Jeff Agbodo, Onitsha
Recently, the new leadership of the Anambra State Amalgamated Traders Association (ASMATA), took some decisions including banning of weekly prayer sessions in markets in the state. The President General, Chief Ikechukwu Ekwegbalu, said they never banned prayers in the markets rather they suspended the weekly prayers and made it a monthly programme. He also said that peace has returned to all the markets, while warning against revenue racketeering and extortion of customers.
What is the agenda of your administration?
My agenda is to sustain the existing peace in the markets and to ensure that government revenue is remitted and as at when due. I promise to carry everybody along. In our last meeting with market chairmen and secretaries; we received complaints of extortion of our customers who come from far and near by touts during the prayers. We deliberated on it and agreed through votes that prayers should be held in every market once in a month and not daily or weekly in order to curtail the excesses of the touts in the markets.
We equally gave the market leaders powers to choose any day within the month between 7am and 10am for the prayers. We did not say that there would be no prayers in markets in the state but it should be conducted once monthly. As God-fearing people, we know the importance of prayers in our lives and in our businesses and we can’t stop prayers in the markets.
What is your relationship with other market leaders in the state?
It is cordial, I am their new president and since I came on board, we have been working together. Since the change of guard some of them who had been in office with the past executive had to key into my administration and we have been working together to make greater Anambra. They have been coming for our meetings where we decide on certain matters bordering on the progress of the markets.
Diversion of government revenue and touting are recurring issues in the markets. What is the actual position of government on revenue collection in the markets?
Government said we should be collecting the stallage fees and remit to government coffers. We have met with the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce; Dr Christian Madubuko, on the revenue issue. He warned all the market leaders to remit their revenue regularly.
I have informed the traders also of the need to pay these fees and on time too and as well ensure that the market leaders remit the accurate fees based on the number of shops or stores in their markets after taking their ten per cent as stipulated by the government.
The government directive is for market leaders to collect all the stallage fees in various markets, take their own ten per cent and remit the rest to the government designated accounts. This was the thrust of our recent meeting with the commissioner in Awka.
We also talked about the cleanliness of the markets. I warned the market leaders not to connive with any government functionaries to divert revenue meant for the state for individuals. I told them that we are going to do audit of all the shops in the markets to know the number of shops and then compare it with the amount remitted to the government coffers.
The commissioner clearly warned us that anybody caught diverting government revenue would be jailed. He also talked tough on the markets’ environment and how to keep it neat. He directed all the markets leaders where there is no space to keep waste bin to make space for the ministry to provide bins for the markets to ensure that refuse is not dumped on the roads but in the waste bins.
We have agreed that every market should be doing environmental sanitation second Thursday of every month. The way we agreed to be conducting prayers once in month in every market, so shall we be doing sanitation once a month in every market in the state.
One issue in the market has been timely conduct of elections of market leaders. Do you have plan for this?
We have called on traders vying for elective positions to follow due process in the course of their campaign in accordance with the constitution of the market association and not engage in any activity capable of threatening the credibility of the election. We are looking forward to a peaceful, credible and transparent election this time around. We will not extend tenure of any market leader when his tenure expires. There must be election for executive members into the office as the constitution demands.
How are you resolving the crisis in the union?
There is no crisis in our union, ASMATA rather the former union, AMATAS had problem with government, which made the government to disband it and instituted our union ASMATA. There is peace in all the markets since I took over as president. The only issue is when the former AMATAS BoT refused to surrender the keys to the secretariat known as Traders House at Modebe Avenue claiming that the office belonged to them.
We have all the receipts of the monies paid by the traders to build the house. It was traders’ money; N500 contributed by each trader that was used to build the secretariat not an individual’s money. Since it is from traders’ money, the house belongs to all the traders in the state. That was the reason we took over the office with the help of Commissioner for Trade and Commerce.
We have set up peace and conflict resolution unit headed by a team of lawyers where any problem would be reported to and resolved amicably within the union. We shall not condone a situation where the police or government officials would be involved in matters concerning traders, whereas such issues could best be resolved by the market leadership.
I also warned those market leaders who dragged the market matters to the commissioner for trade and commerce to desist from it or stand to be sanctioned. Any market issue should first of all be brought to my office where it would be handled and if it fails to be settled at my table, then I would be the one to take it to the commissioner for final resolution.
What is your plan for attracting more projects in the markets?
You are aware that Governor Willie Obiano is giving every market N10 million under the Markets Choose your Project, which all the markets have benefited before I became the president. I believe that the project will still continue and those markets, which have not finished their projects would complete them and more projects would be done in the markets.
My appeal to the government is that it should not relent in the provision of infrastructure in the markets and should continue with the N10 million projects in the markets. My assurance is that the money would be used judiciously and also well monitored to ensure completion of the projects.
Since assumption of office, what are the challenges that you encounter?
The only challenge is the complaints by customers of extortion by touts during the prayers. These boys before now would corner some customers who were waiting for the prayers to close and shops opened for business. They would always confuse them pretending to be genuine traders, collect their monies in a way of supplying goods to them and would disappear.
I believe that we have tackled the problem by making the prayer sessions now monthly in every market in the state. So, we have stopped market lines prayers to one central prayer, which we had started in the Onitsha Main Market before now and it worked.