Abakpa Market Traders’ Relocation: Tales of Woes and of Tears


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By Akindoyin Aanuoluwapo

 

The Abakpa Main Market is situated at the heart of Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital. It has been in existence before Nigeria gained independence in 1960, this market is ranked among the oldest markets in the South-East and beyond.

It was originally built with zinc and woods, but in 2001, it was reconstructed with blocks and a concrete roof, popularly known as decking, to avert fire disaster. The reconstruction was done during the administration of Dr. Sam Egwu as the governor of the state, and supervised, executed and funded by the then chairman of Ebonyi Local Government Area, Dr. Chris Adol-Awam.

Sometimes last year, a 68-year-old landlady in Abakpa market, Mrs. Pricillia Obijiaku, told newsmen that her late husband acquired a shop with the sum of N400 in early 1980.

“l came to Abakaliki in the early 1960s when the shops were built with woods and roofed with zinc. That was how I met the market. In 1980, my late husband became a landlord in the market. He bought the shop at the rate of N400; but today, a shop goes for N1million or N800,000, depending on the location,” she said.

Since the governor of Ebonyi State issued an order that Abakpa market would be relocate to the new international market, those who opposed the relocation idea approached the court for justice have not found it easy. Some of those people’s shops were locked down with the allegations that they owed one tax or the other.

Chief Godwin Nwode, also known as Day-by-Day, is among those whose shops, residences or warehouses were sealed for alleged violation of revenue law.

Those whose shops were sealed include Mr. David Nwoke, Mr. Akwagon I.G, Mr. Ezenwata Anwusi, Mrs. Suzzy Nwode and Mr. Henry Uguru.

Those who had both shops and warehouses sealed were Mr. Simeon Ominyi and Mr. Osuji Dandy Ideyi, also known as Foreign Man. Chief Godwin Nwode’s shop, warehouse and residential building was sealed for over a month before it was finally opened after several mediation.

Ebonyi International Market, a standard market for the promotion of sub – Trans sahara trade linking other African countries which was said to have been completed and ready for traders to relocate to was not totally completed, but some parts are completed and ready for use while there are several buildings that are still under construction.

The market which is strategically located on a road that leads to other parts of Africa with modern facilities has over 8000 shops.

The international market was started during the tenure of the former governor, Chief Martins Elechi, but it was left unused for a period of time, Engr. David Umahi found some faults in some areas of the international market and put it in order by reconstructing or renovating as the case of the building may be.

When Citizens’ Advocate visited the international market a week prior to the relocation of Abakpa market traders, we noticed that there were shops in Lot 1 that are completed and there are shops that are yet to be roofed, there are different building in the Lot 1 at different stages.

Work is constantly ongoing there day and night, hopefully to meet up with the relocation, but the speed was not enough, as work continues, the Abakpa market traders relocated to the place a week after, yet work continues at the market.

There were several announcements on radio over the modalities of purchasing shops at the new international market.

Expression of interest forms for shops in Lot 1, up and down is N50,000, expression of interest forms for bungalows in Lot 2 and 3, downstairs is N20,000 while expression of interest forms for warehouses in Lot 1, 2 and 3, up and down is N100,000.

The purchase of stores in Lot 1, downstairs stores go for N4.2m, payment can be done in 3 installments, 50%, 30% and 20% while the purchase of stores in Lot 1, upstairs stores go for N4m, payment can be done in 3 installments, 50%, 30% and 20%.

The purchase of warehouses, downstairs go for N3m, payment can be done in 3 installments, 50%, 30% and 20%, the purchase of warehouses, 1st floor goes for N2.5m, payment can be done in 3 installments, 50%, 30% and 20% and the purchase of warehouses, Topmost floor goes for N15m, payment can be done in 3 installments, 50%, 30% and 20%.

The purchase of stores in Lot 2, (market women) downstairs building go for N1.3m, with the initial deposit of N500,000 while the purchase of bungalow in Lot 3, downstairs stores go for N2.5m.

When Citizens’ Advocate visited the main market 3 days before it was closed down, some of the traders expressed their fear of not getting a shop at the international market, some said they can’t afford to get a shop there due to low patronage and some expressed fear of the unknown.

One of the traders who would like to be addressed as Mrs. KC said she doesn’t know where to pack her things to as soon as the market closes.

