Trading is yet to commence at the so-called Nigeria International Market Benin Republic, almost a month since that mart located in Okun Seme Village in Commune de Seme-Podji (Seme-Podji Local Government Area) was launched.
Indeed, the place is like a ghost-town because of the absence of traders. Interestingly, whereas Pastor Julius Aderinto and Chief Christian Ojinkeya, President of the Cotonou Chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) and Chairman of the Nigerian Traders’ Welfare Union (NTWU) respectively variously called the site Nigeria International Market Benin Republic; the official signboard at the market gives the emporium’s name as Marche International de Friperie de Seme-Podji. This translates as International Used-clothings Market, Seme Podji.
Evidently, there is no mention of Nigeria in the mart’s appellation, even though Nigerian traders and a few of their community leaders coughed out the staggering sums that made procurement of the 99-year lease on the land possible. Also, the money for construction of the temporary stalls at the site came largely from contributions by Nigerian merchants that applied for space at this emporium. Similarly noteworthy is the fact that, there was no Nigerian flag among the eight such insignia flutering in the wind at all four corners of the site’s perimetre during the market’s launch.
In fact, but for the presence of mind on the part of those that hurriedly ferried the Nigerian flag inside the office of the Nigerian Ambassador Cotonou to the venue; there would have been no inanimate imprimatur of the Nigerian State in this regard on that occasion. What’s in a name? A lot, you bet. Many Nigerian traders that spoke on condition of anonimity with Travels revealed they could face difficulties in doing business as Seme-Podji, if the uncertainty in the name of their so-called Promised Land was not resolved.
Fears have also been expressed that Nigerian banks that pledged to support the development of the site from its current ramshackle sheds into concrete and permanent structures might become wary of commiting their funds to a project likely to fly into controversy in the near future. However, most observers are likely to exculpate Beninese authorities whatever the fallout is likely to be.
Critics, citing a classic antecedent in the intriguing curio called Bakassi Peninsula, expressed fears that lack of depth, sloppiness and non-transparency on the part of the Nigerians saddled with the negotiations probably gave way to the grave faux pas regarding the so-called Nigeria international market. In any case, it was impossible to reach NTWU Chairman, Ojinkeya and other powerful Nigerians in Benin Republic in connection with why their country’s name is missing, where it matters. Hon. Mathias Gbedan is Mayor of Seme-Podji.
An ebulient personality and an astute politician, Hon Gbedan frequently invoked loud cheers from the audience throughout the ceremony marking the emporium’s flag-off. However, attempts to reach the gentleman on the issue of non-reflection of Nigeria by way of name as well as flag during the event proved abortive because relevant Nigerians expected to link one to the mayor proved elusive. It could be recalled that the mart’s inauguration took place amid fanfare on November 17, but; the market and its surroundings have not witnessed any transaction ever since.
It could be recalled that, amid the infectious euphoria that engulfed virtually everyone at the market site, key figures were still sober enough to remind that the wooden and corrugated-ironsheet roof stalls were temporary structures and that permanent blocks could only be built through sustained sacrifices by the traders as well as support from relevant agencies, especially financial institutions. Photographs bearing artists’ impression of the proposed permanent structure of the market were on display for all to see during the event and representatives of two Beninese banks with Nigerian hubs, UBA and Diamond; who spoke at the event, promised their banks’ assistance toward erecting permanent blocks at the market.
However, such financial houses’ support could be withheld; given the nebulous sobriquet of this market as far as Nigerians are concerned. Many Nigerian traders, who have been operating at Missebo for roughly 40 years had declared during the formal inauguration of this market that their woes were finally over. They claimed they would no longer suffer unpalatable plights they endured, when they operated at Missebo aka Biafra Market, where countless merchants struggled for space in an area that was never originally designated as Market Precinct in the town’s Master Plan.
Because of the ill-coordinated state of the Missebo neighbourhood, police regularly had genuine reasons to sanitise the surroundings, while traders complained that bad-eggs in the security organs seized the opportunity to maintain order to engage in extortion.
With the emergent contention over this market’s proper epithet, the misery of Nigerian traders in Cotonou may not be over as many unable to start operating at their so-called Promised Land continue scramble for space at Missebo.