By Arinze Chijioke
Stanley Ikechukwu watched as the building that once housed his goods and that of his father-floor tiles and paints- at the popular Kenyatta Building Materials Market in Uwani, Enugu state was reduced to rubble.
“I do not know what to do and where to go from here, the 47-year-old father of three said, his hands strapped to his head. “I have packed my goods and that of my father to the house”.
At 5am on Thursday, August 6, Ikechukwu got a call from his friend in the police who informed him that he (the officer) and others were on their way to the market for demolition and that he needed to come pack his goods.
Quickly, he rushed down with his wife and their last child. When he got to the market, he saw three bulldozers kept at various positions and he went in and brought out his goods. But before he got to the second shop, they already starting demolishing.
They brought down his warehouse and that of his father and some of the goods he could not rescue. Ikechukwu claims he lost about 20million in the aftermath of the demolition.
He is only one out of several traders at the market who have continued to count their loses after Thursday morning’ demolition by the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA).
An eyewitness who said that the security operatives, who came as early as 5am that Thursday, blocked every entrance and insisted that traders will not open their shops.
“Many people came and started begging and the agencies gave them two hours to bring out whatever they could from their shops,“ he said, “When the time elapsed, they started the demolition”.
He explained that those who could not immediately get trucks to pack their goods kept them along the road and streets around the market, adding that some people could not completely move their goods. He also said that many traders lost their goods to thieves.
When Ikechukwu’s father got to the market and saw as his warehouse was being destroyed, he broke down on tears and had to be taken home. Since then, he has been trying to wrap his head around the demolition.
“I am glad that I was able to rescue some of my goods but I am only trying to put myself together because deep down, I am not happy“ said Ikechukwu, “Some people had five shops that were destroyed”.
Ikechukwu, whose father once served as chairman of the market recalls how he saved up money, having worked with his father for years and got the warehouse at N7.3 million 10 years ago.
After my education, I decided to go into the building material business with my father,” he said, ” After some time, in 2012, I raised money and got the shop which is now valued at 18 million”.
As the demolition went on, individuals who survive by selling scrap metals struggled for rods and iron doors and other things they could pick after the demolition.
Traders were notified – official
As traders continue to count their losses, ECTDA chairman, Joseph Onoh, insists that the demolition was a development control measure and part of ways to decongest the capital city.
While noting that the area was originally allocated to the National Youth Council of Nigeria but was converted into a market by the traders, he recalled that the government came in January 2022 and moved a portion of the traders to the new site.
“Some said they didn’t have shops,” he said. “And now, we had to take this step because the growing population at the demolished market was affecting the development plan of the area”.
He explained that as far back as 2003, a site was obtained and designated as Enugu South International Market but successive state administrations failed to relocate the traders to that site at Ugwuaji.
Chairman of Kenyatta Market Traders Association, Chinweuba Igwesi, said that he and other leaders had spoken to traders about the planned demolition and need to relocate to the permanent site.
“But most of them refused to move till now” he said. “Some moved to that place but after some time without government enforcement, they came back. Anybody who said they were not notified is trying to lie to the public”.
He claimed that a group of people had come from the government one month before the demolition and gave the traders seven days to vacate the market.
The permanent site at Ugwuaji, along the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, is said to have been completed and functional three for three years now, with some of the traders’ conducting transactions.
Why we did not vacate
Some traders said that although they were informed about the planned demolition of the market, it was unclear when the government intended to begin.
One of the traders who prefers not to be mentioned alleged that all the government was trying to do was to ensure that the shops at the new market were rented out, adding that the prices for the shops are too expensive for traders.
He said “They go for between N400,000 and N500,000, apart from the agent and lawyer fees.” He explained that this is a challenge because “there are some people who do not have up to N500,000 they are using for business. How are they supposed to survive after paying for the shop.
Corroborating this, Ikechukwu said that traders at the old market paid N250,000 yearly for shops which are 10fts by 18 in size at the old market as against the new ones with higher costs which are 10fts by 11.
“If they had brought the bulldozers and asked us to leave in one week, we would have looked for alternative. But we thought it was going to be the usual story. I don’t know what they want to use the market for”, Ikechukwu stated.
Another trader who spoke about how he lost millions of naira to the demolition alleged that the state government had turned the permanent site into a business venture because some rich individuals were allowed to buy several shops to sell them at exorbitant amounts to traders.
“Two years ago, they said they were coming, and we waited, but nothing happened and now, they came and started destroying our shops,” he said. “The government is yet to begin any project in one of the sections they demolished years ago”.
Other traders who shared their experience said that the demolition was also done against a court injunction as both traders and ECTDA were ordered to maintain “the status quo and preserve the Res” in the matter pending the hearing of the substantive application.
In a notice pasted on the wall of one of the demolished buildings, dated 4 August 2022, and signed by Justice P. C. Ugwueze of Enugu State High Court, the suit had been adjourned to 21 September.
We have met with traders over relocation
Special Adviser to the governor on media, Samson Eze said that the government had severally met with the leadership of the market and some of the traders since 2015.
“But while some of them have agreed to relocate others have refused to go away and we cannot continue to allow impunity to fester because of how people will feel by our action “he said.
He explained that the plan is also to ensure that the roads are free enough for people to move around as the location is also a residential area in the heart of Enugu.
“The location was not a planned market as it is today, “he said. “It is because former administrations overlooked it that the traders had to convert it into a big market, causing huge traffic”.
He further explained that the permanent site has different segments for people to come and transact their businesses, adding that apart from the Kenyatta building materials market, the government plans to move certain markets across the state to other locations as part of measures to decongest the capital city.