Mrs. KC who sells mother care products said that since the government has been postponing their movement from Abakpa market to the new international market, that things had not been the same as there was low patronage from customers and there were days when there wouldn’t be any patronage at all.

Mrs. KC said, “I’ve not been able to get a shop at the international market, I don’t have money to get shop there, I don’t have money to neither buy nor rent shop at the international market. The rent I paid here has not even expired and they still want me to come and pay another rent there.”

“The shops that the government promised to give for free for one year has all been occupied by unknown persons, people that don’t even own shops here in Abakpa market.”

“We don’t know where to pack our things to, but since there is no place to pack to, we’ll pack our goods to our house since the government has told us to pack out of here.”

“How do I pay such amount for shop when there is no market, market here is dull, there are times we come here and market patronage for that day is low or there’s no market at all.”

“When I went to the market to get shop, I really don’t understand what they are doing there.Since government said all of us should go to the new market and I don’t have money to rent a new shop there, I’ll pack my things to my house.”

One of the traders at the former Abakpa market when spoken with before the relocation, she said the allocation of the shops were not done orderly as they kept on telling them to come back always whenever they went to the market to get a shop, as at 3 days to the final exit from the Abakpa market, she had not gotten a shop yet, but she was still hopeful that she will get a shop there.

Sister Juliet said, “I haven’t gotten a place at the international market, I’ve made efforts to get a place there, I’ve put down my name there as one of the people that will rent shop there since I don’t have money to buy a shop there. But I’ve not received any feedback from them since that day up till today. They came to ring bell today that everyone should pack their things and move to the international market as from tomorrow, maybe they will show us the shops when we get there, but as at today Wednesday, 26th February, 2020, we have not been allocated the shops as promised.”

“I’ve not paid for the shop because I’ve not gotten a place yet, why would I pay for a shop that I’ve not even seen?We heard that many people are there buying shops while some others are renting shops and some have gotten, but I’ve not gotten a shop for now, So I don’t know what to do now.”

When Citizens’ Advocate visited the Abakpa market 3 days to its relocation, traders within the market were scared to speak for the fear that they may be arrested or persecuted.

 

One of the traders that spoke with Citizens’ Advocate pleaded to be anonymous said she owns her shop which she bought at N1.4m, but presently, she can’t afford to pay a huge sum of money again at the International market to buy shop because she doesn’t have the money.

Anonymous said, “I bought this shop N1.4 m about 9 years ago. The governor told us to go to the international market and he didn’t say anything about compensating us, it is money that you’ll use to pay for the new shop.”

“Since I can’t afford the money to buy another shop now, I don’t know how to go about it. It is not about going there to secure a shop, it is money that one will use to buy the shop or rent it.But there is no money to rent shop there now, this is my shop that I bought and there is no compensation for it, that is not good at all.”

Mrs. Blessing Benedict who owns 2 shops where she sells shoe in one shop and sells women clothes in the other lamented that they just purchased the shop for over N2m 2 years ago and now the government is asking them to come and pay another huge sum of money to buy another shop without any compensation for the old one.

Mrs. Benedict said, “We have not gotten a place at the international market, we are still looking far a place, the money is too expensive to buy or to rent, those of us that have shops here inside Abakpa main market are loosing it and getting money to buy another one is a big difficulty.”

“We have two shops here that is our own, we bought the two shop for over N2m. Before we could go there to go and get a shop, people have gotten the main shops, so the shops that are left now are not that good and some others are not in a good site and Lot 1 is too expensive because it is sold for N4.2m and to rent shops at Lot 1 is N20,000 per month which is N240,000 per annum, how much is the goods that one is selling let alone the profit, plus the tax that you’ll still pay the government.”

 

“Loosing a shop you stressed yourself to get and going through another stress to get another shop is too painful, it is very difficult, because the money is too expensive. We bought this shop 2 years ago.”

Sir Ogbonna Ikechukwu who had been looking for a shop at the international market with his father had not been able to succeed in getting one because the shops allocated to their line are not enough for them as they are more and there was no due process in allocating the shops to them.

Ikechukwu said, “I haven’t gotten a shop at the international market, when we went to the market and they said we should stand in front of any shop we want to occupy depending on the business you want to do, they wrote the names of some people, the shop they gave me is in cosmetics.”

