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Abia Government & Ariaria Traders On War Path Over Reconstruction Of Market

By Ugochukwu Alaribe.

Aba Traders at the Ariaria International Market, Aba, Abia State are currently on war path with the State Market Development Committee, SMDC, over the reconstruction of the market. The SMDC, which informed that the upgrade of the market will take place in phases, had directed traders at the Park 1 and 2 sections of the market to relocate to the Aba Mega Mall, located along the Enugu- Port Harcourt expressway, to make way for the reconstruction of shops which are billed to commence soon.

On Thursday, April 21, the Market Development Committee organised an interactive session on the new Ariaria Redevelopment Project to sensitize traders on the plans to remodel the market which is being done in partnership with TAF African Homes Limited. But the traders have vowed never to move, describing it as a ploy to deprive them of their shops, and called on the government to demolish only structures built on drainage channels and walkways. Vanguard Metro, VM, checks revealed that the Ariaria Market built in 1976 as a relief response after the Ekeoha market was gutted by fire has suffered much degradation with indiscriminate Attention of shops and illegal structures leading to the distortion of original master plan.

Chairman of the SMDC, Chief Solomon Nwaigwe, who told VM that his committee was set up to remodel, upgrade and manage existing markets in the state, lamented the level of decay and flooding in the market which he attributed to the activities of traders who erected illegal structures on top of drainage way and indiscriminate dumping of refuse in waterways, causing water to overflow the gutter and find its way into the traders’ shops. Nwaigwe assured legitimate shop owners in the market of getting back their shop(s) after the exercise, while illegal owners will forfeit ownership of such illegal structures.

He added that work will soon commence on the internal roads in the market, the Ukwu Mango area to link the market to the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, including the dualisation of the Faulks Road to Brass junction. According to him, the committee was set up by the state government to restore the master plan of the market and upgrade it to the standard of an international market. “It might interest you to know that we have carefully carried out proper checks at the market. And we discovered that the traders have built lock-up shops on top of drainage channels in the market. They have also formed the habit of dumping refuse into the drainage whenever it is raining, resulting to flood. “All the structures put in place for a modern market of international standard in Ariaria have been distorted.

They have also built lockup shops in a space that was originally built for parks. In the past, trailers and heavy-duty trucks used to come into the market to offload their wares, but that is not the case today as traders have taken and converted every available space in and outside the market to shops. “By the time we are through with what we are doing in the market with some interested private investors, we will not only be restoring the master plan of the market, but will be creating more spaces, shops and facilities for traders to acquire and that will stop the increasing case of street or roadside trading in the market,” he said. Nwaigwe disclosed that they will be starting with 10,000 shops in the first phase of the exercise while over 100,000 shops would be realised at the end and urged traders to cooperate with the committee. “We have commenced data capturing of all the traders and legitimate shops in the market.

We are committed to build more than what is currently available in terms of shops at the market. We have negotiated with the management of Aba Mega Mall. For rent, it’s N300, 000; they can pay within six months. For the small traders, they will pay N5,000 a month while outright purchase is N3.6m spread over 36 months after initial 20% payment. Meanwhile, they are to stay for three months free of charge.” He dismissed allegations that members of his committee were extorting traders and threatening to demolish their shops, and accused those behind the illegal structures of trying to frustrate the efforts of the committee. But the traders insist that they won’t relocate to the mall.

Even the assurance by Nwaigwe that no legitimate trader will lose his shop after the exercise has failed to sway the traders. In an interview with journalists in Aba, Chairman of the National Association of Nigerian Traders, NANTS, Deacon Michael Aniorji, accused the state government of planning to sack traders from the market under the guise of rebuilding it, stressing that the distortion of the original plan of the market was done by government officials and its agencies who encouraged Attention of shops on drainage channels. The traders union insisted that they fully support the demolition of structures built on drainage channels and walkways, but are against the plan to relocate them to the Aba Mega Mall which they described as a private facility. According to Aniorji: “We are 100% against the planned reconstruction and demolition of already existing structures not built on drainage channels.

They now want us to relocate to the Aba Mega Mall; this is a ploy to rob us of our shops. No trader is relocating. Why can’t the government partner with us in the development of the market? Are not willing and able to provide the needed funds for the development of the market? Ariaria International Market is enjoying international status only by the sweat of the traders who have made it what it is today. These shops are our only investments. It is from these shops that we pay our rents, train our children; it will be inhuman to take them away from us. “We therefore call on the Abia State government to resist the temptation from selfish politicians and gold digging businessmen to lure it into demolition and reconstruction of shops in Ariaria Market.We have appealed to Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to intervene. If the government desires to build a mega mall, it can do so in virgin areas like Ugwunagbo, Osisioma Ngwa or Obingwa which have proximity with Aba.

We won’t relocate from Ariaria market.” He called on the government to rather focus its attention in reconstructing roads in the market such as Ukwu Mango and Faulks Road, to check flooding. The traders also blamed the government for the arbitrary Attention of shops at every available space in the market. According to them: ”The distortion of the original master plan of the Ariaria market was done by the government and its agencies through the appointment of leaders, some of who don’t even have shops in the market, as leaders. With the help of government, these leaders build shops on top of drainage systems and walkways. These illegal structures were also given allocation and approval papers by the Aba North local council.”

A cross section of the traders who spoke to VM accused the government of planning to sack them when they have invested all they have in the market. They argued that all the shops in the market were allocated and made revocable only on one condition; nonpayment of stallage fees. “We are not paid gratuity or pension, the shops are our only investments; this why we protect them like our lives. It is from here that we pay our house rents, train our children and help our dependents. It will be inhuman to take it away from us. “There are more than 3,000 open shops at the former Timber Line. Why can’t the government develop such places instead of trying to displace original traders. We won’t allow it happen,” Emeka, who claimed to have started trading in the market in 1979, told VM.

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