functioning and nothing is working there for now though we hope that very soon, the health centre will be in operation for the betterment of the traders and customers. Another thing I want to appeal to the state government, you know that Onitsha main market is the biggest market in West Africa and there are certain things customers are expected to see in the market and when those things are not there, it wouldn’t be ok. The governor through the Commissioner for Trades and Commerce had promised to rehabilitate the major roads in the market; so, I know that he will fulfil his promise. I expect that once the rains are over, that work will start on the roads.
What other challenges does the market face?
Another major challenge is security vehicle; the one they use is old and always breaks down, so there is need for another vehicle to enhance their operation in case of any emergency. If there is any report of security matter that needed to be tackled immediately, the security men will tell you that their vehicle is not good and most times, they will charter Keke (tricycle) to take them to the place which is not good, they should have good vehicle, always on standby for action. So, we appeal to government to provide them with operational vehicle.