“Since I’ve not been able to get a place, I will just pack my things to my house and from there, I’ll be looking out for a place. If I’m able to buy or rent, I’ll be glad.”

Mr. F. M Akudo narrated his ordeal in the process of trying to get a shop at the international market, he said there was no due process as they kept tossing him up and down and in the long run, he wasn’t able to buy a shop there. Even though they declare openly that there are still shops, but when one gets there, they will say there are no more shop for sale.

In a bid not to carry his goods and take back home, he had to rent from one of the persons that have been able to purchase the shop successfully.

Inasmuch as he has been able to rent a place he packed his goods, he is willing to purchase his own shop, even as he hopes that the state government will compensate him with one shop for the 5 he lost at the Abakpa main market.

Mr. Akudo said, “I’ve been able to rent a shop at the international market, I don’t have money to buy, the rented it from someone that bought it at the rate of N10,000 per month, that is N120,000 per annum, the shop is at Lot 2.”

 

“There was total confusion there, we were told that shops will be allocated to us there, we went there to pick numbers, after 2 weeks, it was cancelled, went there again the second time, picked numbers, after a month, they cancelled it again, then we went for the third one, that was when we heard that the women leader, Mrs. Akochi had taken over the whole thing, she was in control by then.”

“I went there to meet her, she told me to go and purchase form. I had purchased form 3 years ago with N50,000 and I paid my 4 years tax which took my almost N90,000. She said I should go and get another form with N21,000 but I told her I had form already, so I didn’t go there again.”

“Later, I went there again, they asked me to register my name in their book, up till now, they haven’t called me. I had to go there to go and search for shop myself, I had to rent from someone that had bought the shop.”

“I went there several times and they asked me if I want to buy or rent and I told them I want to rent since it is N2.5m, but there was another woman that I met there that told me there is shop or sale and it is N1.3m, she asked me to wait that she will give me shop, but after waiting for more than 3 hours, she said there were no more shops  I should come back.”

 

“They asked me to go and write my name with a computer which I have done, but they’ve not called me since then, I want to buy a shop, if I see, I’ll be buy, I have paid rent for a shop so that I won’t take my goods home. The shop I even paid for is not completed, I still have many things to do there.”

“I have 5 shops in Abakpa market which I bought with my hard-earned money and the government didn’t even give me one shop at the new international market to compensate me.”

“I plead with the government to give me at least one shop to compensate me with the 5 shops I’m loosing or even they should allocate a shop to me, I’ll pay them”

“Engr. David Umahi is a good man, he works very hard, but they are giving him wrong report about the market, if he hears the right report, he will act correctly.”

“I’ll advise him to subsidize the prize of the market to market men and market women that own shops at Abakpa main market, that will serve as a means of encouraging them. At least each trader should get one shop each, there are some widows here who depend on these shops to fend for their children and they don’t have any other source to get money. As these widows have been dragged out without giving them alternative to their shops, what will they do?”

Mrs. Angela Igboke was happy about the relocation of the Abakpa main market to the international market as the former market was small and the latter can accommodate all of them and many more there.

She said since she doesn’t have money to buy shops at the new market, she was able to rent from someone that had bought and she is happy moving there.

Mrs. Igboke said, “I have been able to rent a place at the new international market, I don’t have N1.3 m to buy, so I rented at the rate of N10,000 per month, making N120,000 per annum.”

“I own this shop, I bought it 9 years ago, I can’t afford to buy a shop at the international market now.”

“I like it the way government asked us to go to the international market because the Abakpa market is small and Ebonyi state is meant to have a big international market like this one s other states have. I am happy the way government asked us to go there. Our governor has made Ebonyi state a big state, the way this international market is built is very fine and it is nice.”

However, as there was pandemonium in Abakpa market on Saturday as traders were being escorted of their shops, either you pack your goods to the new international market or youpack your things home, there was calm at Senator Sam Egwu’s plaza.

The Plaza that is located at the heart of the market was recently built a few years back. It is a modern plaza, really, it is a befitting plaza that the government couldn’t have sent them packing like the Abakpa market traders were relocated to a new site.

Speaking with one of the occupants at the plaza, Mrs. Nnamani the plaza is not affected by the relocation to the new international market as the plaza is not owned by the government, it is owned by Senator Sam Egwu.

