‘I have nowhere to keep these goods for safety’
By Fred Ezeh
Though it was long envisaged, the widespread demolition of some markets and shops by officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) threw not a few traders off balance during the week. Many of them openly wept like babies.
It was not the first time the authorities would take such step. Last week’s action was, however, too much for some traders to bear.
The targeted areas were Jikwoyi, Gudu, Karu, Kurudu-all in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC). Structures in Karshi, Airport road and other parts of Abuja were not spared.
The structures, according to FCT authorities were not only responsible for perennial traffic obstruction in the aforementioned locations, especially during morning and evening hours when workers are either rushing or returning from work, but have significantly contributed to the defacing of the FCT particularly its well built roads.
The exercise, indeed was the least of the expectations of FCT residents at a time of economic recession that came with increased economic hardship, forcing a reduction in standard of living. It caused chaos, pandemonium and increased the frustration of the traders, some of whom watched helplessly as their fortunes were reduced to rubble.
It heightened the existing fear and suspicion among the residents, refreshing their memories to the “dark and fearful” days of Malam Nasir El-Rufai as the minister of FCT.
The unpalatable emotions were evenly distributed to traders in different parts of Abuja. Tears rolled profusely down the cheeks of traders. From Nyanya to Karu; Jikwoyi to Kurudu; Gudu to Airport road. It was indeed a week that was solely dedicated to unleash pain and poverty on traders.
Demolition is not new to residents of Abuja, especially those who were around when Malam Nasir El-Rufai was the FCT Minister. This was because every resident had a taste of it, in one way or the other. His actions were heavily criticised by FCT residents out of pain and frustration. But it was deeply appreciated years after he left office.
However, the recent exercise, Abuja Metro gathered, has the objective of sanitizing the satellite towns in FCT, thus paving the way for the administration to restore the “battered” aesthetics of the FCT roadsides, which they said, was caused by traders who have turned them to markets.
The action of the roadside traders, they said, resulted in untold traffic obstruction being experienced every day by residents in these part of Abuja.
On April 25, FCT Minister, Muhammad Musa Bello, inaugurated a task force team on traffic decongestion and environmental sanitation along Nyanya-Jikwoyi-Karshi road. The task force whose members were drawn from all security and traffic agencies has Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Niengo (retd), as chairman.
Its responsibility was to rid the road of all traffic obstruction and other illegal activities that are contrary to the reinvigorated effort of the FCT administration to restore aesthetics and sanity.
The team, shortly after inauguration, visited the affected areas to acquaint themselves with the task ahead. They identified and recommended that some structures must be demolished to achieve the objective of free flow of traffic. Owners and occupiers of such properties were duly informed of the pending demolition. Affected structures were marked and six-month notice given to the occupants to vacate the structures.
Based on several appeal and intervention, the grace period was extended by the FCT minister. But unfortunately, the occupants continued their business activities in the marked structures with less concern until last week when the task team, with the approval and support of FCT minister and other relevant agencies begun demolition.
The team leader told journalists before the commencement of the exercise that enough time and notice were given to the traders.
“While majority complied and removed the structures, others deliberately refused to act for whatever reason. However, we are human and feels their pain but work must be done and sanity restored. Before we begun the exercise, we waited patiently for those that have not remove theirs to quickly do so that they don’t get destroyed by the bulldozers.”
The action of the FCT administration has, undoubtedly, thrown many “off balance”, particularly those who use their shops as home.
Abuja Metro discovered that many of the traders were caught unaware because they thought government was not serious about the exercise. Some of them unfortunately begun the evacuation of their goods when they sighted the officials with bulldozers accompanied by large number of security men heading their way.
Out of hurry, some fragile goods were destroyed in the course of evacuation. Some were also stolen by hoodlums who took advantage of the situation to loot shops.
Adamu Shehu, a trader who deals in household items told Abuja Metro that his shop was filled with goods, because he returned from market two days earlier and his good returned and were offloaded a day before the incident.
