By Ugochukwu Alaribe & Eric Ugbor – Umuahia
Traders at the Ekeoha shopping centre in Aba, Abia State have accused the state commissioner of Trade and Commissioner, Chief Cosmas Ndukwe and Chairman of the Traders Association, Mr Friday Dimiri, of extortion and indiscriminate erection of shops on open spaces at the market.
In a petition to the State House of Assembly, the concerned traders; Oriaku Ugochukwu, James Eze, Jona Anayogu and Chukwueke Nwokocha, through their counsel, Victor Nwaugo, alleged that the Commissioner and the market chairman have converted open spaces designed for walkways, fire station, banking hall, car parks and emergency exit points for human and vehicular movements to shops.
The traders further accused Ndukwe and Dimiri, of imposing a high rate stallage and other fees per stall, by making an increase from N5, 000 to N8, 000, as well as using security agents to harass traders.
They also alleged that the market is being turned into a death trap as two floors of stalls on top of the originally built bungalow blocks of stalls are ongoing without the matching beams, pillars, rods and decks, thereby creating three levels of stalls in the market.
According to the petition, “In the event of any fire outbreak, firefighters can no longer drive their vehicle into the market to quench the fire.
“It has become a daily occurrence to see decked floors in the said Shopping Centre collapse, injuring traders, their customers, and damaging their goods.
“As a tip, on the 17th of August, 2020, a wing of stalls at Zone 11 of the said Shopping Centre collapsed and caused heavy panic among traders and all those present there then.
“Other examples abound, Ekeoha Shopping Centre is now a case of One Week, One Collapse of either a stall or wing of stalls.
“Ekeoha Shopping Centre was built to avert disaster that befell Igbo Traders in 1976 when the famous Ekeoha market was gutted by fire.
“Unfortunately today, the dreams of our fathers who envisioned the Shopping Centre and built it as the pride of Aba have been killed on the altar of extortion, greedy acquisition of filthy lucre on the blood of the innocents.
“The traders also alleged that Ndukwe and Dimiri negotiated with the Independent Power Plant Station and disconnected all stalls in the market from the EEDC electricity supply and imposed a very high daily billing rate on traders on a daily basis, even as traders who cannot afford the usage of the independent power plant are not permitted to connect to EEDC electricity supply.
“Hon Cosmas Ndukwe and Mr Friday Dimiri, unilaterally imposed a high rate stallage and other fees per each stall, by making an increase from N5,000 to N8,000.
“When the traders protested, the Commissioner promised that 10% of the said stallage fees would be remitted back to the traders for maintenance of the market.
“Since 2019 when this regime of fees started under Hon. Cosmos Ndukwe has neither remitted the said 10% to the traders nor carried out any maintenance work in the market.”
The concerned traders urged the State House of Assembly to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the allegations against the Commissioner and the market chairman.
They also called for the suspension of the two officials to allow traders volunteer information to the committee without fear of intimidation.
Efforts made to get the reaction of the Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Chief Cosmas Ndukwe, was unsuccessful as he failed to respond to text messages and calls placed on his mobile number.
However, chairman of the Ekeoha shopping centre, Mr Friday Dimiri who admitted that the existence of new structures in the market, explained that the structures were added on top were duly supported with strong pillars as the engineer who handled them delivered quality jobs that would stand the test of time.
He also denied building on the entrance and exit gates of the market, adding that the building of the new structures is meant to replace old ones.
“Traders pay N200 for the independent power plant. Nobody was disconnection. Those who are not interested make use of generators,” he said.