Mrs. Nnamani said, “This plaza is calm and there is nobody that is being chased away here because the plaza is owned by an individual, Sam Egwu, but if the government want us to leave here like others at the Abakpa market, the government must discuss with the owner first and then we’ll know what to do from there.”

On the final day the Abakpa market was being relocated, there was pandemonium as some people had earlier packed their things away from the Abakpa market even till midnight, while some others were seen packing their things away from the market on Saturday morning, those that were slow in packing their things were been beaten.

When Citizens’ Advocate visited the Abakpa market in the morning immediately after sanitation, there was a man that was been slapped by some boys following one SA, upon enquiries, the SA who didn’t mention his office said that they were directed to come and caution the traders so that they can leave the market, but some of the boys slapped one of the traders, claiming that he was selling his goods to his customers when he was meant to be packing, plenty people gathered to witness the harassment.

But when Citizens’ Advocate reporter moved close to them to caution them of the inhumane action being meted on the poor young man, they stopped and walked away. After that, the trader continued packing his goods to avoid further embarrassment.

When we visited inside the Abakpa main market where majority of the traders sold their goods, we noticed that all the shops were open, some of the traders were seen unhooking their racks in their shops and packing it out for use wherever they were moving their things to.

Many of them were scared to talk to Citizens’ Advocate, but the few people that interacted with us expressed their displeasure as they have not been able to get a shop at the new international market, while some others claimed that they were not financially buoyant to rent a shop at the international market.

Amaka Nwonu said, “They said that we are moving to international market, but we don’t have a shop there yet. I am packing my things to my house, I don’t have a place to sell my things, there is no hope for me.”

“I’m stranded as I don’t know how to train my children if my goods are kept at home, I can’t sell it, how do I feed them since I can’t afford shop at the international market?”

Ugwu Solomon lamented of not having a shop at the international market because he wasn’t financially buoyant to neither buy a shop nor rent one as there were irregularities that marred the allocation of shops to traders.

Solomon said, “I haven’t gotten a shop at the international market, I am not financially buoyant to get a shop there, I’m packing my things to my house because I don’t have cash to rent a shop there.I’ll stay at home hoping on God to pave way for me, I don’t have anything in mind for now.”

Igwe Ruth Ngozichukwu lamented over the high fee for the shops at the international market, because she doesn’t know anyone there, she has not been able to secure shop there till she packed out Abakpa market.

Igwe Ruth said, “As I’m moving out of this market, I’m not moving to international market, I’m moving down to my house and I’m very sad about it because I’ve not gotten any shop there. We have searched there several times, they said there is no available shop again.”

“Those that are still getting shops there might be those that know someone there, that’s why they are still getting shops. I don’t even have the money to buy any shop now, the money is not available.”

“The government should please provide available a packing store for us where we can pack our things, if the government can provide a cheaper place for us, we’ll be very grateful.”

“They pursued me from my house in the village and they also pursued me here, where will I carry my things to?”

When Citizens’ Advocate visited the new international market after they were told to leave the Abakpa market, our first observation was that Lot 1 that was sold for N4.2m was still almost empty as it was the previous week before they were relocated there and work was still ongoing at those building at Lot 1 where work had continued the previous week when Citizens’ Advocate visited the international market.

Though, there were very few shops that were open and had goods inside them, but when Lot 2 and Lot 3 was visited, we noticed that some shop owners who had been able to secure shops at the new international market are putting finishing touches to their shops, some were seen settling down, some were seen arranging their goods, some were arranging their racks in their shops so that they will have a place to arrange their goods, while so many men and women were seen roaming about the market trying to locate a shop they can buy or to rent from the owner that has bought.

A cosmetic trader within the market, John Paul said, “To see shop to rent here is a problem, many people are roaming around here to get shop. If you are lucky to meet with the owner of the shop so as to rent from him/her. I paid N200,000 which include the shop rent, agent fee and other logistics.”

“Some people are making money from the allocation of shops to people, but the government is not paying us anything, we are in the hands of God, whatever we see by the day, we will take it like that.”

Another trader, Chigozie Uzoba said, “I rent this shop from the owner, I got it through a carpenter that informed me that the owner wants to rent it out, the payment of the shop is N120,000 with N10,000 agent fee, but now that we have relocated here, I heard that the shop rent has now increased to N150,000.”

