•Tears, as govt demolishes makeshift structures in Onitsha
Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Traders in Onitsha are counting their losses following the demolition of illegal structures in and around the city’s markets by the Anambra State government.
The victims of the demolition broke down in tears when they got to their shops the morning after the demolition. Their wooden shops and containers had been razed during the nocturnal exercise carried out by the state government’s task force.
The team, comprising members of the Joint Task Force as well as operatives of the Ocha Brigade, Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Federal Road Safety Corps, vigilance groups and others, moved into the commercial city with bulldozers and pay loaders and, by the time they were done, over 2,000 traders had lost their makeshift shops.
The demolition started in the midnight of Thursday last week. Armed security agents that accompanied the task force came in a long convoy, shooting intermittently. They pulled down the makeshift shops, kiosks and other structures built along the roads, on waterways and gutters around Old Market Road, Egerton, Ose and Ajasa markets.
The demolition continued along Bright Street, Emeka Offor Plaza, Sokoto Street, Bida Road, near Main Market, Ochanja Relief Market, Ogbogwu, Iweka Road Market, Ogbaru Relief Market and others.
Many of the traders said they lost goods as well as cash to the demolition. Some said they were not informed or given any notice before the commencement of the exercise and, as such, they could not remove their goods.
Mr. and Mrs. Ifeanyi Ezeonu, a deaf and dumb couple, explained that their two shops were destroyed at Ose Market. They stated that their shops were not beyond the gutter, regretting that they lost 20 bags of rice, two bags of crayfish and one bag of stockfish.
Some other victims at Ose Market, including Mr. Samuel Agu, Chinyere Ezennaya and Chidiebere Ugwu were in tears. They lamented that they were not informed of any demolition, stressing that their part of the market was not marked, and their shops was not across the gutter as stated by the government.
Agu said: “I have two shops, one for myself and the other for my wife. But they destroyed the two shops, although they were not in the same area. I sell clothes, but when I came in the morning, they had destroyed the whole place and carted away all my goods as well as the N150,000 cash I left in the shop. The same thing happened to my wife’s shop where she was selling condiments. I’m surprised that they came by midnight. Why did they come at night if not that they had the intention of looting people’s goods?”
A trader at Egerton Bus Stop, Mr. Vin Emeka, said he was sleeping when the task force stormed his house where he owned some shops. He said even though he was not on the road, the place was demolished. He alleged that the rubble from the building nearly killed him while he was trying to escape through the back of the building.
Said he: “I am the owner of this land, where I built 28 shops. It is not illegal, but they came here to demolish everything. They wanted to destroy the vehicles parked in the premises, but we pleaded and removed them. It is out of wickedness. They said they gave a notice. When and where? If there was a notice, nobody would allow his goods to be destroyed like this. What they told us before now was that nobody should cross the gutter to erect any shop or put any goods along the road. But is this place they destroyed on the road? I lost over N3 million to the demolition.”
On their part, Mrs. Clementina Nwigwe, Chinenye Onyewelu, Ifeoma Essie and Stella Anorua were also inconsolable when the correspondent visited the market.
“I’m a widow with five children, one in the university and three in senior secondary school. It is through this my petty business that I feed them and pay their school fees. Look at the place; everything was destroyed. I did not remove even a pin. Tell me how I will survive this shock. Where will I start from? Where is the capital to start all over again? Government has succeeded in rendering us jobless. It is a pity that the same government we voted for a few months ago has turned around to make us beggars,” Anorua lamented.
Another victim at Bright Street, near Main Market, Mr. Chika Okoye, regretted that he returned to his home state to start afresh after he lost all he had in Borno State to Boko Haram terrorists, only to meet a similar fate in Onitsha. He said all his goods were destroyed overnight and wondered why life had been cruel to him.
“I made this container shop just two years ago, and when I came to the market today, I could not believe my eyes. Initially I did not see it; it was my neighbours that showed me where the bulldozer scattered it with the goods inside. So how can I stand again and where will I run?
“I have two brothers that I am training in the university, and I am planning to get married by December. Why should hard luck be following me? It is better I die than to live again,” lamented Okoye.
But one of the members of the task force and chairman, Anambra North Vigilante Services, Mr. Chinenye Ihenko, said the exercise was aimed at saving the life and property of street traders. He noted that some vehicles might lose control and ram into the illegal structures, as such accidents had been a recurring decimal in the commercial city.
“It is also good to save their lives from accidents that normally occur due to the blockage of the road by the traders. We are not disturbing anybody that is not on the road. They can display their wares but not on the roads or on the drainage system,” he said.
The Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. Don C. Adinuba, said the exercise was aimed at decongesting the roads and clearing all the illegal structures to ensure free flow of traffic in Onitsha and other parts of the state.
He denied the allegation by the traders that they were not informed, stressing that the market leaders and members of the public were adequately informed. He said the governor met with various market leaders seven clear months before the commencement of the exercise.
“They were put on notice for months, and it was announced regularly in the media, even before I came on board, by my predecessor. The market union leaders were called to a meeting with the governor, where it was discussed and agreed upon. We also wrote to every bishop and every leader of Pentecostal churches in the state, and it was announced in the various churches. I can give you a copy of the letter. I continued to make the same announcement daily in the media, sometimes every hour.
“Does the time of the demolition matter? It could be in the morning, afternoon or night. The issue is that you were warned repeatedly to take away whatever you have. You were given notice for seven months. You were called for a meeting, where we said that any time from now, it would start. We even mentioned and gave the names of the various markets where this thing would take place. Then you’re asking why they came at night, that they should have come in the morning.
“The statement I issued on the demolition never said ‘gutter.’ I said every illegal structure and kiosk would be demolished,” the commissioner said.