Filled with depression and sorrow, the trader confirmed that his goods were looted by hoodlums in the course of trying to evacuate them.
“As I speak, I have no knowledge of how and where to keep these goods for safety. I have no other shop to fall back on. But I am a very optimistic person and also have faith in God that He will see me through this terrible period.”
Traders in part of Karu market seem to be most affected, even though several others in Jikwoyi, Kurudu and Nyanya were deeply touched too.
Recall that entire Karu market was demolished in November 2013. This was to pave way for the construction of a brand new modern market that would have good and modern facilities. Upon completion in 2015, the former minister of state for FCT, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide commissioned it for use.
But while the construction of the new market was ongoing, traders erected temporary structures along the roadside to served customers that needed to make quick purchases.
These set of customers park their cars on the road while they make their purchases. Their action, knowingly or unknowingly, always cause traffic on the road, inflicting more pain and frustration on other commuters. This was said to be some of the issues that angered the FCT administration, which informed the decision to demolish the shanties and shops after several warnings.
Precisely on Thursday morning, the face of FCTA bulldozers was turned to Karu market after several days of similar exercise elsewhere. The traders who were taken unawares scampered to evacuate their goods to safety. Unfortunately, as they were hurriedly bringing out the goods, hoodlums were busy stealing the saved goods that were kept in nobody’s custody.
Their plea for more time and leniency apparently fell on deaf ears as bulldozer operator surrounded and protected by armed policemen and soldiers, activated all the powers of the machine to reduce the structures to rubble.
As tears and shout went higher, unfriendly and overzealous security men used canisters to dispatch the crowd who, at a point, became aggressive and wanted to attack the state officials.
Daily Sun observed that some wise traders had hitherto made alternative provision for their wares either inside the new market or elsewhere.
OPPORTUNITY TO LOOT
It was a case of some laughing and others crying. While the demolition was ongoing, heartless hoodlums were busy stealing from the traders who were apparently concerned with how to evacuate their goods from danger.
Scavengers were equally scrambling for mutilated building materials which they would, thereafter, fix and resell.
They were gathering roofing sheet, iron rods, timber, burglary proofs and other household items. Majority of these people own a stand at “panteker market” where they auction the items collected from the rubble.
The hoodlums also took advantage of the chaotic situation to also engage in other criminality like phone theft and other pick pocket.
NEXT LINE OF ACTION
Some of the traders admitted that they were given notice but it was so short for them to make alternative arrangement. However, they admitted that they don’t have the financial power to fight government neither do they have confidence in the ability of the judiciary system to give them speedy justice.
Mr. Ikem Onyezara said the only available option is to pick the pieces of his life and move on. He was uncomfortable with the alternative provision made by FCT administration in Kurudu. He said he won’t relocate there but will consider another option within the limited resources he has.
Regrettably, there were allegation that the officials were collecting money from some property owners to spare their properties. A hair stylist along Jikwoyi road confirmed the allegation.
She said: “My neighbour suggested that we double-cross them in Karu to ‘oil the palm’ of their leaders but I was reluctant in accepting their suggestion.
“But unfortunately, the property of those that I know who took that step were spared. Their structures were not touched. Those whose structures were eventually touched was just a minor touch which they could easily repair.”
She called on FCT authorities to carry out thorough investigation on the allegation of extortion against the officials.
FCT MINISTER’S POSITION
FCT minister, through his spokesman, Alhaji Sani Abubakar, explained that the exercise was a routine one and was never intended to visit poverty and penury on the people, but to restore the sanity of the road.
Abubakar said: “Some of these people built their houses along water ways, telecommunication ways. That had made difficult for the authorities to provide such services to the people. Prior to the exercise, we held meetings with them and explained that them our plans. Some bought into the idea and removed their structures but others were adamant, and those were the ones that was demolished.”