Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Over 5000 copies of newspapers and magazines of different titles were not distributed on Monday in Awka, the Anambra State capital, following the start of a strike action by newspaper distributors and vendors in the city.
The strike, in protest against the alleged clamp down on vendors in Awka by state officials, meant newsstands in the capital were empty, with buyers and readers moving from one spot to the other in search of vendors.
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Readers have had to order Monday editions of their regular newspapers and magazines from Onitsha, Nnewi, and even as far as Enugu.
Worst hit as a result of the strike are The Sun newspaper, which supplies over 800 copies to Awka daily, Vanguard 500, Nation 300, Punch 200, Oracle 200 and Thisday with 150 copies.
Addressing newsmen on the development, the Acting Chairman of Nigeria Distributors Association, Awka chapter, Mr Emeka Nweze, said the officials of Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra State (popularly called “OCHA Brigade”) have continued to harass, intimidate and extort their members.
“Often time they come and cart away our tables and umbrellas and even the newspapers. When the former boss of the place was there we went and complained and he apologized to us and even used their vehicle to return our things, saying that they have no problem with vendors. But this new man came and they started again to deal with our members; they said we should go and get shops in the market and we ask, ‘is it only here that vendors operate?,'” he explained.
“In fact, last Thursday, they came and did the worst; they came with machetes and cut our tables and seats into pieces, destroyed our umbrellas and newspapers, threatening to arrest and detain our members.”
Nweze said the distributors had earlier written a petition to the state government through the Secretary to Anambra State Government (SSG), copied to the Commissioner of Police, the State Director, DSS and the Commissioner of Information; adding that they have not received a response, with the government agency continuing to maltreat them, he claimed.
The petition, signed by Nweze and the Association’s Secretary, Ifeanyi Nwafor, complained that “Newspaper Distributors and vendors have been passing through nightmare in the hands of the officials of OCHA Brigade for a long time.
“The officials have been clamping down on our members, intimidating and harassing us, seizing the items we use in the display of our newspapers and at times extort money from us. The items of our members in the custody of the agency since more than three months include; five tables and four umbrellas worth N70,000.”
The Association maintained that its members would discontinue distribution of newspapers and magazines in the city until the state government assured them of their safety in the state.
Meanwhile, regular newspaper readers have described as strange seeing newspaper vendors embark on strike due to the nature of the service they render, calling on government to intervene in the matter.
Though efforts to reach the head of the OCHA Brigade did not yield any result, the state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C-Don Adinuba, has promised to take up the matter with the head with a view to resolving the crisis immediately.