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Aftermath of Onitsha market crisis: Traders, impeached council boss in war of words

Traders: We lost 2 guns, N25m
•They nearly lynched me — injured council boss

By Nwabueze Okonkwo, ONITSHA

Traders at the  Millenium Merchants and Importers Association Market, near the Onitsha Main Market, Anambra state, are still counting their losses days after a bloody clash between them and officials of Onitsha South Local Government council.

However, while the traders are claiming to have lost two pump-action guns and a whooping N25 million to thugs that came into the market with Onitsha South Local Government Area officials, then council Chairman, Lady Ann Chukwuneke, who claimed to have been rushed to hospital following the incident, had cause to thank God for saving her life  after allegedly attacked by the irate traders. She explained she merely went to the market to de-congest the streets of trading activities and illegally parked vehicles and not to collect levies as alleged by the traders.

But following the incident, the traders had demanded for the immediate impeachment of the  council chairman. It was a wish the powers that be in the state immediately granted as Lady Chukwuneke has since been impeached. Even this is not enough to appease the aggrieved traders. They are now demanding that the council  should compensate them for the losses and also repair the over 20 shops allegedly destroyed during the fracas.

Stiff resistance

Irate traders protesting the invasion of the market by council officials. I
Irate traders protesting the invasion of the market by council officials. I

It would be recalled that trouble started penultimate Thursday when Lady Chukwuneke reportedly stormed the market with over 100 youths to collect N50,000 levy per shop from the traders which was met with stiff resistance.

It was while the traders were trying to stop them that a free for-all-fight ensued, resulting in over 50 persons sustaining various degrees of injuries. Those reportedly injured included the Vice Chairman of the market, Prince Peter Okoye who had a machete cut on his head, Obiora Otigba who had machete cut in his hand and one John Okafor.

Reacting, the Anambra State Markets Amalgamation Traders Association, ASMATA, chairman,Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo, said that the council chairman has no right to storm the market and destroy the wares of the traders some of who have lost huge sums of money to hoodlums. His words: “The Governor directed me to come and calm the traders and to reopen their shops, that he is looking into the crisis. I am happy the Governor is aware because he does not want crisis in the state”.

The traders carried placards some of which read thus: “The council chairman is not a good mother, we are disappointed … Governor Obiano should remove her”, “We have lost huge sums of money to hoodlums and she should be impeached”.

The chairman of the market, Mr. Valentine Ezechukwu and former chairman, Chief Obiora Nwankwo, had described the action of the former chairman as uncalled for, adding that they had earlier discussed with her on the way forward for the market and wondered why she stormed the market without prior notice. “We even gave out a token to the council and today they stormed the market demanding N 50,000 per shop,” he said.

Also the treasurer, Chief Nathan Anajiofor, expressed dissatisfaction that the now impeached council chairman could agree to deal ruthlessly with the traders when they pay their normal storage fee to the council.

Three traders, Uche Okolie, John Achukwu from Warri and one Joseph, lost N 2.5 million, N360.000 and N 100,000 respectively to the hoodlums during the mayhem.

It would be recalled that the timely intervention of the Onitsha Police Area Commander, Mr. Benjamin Nwordu, saved the situation from escalating.

But in a reaction, the ex-council boss, Lady Chukwuneke, claimed that she was rather attacked  by the traders at Sokoto Road on the fateful day, adding that she had just been discharged from the hospital alongside other Local Government staff who sustained various degrees of injuries when they accompanied her to the market. She said she was attacked by the angry traders while trying to dissuade them from trading along the road, which she explained is in line with the State government policy.

Speaking to newsmen on the development, she said she was thankful to God for saving her life and expressed shock that the traders, who she said were being instigated by her political opponents, had equally shattered her official vehicle with stones, broken bottles and other dangerous weapons. “I would have been dead by now if not for two police officers who accompanied us to the market. I only went to the market with my PA, two police officers and the Supervisory Councilor for Works in the Local Government to dissuade the traders from displaying their wares on the road,” she said.

Positive change

Lady Ann Chukwuneke
Lady Ann Chukwuneke

Lady Chukwuneke also debunked insinuations that she imposed any levy on the traders, saying that she has not in any way asked the traders to pay any levy since she came to power. “I am in that position to effect a positive change and to save the masses and not to make money because God has made me rich before vying for the position,” she said.

She insisted that contrary to insinuations that over 50 persons sustained various degrees of injuries while about 20 shops were destroyed, it was she and her entourage that were attacked by the traders for trying to decongest the market. She added: “I have begged these traders severally to stop trading on the road but if you go there now, you will see vehicles, tricycles, motorcycle, heavy duty lorries parked along the road, thereby obstructing free human and vehicular movement.

Others in the market cooperated but at Sokoto road, their Vice Chairman, Prince Peter Okoye and his men blocked the street with chain and turned me back. At a point, they started throwing stones and sachet water at us. It was in the process that one of the stones they threw hit me on the head. I quickly rushed into my car,” she said.

On the right of the Local Government to give orders in the market, the impeached council boss cited the  2011 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended) and the Anambra State constitution No. ANHA/Law/2012/03 which states that construction and maintenance of roads, streets and markets are the duties of the local government and called on the traders to be law-abiding.

At the Onitsha Area command, the vandalised Local Government vehicle was spotted but the Area Commander, Mr. Benjamin Wordu, declined to comment on the matter and referred newsmen to the state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO.


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