Eziomume Solomon, Nnewi
Anxiety has continued to heighten by the day at the Electrical/Electronics Market, Nnewi, Anambra State, with government using every means to oust the traders from their current sites. The traders are presently in the Daigo/Okeke, Nwagbara and Agupson zones. But government seeks to relocate them to the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Shopping Complex in the Nwanyimo area of the industrial city.
The market at Daigo/Okeke caught fire recently, razing 30 shops and goods estimated at tens of millions of naira. Since the incident, the Ministry of Trade, Markets and Wealth Creation, with Charles Uchenna Okafor as commissioner, has been on the necks of the traders to move to the Odumegwu Ojukwu Shopping Complex.
But the traders categorically rejected the offer, saying the plaza was “a private property.” Chairman of Daigo/Okeke Zone of the market, Kenneth Ofodum, with a former chairman of the market, Mazi Oliver Onyeaghala, who spoke on behalf of other traders in the various zones, called on government to give them vast land where they would build a market exclusively for electrical materials, instead of relocating them to a place where they would become tenants. They insisted that the Odumegwu Ojukwu Shopping Complex had no space for the traders.
Ofodum said: “We have begged government that it won’t be good enough that traders in this market leave here to another place where we will also become tenants. We want to remain here until we are able to build our own market. Senator Ifeanyi Ubah is already reconstructing the market for us. We want to continue managing this place until we get land to build our own market that will serve our purpose.”
While traders were still negotiating with the state on the best way to handle the relocation, security agencies involving soldiers, police, OCHA Brigade and other paramilitary personnel, allegedly brought by the government, stormed the market in the early hours of February 18, 2020, and sealed it. No trader was allowed to open for business.
Leaders of the enforcement team, Kizito Ifeanyi and Sunday Nwasa, who claimed to be special assistants to Governor Willie Obiano on markets, said they were directed to enforce the relocation order slammed on the traders: “The traders were given up till Monday, February 17, 2020, to relocate to the new site. It was because they failed to comply with the directive that we are here today.”
Invasion of the market by the armed personnel almost resulted in a big face-off between the traders and the security personnel. Just then Nonso Okafor, member, House of Assembly representing Nnewi North and Chief Innocent Chukwuma, CEO Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company, came into the scene. They promised to settle the dispute.
Okafor and Chukwuma reasoned that if the dispute was allowed to take the dimension it was going, it could breed serious crisis in the industrial city. They pleaded with the security personnel and agents of the state government to leave the market, and promised to help work out modalities on the best way to relocate the traders.
The controversy, however, took another dimension recently, when agents of Nnewi North Local Government reportedly stormed the market with markers to inscribe “Stop Work” on the walls of the structure under reconstruction. Daily Sun gathered that traders instantly pounced on them and forced them out of the place; so that they could not accomplish their assignment.
Ofodum and Onyeaghala gave a graphic account: “In 2017, the general chairman of this market, Ugochukwu Udemezue, who is presently the President General of Nnewi community, told the traders that we shall relocate to Ojukwu Shopping Complex. We told him that we could not relocate because it would not serve our purpose.
“We explained to him that since we deal on materials that occupy space, we would need a spacious market. It was then that we requested government to give us land, preferably outside Nnewi Triangle, so that we could build spacious market that would be suitable for what we do here. The then chairman of Nnewi North LGA, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Jnr), later served us document to relocate; but after listening to our predicament, he let go.
“After Ojukwu, Chukwudi Orizu took over as chairman, Udemezue allegedly approached the new chairman urging him to relocate us. When Orizu invited traders in the market, we explained to him that the Ojukwu Shopping Complex serves multiple purposes. One, it is used as Nnewi Cultural Centre and two, it serves as motor park. We also told him that shops in the plaza were too small to serve us since we deal on bulky goods.
“Orizu inaugurated a committee that would see to smooth relocation of the traders. One stunning thing the committee found out was that the shopping complex was in dispute. We were shown papers showing various court litigations associated with the complex. The committee sent its report to the council chairman, and since then, nobody disturbed us about relocating to Ojukwu Shopping Complex.
“Then, after the recent fire incident at the market, and after the visit of the Commissioner for Trade, the commissioner was incited to relocate the traders to Ojukwu Shopping Complex. We had explained our predicament to the state government, and we were surprised when they mobilised soldiers and policemen to seal the market.
“Our position as traders in this market is that we shall remain here till government gives us land to build befitting market that will serve us well. Anything short of that will be highly resisted.”
But Udemezue washed his hands off whatever was going on the market, saying that he had long left the market. He told Daily Sun that he was presently occupied with the demands of his office as president-general of Nnewi community and has no time to dabble into the market matter.
Regardless, Okafor, last week, insisted that there was no going back on relocating the traders. When the reporter visited the Odumegwu Ojukwu Shopping Complex last weekend, it was observed that in addition to four plazas already in place, three structures were being erected simultaneously, probably to accommodate large number of traders at the electrical/electronic market, for the impending relocation.