Another trader who deals on bottled water and other types of drinks, Ogbonna Ikechukwu Eli had gotten a shop at the market, a shop that he bought for N1.3m.

When Citizens’ Advocate visited his shop, he was seen settling down in his shop, packing in new goods and attending to customers.

Ogbonna said, “When the former governor was still on seat, there was a time I heard that they said people should go and purchase form to get shops here, but I don’t know if the previous government was giving the shops out for free to traders them.”

“I heard it when they aired it that people should go and get form for shops at the international market, but I can’t say how much they got the forms then.”

“I bought this my shop N1.3 m and I purchased the form for N21,000. To make payment of the shop rent easier, they split the payment into 3 years, this year, you are expected to payN500,000, in 2021, you will pay N400,000 and in 2022, you will pay N400,000, making N1.3m. They never told us you will pay another fee after the N1.3m.”

“Many politicians are not even ready to come and trade in this market, so to say that it is only politicians that bought shop here is not true. I was able to get a shop here and I’m not a politician.”

“I don’t have a shop at Abakpa market before now, but I’m able to get one now, but whoever that is stranded and have not been able to get a shop at the new international market, they have themselves to blame, because the government has been announcing for a while on radio that people should go and get shops at the international market.”

After they finally moved the Abakpa meat market traders to the international market, Citizens’ Advocate visited the market again and saw that the traders were given a large empty space where they can sell their goods, but it was a problem sharing the land as several people in charge of sharing the land to market of each park, Ikwo park, Hosanna park, Old park, Meat market were allocating and reallocating to trader, a situation which made them to stay there all day trying to make sure that everyone gets a space to sell his/her goods.

Some of the traders that spoke with us thanked the government for bringing them to the new international market, but they want the government to do more for them like tarring the floor or make German flooring there and also make a large shade there for them so that it will be easier to stay there when the rain starts or else the place will be messy and that can also chase customers away.

One of the traders, Justice Igbo said, “Traders at Sperain deo and Hossana park that are involved in petty trading are also directed to come to the international market, it was formally announced that some of the traders from Abakpa meat market will move to Spera in deo park and a space has been given to them on where they will stay there, but later, there was another announcement that all of them should move to international market.”

“All of us have been here since morning and there is no specific spot assigned to each market, it was the women leader that assigned here to us and she left us alone, the woman told us to peg everything and share it according to each park’s market, but we will definitely settle down here.”

Another trader, Moses Ugbala thank the government for relocating them to the international market, but pleaded with the government to provide a packing store for them where they can pack their goods after the sales for the day.

Ugbala said, “We are sharing this portion of land at the international market to different traders trading on different goods from the Abakpa market. This place is a good place and it is a conducive environment better than where we are coming from. I believe the government will provide where we can pack our goods when we close for the day.”

“For now, we don’t have a place to pack our things, we hope to maybe keep our things here after each day’s sales or look for a store to pack our things. But the government has not made a provision of where we will pack our things.”

“I appeal to government to provide a packing store for us so that even after selling, we can have a place to keep our things for security purpose.”

Another trader who was part of those coordinating the allocation of spaces, Nwankwo Ngozi wants the government to build a shelter for them to serve as shade when it is sunny and when it is raining.

Ngozi said, “This place that the government provided for us is good, but there are some problems that we have, we don’t have shelter and there is nowhere to keep our goods. Raining season is fast approaching, we need government to help us build a shelter here so that people can be happy to come and buy things from us here, but if this place is not neat, they won’t come here, but they will go to the shop to buy things.”

One of the traders, Okoye Amaechi lamented the fraud being perpetrated in the market where two people would claim ownership of one shop and collect rent of it from different people.

Amaechi said, “The challenges we are facing is that there are some people that claim they are the owner of a particular shop and they will collect rent from individuals and then another person will come, claiming to be the landlord of the shop. Since we don’t know the real owner of the shop, some people are taking advantage of us.”

“When we met with the market women leaders to link us with the landlords who have bought the shops, but they directed us back to go and meet the landlord, without directly linking us with the landlord.”

