Suleja, a mother town that gave birth to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, continues to hold its commercial centre’s mantle of Niger State, and also other parts of neighbouring states of Kogi, Nasarawa, and Kaduna. Many traders are trooping into the town markets, mostly located within the town centre daily to make their transactions in various items.
This development has earned wealth to the community with people renting out their properties or getting them developed by their clients under an arrangement. It equally contributed to employing the teeming youths, in addition to generating revenue for the local government. There was however a foul cry from the traders in the town in recent years, who lamented that their businesses were losing large patronage due to the activities of some thugs as well as various government task forces.
The traders said some identified officials as well as thugs would block ways, especially those leading out of the Ibrahim Badamasi Bababngida (IBB) Market, and demand from private vehicle owners who come to the market to do business. Car owners are also forced to buy stickers.
Pascal Okoli, a trader at the market, said some of the officials work with the Suleja councils, while others are operating illegally.
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“They would pursue a motorist with their bike, and force him to stop. There are also numerous checkpoints mounted around three roads that lead to Madalla town, