Eunice Mba, a widow whose shop at Eke Ukwu Market in Owerri, Imo State, was demolished on Saturday says she has no option than to return to the village.
Mba told Spaces for Change, a human rights non-governmental organization, that her entire livelihood as well as that of her family had been destroyed in the demolition exercise ordered by Rochas Okorocha, the Imo State Governor.
She said that even though the state government was building a new site for the traders to relocate to, prices for the shops were quite high and unaffordable.
‘My shop is all I have. It has now been destroyed,” Mba said. “I am simply moving back to my village because I cannot afford to buy the new shops in the new site.”
In a press statement issued on Tuesday, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive director of Spaces for Change, pointed out that the “so-called new site” that the Imo State government claimed to have built is still under construction and lacks the basic amenities for the traders to move into.
“Recently, Imo Governor, Rochas Okorocha, announced plans to relocate the market to a new site, which is presently under construction. In radio and television announcements, the state government ordered traders to start buying up the new shops in the new site,” Ibezim-Ohaeri said.
“Interviews with local traders reveal that the shops are prohibitive, and sold at costs they cannot afford. Not only that, the market is still under construction, lacking adequate infrastructure and the needed conducive environment for robust commercial operations.”
She lamented that the demolition exercise was carried out in spite of a subsisting court order restricting the state government from proceeding with the exercise.
“An Imo State High Court restrained the state government from destroying, relocating or tampering with Eke-Ukwu Market. The Governor went ahead to demolish the market in total disdain for the court order,” Ibezim-Ohaeri’s statement read.
“Similarly, Governor Rochas had in July 2017, demolished Shell Camp Quarters, inhabited by serving and retired lecturers of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, despite a subsisting court order.
“Not only are court orders brazenly flouted, there is substantial evidence that the cleared land is not being used for any development purposes, but rather reallocated to family members and political cronies. “
Spaces for change demanded that Okorocha should immediately discontinue from further demolition of the market and all other “illegal” demolitions across the state.
“We particularly demand the Imo State government to pay compensation to owners of properties already destroyed and provide relief in the form of alternative housing and/or fair compensation to all residents previously evicted or whose homes or real properties have been demolished.
“We specifically call on the National Human Rights Commission to launch an independent investigation into the August 26, 2017 demolitions with a view to identifying the killers of Imo citizens and bring them to justice.
“We also call on all national and international human rights groups, the media and well-meaning Nigerians to press on the Governor Rochas Okorocha administration to discontinue his market demolition policy and ensure the urban renewal agenda has a human face.”
Spaces for change said it confirmed that “three persons died during the demolitions on Saturday and three others were seriously wounded, and are currently hospitalised”.
It listed the dead to include “a 10-year-old boy, Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, who was reportedly trying to assist his parents evacuate wares trapped inside their shop”.
“Thousands of traders have lost their livelihoods at a time Nigeria is battling to exit an economic recession,” the NGO noted.
Okorocha issued a statement on Sunday, describing reports of killings by the police during the demolition as “blackmail”.
He said the reports were the handiwork of “those who hate progress”, whose intent is to “discredit the government and the patriotic action taken in the overall interest of the state”.