From WALTER UKAEGBU, Abuja.
Traders of the Old Garki Market last week took to the streets to protest what they called plots against them. For several hours they paralysed activities at the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and brought traffic at Area 11 to a standstill.
Before the crisis boiled over last week, the traders had been at loggerheads with the Abuja Market Management Limited over the demolition of their shops and new construction in the market. They alleged plots by some vested interests to re-allocate the shops to rich Nigerians.
The traders took their queries to the doorstep of the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello, but security agents blocked them at the entrance to the minister’s building
Though they were barred from gaining access to the minister, that did not stop them from making their point. The traders’ lawyer, Giwa Victor, brandished a court order, declaring that the Abuja Market Management Limited violated an order of interim injunction restraining them from demolishing or removing the shops at Garki Market, the subject matter of the case.
Giwa disclosed that his clients (the traders) have documents showing that the shops were some years ago allocated to them, but, recently, the Abuja Market Management started selling the shops to other people at the rate of N7 million and N10 million, while commencing fresh construction at the market. He said the traders have the rights to the shops.
According to him, between 2002 and 2004, the market management advertised and sold allotments to the traders, who paid between N40,000 and N150,000, according the size of the shops, and were given allocation.
According to Giwa, the Abuja Market Management said it would manage the market and introduced market charges, which the traders duly paid.
However, in 2016, the market management began the demolishing the shops on the pretext that they wanted to embark on new construction of shops and, when asked the shops they want to demolish and construct, it turned out to be the same shops that the traders occupied.
This made the traders to go to court, where they got an injunction for the market authorities to stop the demolition, which most of the time they did at night with heavy construction equipment.
The traders, during the protest at the minister’s office, carried placards carried that read “Say no to human rights abuse,” “Abuja market management we no go gree,” “Stop extortion of traders in Garki Market,” and “Say no to selling our shops to the highest bidder,” among other inscriptions.
The traders, led by their lawyer, refused to leave the minister’s office until the minister addressed them.
However, after a long wait at the entrance of the FCT Secretariat, a director from the office of the Permanent Secretary, Mr. U.S. Attang, came to address them.
Attang told them to calm down as their protests would be looked into. He told their lawyer to put all their grievances in writing at the earliest time and raise a team from among the traders whom the authorities would work with.
The director assured them that the minister of the FCT would definitely respond to their complaints, but advised them to do things officially while their lawyer and two other people should come and interact with the minister.
Giwa told the minister’s representative that they would not compromise on the construction on the site and he urged the authorities to instruct those doing the construction to stop until further notice.
The suit, FCT/HC/CV/2436 2015 with motion number M/9096/2015, an order of interim injunction, had directed all the parties to maintain their status quo, pending the determination of the motion on notice, and was signed by Balami E. P. (registrar).