By Vincent Ujumadu
THERE is mounting tension at the popular spare parts market, Nkpor near Onitsha as the traders are protesting the alleged imposition of N1.2 million on them for the building of shops on top of the existing structures in the market.
Their argument is that apart from posing a great risk to the traders and their customers, the ultimatum given to the traders to pay N20000 for forms within one week and the N1.2 million within three months was height of insensitivity and threatened a showdown with the market leaders if they insisted on forcing traders to pay the money.
Waving placards with various inscriptions, the traders said the foundation of the market, which was built in 1989, did not originally make provision for addition of another floor on the decked stalls and wondered why the leadership of the market had chosen to put the lives of the traders at risk.
Their spokesman, Chief Obiora Ofoleh said the most worrisome aspect of the situation was that those who failed to pay N20000 for forms within one week and N1.2 million within three months would be sacked from the market
He called for immediate stoppage of collection because the market was built by individuals and not by government.
Ofoleh said: “The Nkpor new auto spare parts market is a private market and not public market and so any decision to improve or rebuild the structure should be made by shop owners and not any external body at all. If there is any need to rebuild or restructure the market, the shop owners must be consulted.
“The market leadership has no right to set up a building committee for the building of the shops without consulting the shop owners and if the building committee must be set up, it is the shop owners who are the original developers that will do that and not the executive.
“For peace to reign and to avoid breakdown of law and order in the market your attention is highly needed in order to avert a major crisis in this market.
“Of interest to note is that the shop owners are the people who dug the borehole being used in the market. They also tarred all the roads in the market and the hall where they normally conduct their meetings.”
“Why on earth would somebody come from somewhere to decide how to construct or build lock up shops upstairs without consulting the shop owners who are the real developers?”, he asked.
Saturday Vanguard recalls that before the relocation of the traders to Nkpor, the traders were occupying shops at Moore street in the heart of Onitsha where movement was very difficult for goods to be cleared.
In 1983, they started mooting the idea of moving the market to a more spacious place and eventually bought the large expanse of land at Nkpor. For the next five years, the market was under construction and the contributors were eventually allocated shops where they occupied.
Because of frequent fire incidents in markets around Onitsha, the traders decided to deck all the shops and this had helped as there has not been any fire incident in the area.
Recently, however, the leadership of the market, in conjunction with some government officials, decided to add more shops on top of the stalls. Most of the traders frowned at it and argued that additional structures would lead to cong4stion, thereby inhibit movement of goods and vehicles.
The issue was still unresolved when the ultimatum was given to the traders to pay N20000 in one week and N1.2 million in three months.
“Where do they expect traders who are starting business to get that kind of money from,” they asked.
Counsel to the traders, Mr. C.B. Ukanze, in a letter to the chairman of the market, said it was improper for the leadership of the market to construct shops on the top floors of the stalls without reaching an agreement with members of the market union who contributed money to purchase the land to build the shops 32 years ago.
In the letter which was copied to the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce, the AIG in charge of Zone 13, Ukpo, the CP Anambra State, among others, Ukanze warned those behind the move to construct the shops to tread with cautionand avoid breakdown of law and order.
“Our client are not opposed to construction of lock-up shops upstairs, rather their grouse is that you are duty-bound to consult them at the onset about your plan and if the consent or approve of it, it will become the general agreement and due- process will be followed, and not this your commando approached.”
Following the controversy being generated by the issue, the Commissioner for Trade and Commerce, Chief Uche Okafor said he was aware of the situation in the market and promised to meet the traders as soon as possible.
In the meantime, however, he said that he had already instructed the union in the market to suspend action on the planned addition of shops until all parties met to discuss and iron out the issues involved.