By Nwabueze Okonkwo
ONITSHA — Thugs suspected to be members of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, yesterday allegedly invaded Onitsha main market, beating up traders who were protesting against N200 levy per shop charged by market leaders over the installation of CCTV camera in the market.
Trouble was said to have started at about 8.30 a.m. when some task force members and suspected hired agents stormed their popular “White House” line to collect the N200 levy slammed on them on monthly basis by the market executive, which was said to have run into billions of naira in the market that has over 10,000 shops.
According to an eye-witness, who pleaded anonymity, the market agents demanded levy returns from the chairman, who told them that his members have refused to comply with such payment.
This, however, angered the task force men who allegedly pounced on the line chairman, beating him to a pulp, to the extent of tearing his shirt to shreds.
This prompted the traders to immediately lock up their shops and mobilise others who joined their colleagues in the mass protest.
Mobile Policemen were later deployed to the scene to checkmate further escalation of the crisis, while shop owners hurriedly locked up their shops against the rampaging thugs that invaded the market.
Speaking to newsmen on the incident, the line chairmen and secretaries of Zones 1, 2 and 3 of the market, who did not want their names on print for security reasons, said the traders had earlier expressed joy when the state government supported the installation of the CCTV camera in the market, stressing that traders had only agreed to pay maintenance levy.
The market leaders alleged that Onitsha main market leadership, led by Chief Innocent Agudiegwu, and AMATAS President, Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo, were only using the opportunity to enrich themselves.
According to the line chairmen and their secretaries, each line in the market pays a levy to maintain their security and the central market security and wondered how some of the traders in the market were going to cope under such exploitation.
Attempts to speak with the chairman of Onitsha main market, Chief Innocent Agudiegwu, proved abortive as he was not in his office when newsmen visited.His cell phone was also switched off.
His counterpart and President–General of Anambra Markets Traders Association, AMATAS, Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo told reporters that he was mobilising to get the situation under control.