Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Tension is brewing at the popular Ogbogonogo modern market in Asaba, Delta State following what the traders alleged to be acts of high-handedness by authorities of Oshimili South Local Government Area.
If not addressed, the tension may lead to serious crisis that could ground commercial activities at the market and render most traders helpless for a long time.
The traders are, therefore, appealing to the state government to call the council Chairman, Mr. Uche Osadebe to order, so that buying and selling of goods could continue unhindered.
Activities of the council chairman and his agents, they claimed, were affecting businesses at the market. Their grievance against the council boss are legion, ranging from the conversion of convenient spaces to multiple taxes. They said the abuses meted on them have become unbearable, alleging that their business and personal rights have continuously been trampled upon with reckless abandon by agents of the council.
At a recent spontaneous protest, one of the traders who identified herself as Oge Chiemeke said the council authority had in the recent past treated them as if they were not human beings.
Oge, who claimed to be a fish merchant, accused the council authorities of using all manners of intimidating acts and thugs to extort money from hapless traders.
She said Ogbogonogo was no longer living up to its standard as a modern market, alleging that all the toilets, water and sanitation facilities have been converted to stalls which were sold to traders at ridiculous cost.
Oge alleged: “There are no facilities in the market again. We don’t have convenience; the toilets have been converted to shops which the council is giving to traders at very high cost. We no longer have a place to urinate.
“What most of us now do is to urinate in containers inside our stalls. Later we will take it out for proper disposal. Some people take it home and dispose off it before getting to their houses. We are passing through difficult times in the hands of Oshimili South council.”
Another trader, Gladys Ogbodo said movement within the once magnificent market has become restrictive, alleging that the council has sold off all the available spaces and passages to the highest bidders.
“Look, the place has become very congested, people don’t have allowance to move about freely because everywhere is choked up. It was not like that before, but today, they have converted all the space to stalls which they give out to traders with big money,” she stated.
A male trader, Godswill Nwaeke, accused the council of having zero safety for their goods at the market, alleging that the council empowered a lot of people to “trade everywhere at night around lock up stores, with the protection of thugs.
“As a result, we are experiencing losses, we are not making profit because of activities of night traders. Some buyers now come to the market at night and patronize the illegal sellers. This is not good because we are paying for the stalls.”
Further lamenting what he said was the absence of fire fighting facilities, he alleged that the facilities were earlier removed from the market by the council, with intent to convert the allotted space for fire fighters into shops.
“Same is the position of the office space allotted for the Civil Defence and security posts; the space is now converted into shops, sold out to highest bidders. We no longer have professional security operatives in Ogbogonogo.
“Thugs now man our market’s security space, and we don’t trust them, they are not professionals, the rate of abuse and disrespect towards our traders, especially, pregnant traders is horrible.
“We are not happy that up till now, the council has stubbornly refused to approve all our requests to make possible the conduct of a free and fair election of new Ogbogonogo Main Market Traders Association Executives.
“This is highly undemocratic and simply trampling upon our collective rights, we want elections, we want to vote into office, those who we trust can represent us,” he insisted.
But the council authorities denied all allegations, saying that those accusing it of high-handedness, extortion and convention of spaces were disgruntled elements who are resisting positive changes.
The council’s committee chairman for Ogbogonogo Main Market, Mr. Murphy Arinze who spoke on behalf of the council authorities insisted that there was no basis for complaints, noting that those who embarked on the protest were not genuine traders.
“As far as I am concerned, with respect to my office, there is no basis for this so-called protest by some disgruntled nobodies, masquerading as Ogbeohonogo Main Market traders. No trader before today had ever presented any problem before my committee and as such we are not aware of any problem within the market.
“The committee should have been notified of any problem within the market and if we are incapable of solving the said problem that they can exercise their constitutional right by embarking on city wide protest.
“The act of slandering the good name of the council chairman is unacceptable. I am the one in charge of the affairs of the day to day activities in the market and as well as affairs that affect the traders, slandering the chairman’s name is an irresponsible act,” Arinze said.
He described the protesters as hoodlums who were instigated by a few Asaba indigenes whose sole aim was to tarnish the reputation of Mr. Osadebe because of his good works at repositioning Oshimili South council area and Ogbogonogo market.
“While they were protesting, genuine traders are at their stalls, performing their legal business but those who went to the streets are miscreants who have zero engagement at the market.
“Look carefully at those carrying out the protest, most of them were laid off from generating revenue for the council in the market, because they could not manage the posts given to them effectively.
“One of the angers of the sponsors of the protesters have to do with election of new executives for their union which the council is willing to conduct but cannot do so since the traders have two separate unions fighting against each other.
“As we speak, one of the factions is in court and the council, as a law abiding institution cannot disobey the rule of law to please the traders,” he pointed out.