Okey Sampson, Umuahia
When the reporter’s phone rang in the wee hours of Sunday, November 17, the information the caller passed on was that fire had gutted parts of Ariaria International Market, Aba, Abia State. On further inquiry, he put the exact area to be Enyimba, a mini market within Ariaria Market.
The reporter rushed to the market very early in the morning. On getting to the market, however, there was no fire incident anywhere within the vicinity. Nonetheless, what was more devastating had happened.
Like a thief, government bulldozers under the command of the Abia State Ministry of Trade and Investment had crept in, in the middle of the night. By the time they had gone round the market within a space of less than an hour, over 1,000 traders had lost not only their goods, but also shops and in some instances, cash, that was for those who left cash in their shops.
The losses were enormous. Like the holy book would say, voices were heard at Enyimba Market from afar, wailings and loud lamentation, traders weeping for their shops and goods; they could not be consoled because they were no more.
The shops were demolished under the strict supervision of combined team of security agencies and government officials. Prior to the demolition, Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Cosmos Ndukwe, in compliance with the directive of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, gave the traders in Umuahia and Aba, including those at Enyimba, until the midnight of Friday, November 15, to vacate the places as the government would begin recovery of spaces allegedly converted to markets illegally. These areas include Enyimba area of Ariaria International Market and Ngwa Road in Aba; Okpara Square, Cooperative area, Akanu Ibiam and Bank Road in Umuahia.
The executors lay in wait for the deadline and with military precision, struck immediately after midnight. That was when the traders had gone to bed after they might have skilfully sketched the following day’s business chart, which as it were could not see the light of the day courtesy of the previous night’s “Armageddon.” Not a few of the traders described government’s action as another Armageddon.
Some traders who were yet to recover from the demolition exercise, denied being aware of government’s directive. One of the affected traders, Joseph Evo, alleged that they lost goods worth several millions of naira. The most pathetic aspect of the exercise according to some other traders was their claim that they were not allowed to take away their goods while the demolition exercise was going on in the middle of the night.
Emeh Uche, a trader said: “The well-armed security personnel when they came did not allow us to near our shops when the exercise was going and by this, we lost all.” They were of the opinion it would have been better for them if fire had engulfed the market as they claimed they could have salvaged some of their goods and those who kept money in their shops, might collect them.
For the traders, the timing of the exercise was wrong. Mrs Edith: “The timing of the demolition of the shops was wrong with December around the corner, which is usually our peak period. The truth is that we did not hear the said government announcement.
“The leadership of Ariaria didn’t tell us until some hours before we closed for the day. When we learnt that, there was no way or any place to keep our goods. We were even planning how to appeal to the state government to give us time to pack our wares”. She lamented that all her efforts over the years had been brought to nought in less than an hour.
Ndukwe could not be reached for comments, but an official of the ministry who did not want his name in mentioned said the traders were given adequate notice to vacate the place.