Traders at Oduigbo section of the Ochanja Central Market, Onitsha, the commercial hub of Anambra State, mostly women have protested their ejection and shops demolition by the state government.
The traders were protesting that the state government gave them only two days to vacate the market or caterpillars would be used to demolish their shops.
Some of the placards read, “Council chairman, Emeka Orji, what have we done to you” “we are widows and eke out our living from Oduigbo market,” “Governor Soludo come to our rescue, they want to demolish the shops in the market to acquire more shops to the ones they have,” among others.
Over 700 ground floor shops and 500 shops upstairs worth millions of naira where some traders use as warehouses to store goods have been earmarked for demolition.
Emeka Joseph Orji, Chairman of Onitsha South Local Government of the state in a “Final Notice Of Demolition” directed that the exercise would take effect from July 2.
“Take notice final notice that Onitsha and state government planned reconstruction of Oduigbo will commence with site clearing from July 2, 2023.
“Traders and residents in the area are strongly advised to assist by removing their wares and obstruction along the site,” Orji had directed in the notice.
When contacted, Bonaventure Muo, Caretaker chairman of the market, and one of the accused of the plot to throw over 1500 traders out of business, said he had no hands or plan against fellow traders.
“I stand in between, obeying official government directives to the traders. I only deliver the message given to me by government. It is not my project. I am touched as their leader, but my hands are tired, I can’t challenge government,” he said.
Muo, while “setting the record straight” said that the state government’s decision to rebuild the shops constructed sometime in the the 90s would be in the benefit of members.
“I have no such mandate with my 21-committee members from the state government to go into restructuring of shops in the market. I am a trader and no trader will feel happy that his or her means of livelihood will be destroyed,” he said.
According to him, “I invited the stakeholders in the market and informed them about the government’s decision. I pleaded with them to take their protest to the seat of government in Awka, the state capital, to demand explanations. I don’t have a hand in the plan to demolish any shop in the market.
“But some group of stakeholders in the market turned down this noble decision, but instead were instigating some traders, mostly women to stage protest. This is the second time in two months of such protest.”
He said that the state deputy governor, Onyekachi Obezim had visited two months back where he told the traders that government wanted to rebuild the shops at Oduigbo section of the market.
According to him, the deputy governor met and interviewed those who have shops at the section of the market and informed them of government plan.
“Government was also not encouraged that some of the traders are selling goods along Iweka road, right in front of the market and want to bring them back into the market.
“Government want to avoid accidents and street trading which is constituting nuisance to the state. They are not sacking them rather to better their environment.
“They were informed that government will complete the restructuring work within six months and the traders will have back their shops with better access road for easy movements.
“Government told us they are searching for an empty space of land where the traders would be relocated while the reconstruction lasted.
“I told the traders with their allocation papers to forward their proofs to us, so that in the event of the restructuring when completed, they would be compensated at the end of the exercise.
“Some of them organised this protest aimed also at removing me as chairman. They were told that if I am removed, and new person takes over, that the demolition will die a natural death.
“They wrote a petition to government that I took over the market leadership to enrich myself. Thus, the protest is to see me as a bad leader.”
Leader of the protesters, Chukwudi Eke, said they were given two days (Sunday and Monday) to vacate the market.
“There was a time government came and told us that the market was dark that there should be light in the market by renovating it.
“We told them that we can do that by ourselves to their taste,” he said.