“I paid N180,000 for the rent of the shop, but there are two people claiming to be the owners of the shop, we don’t know what to do. I contributed N90,000 and my sister contributed N90,000 so that we can share the shop into 2 to be able to use the shop together. We have paid for a shop and we have not been able to get the shop now. We are here together struggling with others to get space here”

A chicken trader, Nome Okechukwu pleads with the government to either relocate them from the new layout chicken market or relocate those that are defiant to government’s order back to new layout chicken market.

“I deal on chicken, I came from new layout chicken market to the international market when I heard that some of our members are here.”

“In 2015, we were relocated to a temporal site at new layout, chicken market, when we went there, some members who are defiant to government’s order stayed back and occupied the place where we were chased out from at Abakpa market.”

“Today, we heard that those same people that refuse to move with us to new layout have also relocated to international and that they were given a space there.”

“If government want us that are presently occupying the new layout chicken market to relocate to the international market, we will do so, we will gladly obey their instructions, since they told us earlier that new layout chicken market was a temporary site.”

“The government has not told us to relocate to international market, but we are here, seeing chicken cages, meaning those defiant persons have relocated themselves here.”

Another chicken dealer, Deacon Sunday Umoke who was also present expressed readiness of the chicken dealers association, Ebonyi State to relocate to international market if the government ask them to relocate.

“I am one of those that are selling chicken at new layout chicken market. We are not aware that our members are here, but we heard a rumour that they are here and only for us to come and see that they are actually here.”

“We have an association called Chicken Dealers Association, Ebonyi state, registered with Corporate Affairs Commission and also registered in the state.”

“We are pleading to the government, if they want us to be relocated to the international market, just like they relocated us to new layout chicken market, we are ready to be relocated. Government told us in 2015 that the new layout chicken market was a temporal market, if government want to relocate us again, we will obey the instructions.”

Citizens’ Advocate observed that there were many shops that were still locked up and in one of the shops at Lot 2, the market women leaders are still there allocating shops to people and some were being denied application.

We observed that there was a woman who had been discussing with the market women leader and after her discussion handed over a young man to the market woman leader, mentioned the link and asked the woman to help her, the market women leader then asked the boy a few questions in a lowered voice so that others wouldn’t hear, then he told him to come back the following day, which was Wednesday for allocation of shop.

The boy was among those that had been following the woman to be allocated shops at the international market.

We also observed in Lot 1 where the person in charge of allocating shops to interested persons in Lot 1 was playing different kinds of politics by having slots for some persons. A number of shops are given to someone as slots, then when those people bring interested buyers, they will be placed in their slots while there are several people that need shops, the people in charge are hoarding it and allocating the shops to who knows who.

Earlier, Abakpa market traders have accused those allocating shops of playing politics, but it was obvious that after some shops have been allocated to some traders, the remaining ones that are hoarded are being sold out to those that know those in charge of the allocation.

The movement of the Abakpa market to the international market is a good and welcomed development, the governor of Ebonyi state has taken a bold step by moving the traders.

When the governor spoke with newsmen last week that “relocation of Abakpa market traders, March 1st is sacrosanct”, it was like a rumour, since there had been several postponements earlier before now, some still doubted him and said it would be postponed again, looking at the level of work that is still ongoing there.

But he made it possible, the relocation started on Friday, 28th February, through 29th February, then March 1st became ‘Sacrosanct’, it was like a dream to some people, a dream that some of them have not been able to wake up from till now.

Looking at the level of work that is ongoing, day and night, we’ll implore the government to hasten up work at the market, so that it will meet up with international standard in terms of road network among other things.

The open space that was allocated to the foodstuff sellers free of charge is a good idea, but the place is not befitting yet, since raining season is fast approaching, to make the place better, government can build a makeshift shade for the traders, which will at least shelter them from rain when rain starts.

The floor also needs to be attended to, should rain fall soonest, the place will be very messy that customers may find it difficult to patronize these traders because the road will not be passable and stagnant water may spoil their goods.

The government can either tar the road or make it befitting by constructing the concrete flooring and as well make a shade for the traders to make them enjoy the befitting market.

A big thank you to the person that conceived the idea of the international market, Chief Martins Elechi, and he built it to a stage where it can be continued, a very big thanks to the governor of Ebonyi state for continuing the good works started by his predecessor and finally relocating the Abakpa market traders.


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