From FRED ITUA
All is not well in one of Abuja’s biggest modern markets, located in the commercial hub of Utako. For sometime, business activities had been crippled at the market. This has gone on for almost two weeks, following protests by the aggrieved traders over alleged plan by Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) to take over the market.
Throughout last week, the aggrieved traders closed their shops and protested within and outside the market, while security operatives barricaded the entrance to the market.
Some of the traders carried placards with various inscriptions such as “AMAC leave us alone’’, “we are Nigerians, save us from AMAC’’, “Hon. Minister of FCT save us from AMAC’’, “Reps. save our shops we are decent business people.’’
The lingering crisis appeared to be far from over. The unrelenting traders, have taken their grievances to the corridors of the FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello. They have also written series of petitions to drive home their points.
That is not all; they have besieged any known television or radio stations within Abuja to register their displeasure. Despite assurances from the Chairman of AMAC, Abdullahi Candido, the traders are unwilling to throw in the towel.
Candido, had while addressing newsmen last week, assured shop owners that no trader will be shortchanged after remodeling the market. He said under his watch, no trader would be shortchanged and no new person would be allocated shops unless all the allottees had been given shops.
According to him, “we do not want crisis, we do not want to lose a single soul, the presence of the police is to protect lives and properties and to ensure orderliness.”
He further assured the traders that there was no cause for alarm as nobody would be displaced because of the remodeling. He said the remodeling will start with the space that is not occupied.
In the same vein, the FCT Administration has made its own intervention in the ongoing face-off. Permanent Secretary of FCT Administration, Mr. Christian Chinyeaka Ohaa, urged protesting Utako Market traders and shop owners to return to the negotiating table to make room for amicable resolution of issues generated by recent plan to upgrade the market.
Permanent Secretary who made this appeal in a meeting with the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Traders, as well as Utako Market Traders Association, gave strong assurances to the traders that no one would short-change them or take away their shops unduly in the course of the remodelling exercise estimated at N67 billion.
The meeting had been convened in reaction to the protest staged by the concerned traders at the FCTA Secretariat, to protest planned upgrading of the market by AMAC, alleging the exercise was a ploy to take their shops away from them.
Ohaa expressed concern over the way and manner the traders pulled out from earlier negotiations and urged them to return to the negotiating table and to express their grievances with an open mind as stakeholders in the Abuja project.
“We are committed to ensuring justice and due process. The developers have assured us that no one will lose his shop and we hold him to their words and will not superintend over injustice.
“This is government of change, committed to moving Nigeria forward. Abuja is the city of unity, as envisioned by our founding fathers, and a home for every Nigerian,” he assured.
Mr. Ohaa urged the traders to consider the interest of all parties in the project by allowing work to go on, explaining that he had visited the market and observed that business activities and construction work could go on simultaneously. FCTA, he stated would ensure security of lives in all places, including the markets, churches and mosques at all times, especially during festive season.
He further requested the whole team, comprising the FCT and National Leaders of the Association as well as Ohanaeze and others to visit the market for a first-hand information on the state of affairs and to report back to him.
The drama is still unfolding and for now, it is not certain where the pendulum will shift.