Like the proverbial saying that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers, the over one month face-off between the traders and market managers has began to take its toll on the motorists, who ply the ever busy Ladoke Akintola Boulevard, as the road adjacent the market has been made impassable as a result of the traders’ activities which has occupied both sides of the road.
While speaking to Sunday Trust, Emeka Chinaso, a foodstuff trader at the market, who has now relocated his goods to the main road opposite the popular Lagos Street, in Garki ll decried the decision of the Abuja Market Management Limited (AMML), to shut down the market without prior warning or notice to the traders. According to him, “we closed our shops on the 16th June, 2009 only for us to come to the market the next morning to discover a detachment of mobile police men who prevented us from entering the market. Only for us to discover later that we have been mandated to pay money meant for the cleaning and sanitation of the market into the coffers of the AMML. That was the beginning of our ordeal. And up till now, we are still displaced from our trading activities.”
But in his reaction, the Corporate Affairs Manager of the AMML, Innocent Amaechina explained that the market deteriorated to the present level because traders refused to pay for services rendered, according to him, “We have not been working optimally because since we took over in August 2006, The market was closed down by Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) on the 17th of June 2009. The role of our agency is that as market managers, it is our responsibility to make sure that all this things that are not in place are put in place. The collapsed infrastructure are reconstructed and upgraded and we have not been able to do this optimally and for three years, we have managed to keep the market clean without the traders paying us any money so we decided that we have hard enough, because we are embarrassed by the filth and dirt in the market and we can’t allow it to continue. So we are going to source for money elsewhere and do the cleaning and repairs but for anyone to do business here, such person must pay all the market dues arrears.”
Speaking further, Amaechina also opined that the traders have not been paying their bills. What they are owing is up to N49 million. The key service here is sanitation, that is evacuation of garbage. The repair of a dilapidated and filthy market. The repair and infrastructure upgrade became necessary because, the market was very filthy and the infrastructure have given way, starting from the drainage, perimeter fence, drive way and market stalls, everything is in a dilapidated condition and so, the AEPB closed it down for repairs. For about three years since we have been managing this market, the traders just refused to pay us any bills and we are telling them that these things are not done that way, besides, there are a group of impostors who parade themselves as leaders of the market who feel threatened by us and they have continually discouraged their people from paying the bills. The bill is 2,500 monthly to cover security, cleaning, waste evacuation both the solid and liquid waste. So what we are telling these traders is approximately 80 naira daily.”
One of the traders, who identified himself as Chwukwuma Ikenna, faulted the charges being levied by the AMML. According to him, “the market authorities have asked us to pay the sum of N85,000 each for market maintenance fees that we ought to have paid since 2006 but when I personally approached them to clarify the issue of people like me who just came into the market last year was told that I would have to pay the same amount with those who have been here since three years which is very unfair,” he said. Another trader, Olumide Lawal who sells frozen food in the market told Sunday Trust that “even those of us who have paid the money have been refused entrance into the market; we don’t know what else they want from us, we are tired of selling along the road side when we have shops and stalls in the market” but Amaechina blamed the problem on an association known as Garki Modern Market Association (GAMA) that has formed itself into a unionist and paraded itself as the association in charge of the market, intimidating and collecting illegal fees from traders to the detriment of the market.
According to him, “they collect money from the traders, as am speaking with you now, Garki market has over N20 million outstanding NEPA bills, which the association is suppose to render. When we came the bill was N16 million that was in 2006, instead of the bill decreasing it is increasing”.
In a chat with Sunday Trust, Bidemi Olaniran, who also doubles as the leader of the buthchers’ union averred that while the traders have no problem with the decision of the market managers to sanitise the market, the AMML should expediate action on the cleaning activities so as to enable them reoccupy their stalls. In his words, “ Due to the non payment of service charges, the market was closed down, but the problem is that they are starting another project for the informal sector where butchers belong to, and we don’t know the definite time that the project will last. We want the government to come to our aid to open the market so that we can sell our product. They asked us to pay 2,500 per month since year 2006 but we agreed to pay but the amount is too much.”
Speaking on the possibility of opening the market any time soon, Amaechina said “I can’t tell you that the market would be reopened now, there is still work in progress, and we are still creating additional stalls to accommodate the makeshift structures.”
But while the market remains shut, motorist plying the Ladoke Akintola Boulevard continue to bear the brunt of the face-off as traders can be seen spreading their goods on both sides of the road.