Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
A major crisis is brewing in the Ochanja Central Market, Onitsha, Anambra State. The crisis is over the leadership of the Ochanja Central Market Amalgmated Traders Association’s alleged attempts at tenure elongation.
It was gathered that the four-year single tenure of the leadership of the market had expired on March 11, this year. Some traders are accusing the chairman of the market, Chief Nelson Ojukwu, of refusing to conduct fresh elections, allegedly claiming that the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano, extended his tenure following the fire that ravaged the market in October last year.
It was further gathered that, at the expiration of the tenure of the current leadership, the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce summoned the executive of the market to his office where he officially constituted a caretaker committee to manage the affairs of the market for one year. The committee was headed by Ojukwu.
Some traders in the market have called for a fresh election, saying the constitution of the market does not allow for tenure extension or the setting up of a caretaker committee where there is no crisis. They appealed to the governor to intervene and prevail on the commissioner to conduct the election in the market. The traders argued that, even if caretaker committee should be constituted for any reason, the former executive members or chairman should not be members of the committee, noting that new people in the market should be members.
To register their grievances, the traders, who called themselves Ochanja Market Stakeholders and Elders’ Committee, on February 24, staged a peaceful protest to urge the state government to organise elections in the market due to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent executive members.
The traders went through different lines in the market before moving to the Government House, Awka, in several buses.
They picketed the Government House gate, displaying several placards. Some of the placards read: “Ochanja Market does not want caretaker executive, we need a credible election,” “Nelson Ojukwu-led administration is over, we need fresh election in the market,” “We must have a say on what happens in our market,” and “Ochanja Market is not for sale,” “Governor Willie Obiano, please, come to our aid.”
Leader of the protesters, Mr. Oliver Nwankwo, said the traders were protesting on the backdrop of reports that the state government was planning an extension of the tenure of the current market executives led by Mr. Nelson Ojukwu through the constitution of a caretaker committee.
On March 6, many concerned traders at the Ochanja Central Market held a meeting, where they appealed to Governor Obiano to intervene in the crisis and save the market from needless controversies over what would be a violation of its constitution. They called for a peaceful election in the market.
Chairman of the group, Chief Obed Offor, while addressing the traders, said the Ochanja Market was sub-divided into three major zones for ease of administration. These, he said, included Zone A, B and C, adding that the post of chairman of the market was to be rotated among the three zones. He noted that the chairmanship had gone round the three zones and should start again from Zone A, since the immediate past chairman was from Zone C.
He said that the group observed that the alleged elongation of the tenure of the market executives by one or two years was illegal and unconstitutional and does not represent the wishers of the entire members of the traders’ body.
His words: “Ochanja Market election is usually crisis-prone and if not properly handled, it is capable of creating serious problem for the state. In the past, when the market election was not conducted as and when due, it created a lot of problem that made former president of AMATAS to call the market stakeholders to several meetings at his office before it was resolved with an agreement reached on zoning formula.”
At the end of the meeting, the traders issued a communiqué, which was made available to journalists. The communiqué partly noted: “In view of the imminent expiration of the tenure of the present executive leadership of Ochanja on March 11, 2020, the president should be mandated to set up an electoral committee to conduct fresh elections, not later than seven days from the date of this communiqué; That in the alternative, upon expiration of the tenure of the present executives, an independent caretaker committee should be set up to immediately take over and oversee the affairs of the association in the interim, to avoid a vacuum in governance, until such a time as an election is so conducted;
“That the purported tenure elongation allegedly issued by the state government to the executive of the market led by Chief Ojukwu is illegal, unconstitutional and therefore, null and void, and is therefore rejected by the entire traders. That we the concerned traders pledge our unalloyed support to the government of Anambra State in its stride to eschew illegality and hooliganism and further resolve to promote peace and progress in the market.”
Some stakeholders in the market – the vice chairman of Emordi Shoe Dealers Association (ESDA), Chief Linus Nwangwu Igem, former caretaker chairman, Mr. Godwin Chukwudebelu Jr., former vice chairman of Ochanja Sir. Gabriel Obumuneme (The Lamb), vice chairman of Block E Sir Emmanuel Agu, former chairman of electoral committee (the body that conducted the election that brought the immediate past leadership into office) Chief Osita Obi, former secretary of ESDA Mr. Victor Ndimaneme, Sir Edwin Amah, Mr. Sunday Chukwu and Mrs Chinwe Okafor were at the meeting and called for an election in the market.
They said that the constitution was clear on the tenure of the elected leaders of the market and did not give room for an extension at the end of the tenure.
The stakeholders said that it was a democratic process that made the former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan to hand over power to President Buhari, adding that it was the same process that made Governor Obiano to re-contest after his tenure elapsed. They recalled that Obiano re-contested and won in all 21 local government areas in the state, even as they wondered why a leader should want to stay put in office after his tenure.
But the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce, Chief Uchenna Okafor visited the market on March 3 and addressed the traders during their monthly prayers. The commissioner said that facts available to him revealed that some traders used the market as their meeting point for political matters.
Okafor said that those causing confusion in the market were those without shops in the market but wanted to be leaders to enrich themselves. He warned that government was determined to sustain peace and ensure security of lives and property of the traders.
“There are two groups in this market. One group does business in this market while the other doesn’t have shops in this market but think that they will be relevant and rich through market leadership. Anybody who wants to be a market leader must have a shop and be doing business in the market for him to contest any position in the market. I urge the traders to go into their shops and do business, and ignore those loitering about to cause confusion.
“This market was built by government and not an individual market, and anybody who want to lead or control any market should first of all build his own market to control or give orders and not in a government market because the governor of the state is in charge of Ochanja Market.
“There are people who hold political meetings in this market which we shall not tolerate because the market is not a gathering for politics but for business. Some groups have visited me in respect of the election. The last group that came told me to put a caretaker committee for three months after which I should conduct election in the market. Another group came and told me to conduct election immediately while the third group came and said I should not conduct election at all. Now, which one will I follow?” Okafor stated.
The South East Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (SECCIMA), led by its President, Chief Humphrey Ngonadi, had earlier in an interview in Enugu decried the imposition of cronies of government as leaders of various market unions in the state.
“Market people don’t choose who they want anymore; there are no elections in our markets again. It is very unfortunate” Ngonadi said.
The Chairman of Ochanja Central Market Amalgamated Traders Association, Chief Nelson Ojukwu, said that he would not want to join issues with anybody over the tenure matter. He informed that the governor had earlier extended his tenure for two years due to his achievements and the way and manner he handled the fire incident in the market last year, but noted that the extension was later adjusted to one year.
Ojukwu alleged that those trying to cause a crisis in the market over elections were not shop owners and do not do business in Ochanja Market. The list, he noted, included Oliver Nwankwo who led protest to the Government House in Awka. Ojukwu stated that the few people that were with Nwankwo do not represent the interest of the traders.
“On expiration of our tenure, a caretaker committee was set up by the government where I was made the chairman and 18 others, including those agitators or their loyalists. But still they are not happy.
“Those people want leadership by all means. They even accused me of bribing the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce for the tenure extension, which is false. There is peace in Ochanja. Only those who want to be leaders are making unnecessary noise to cause crisis,” Ojukwu said.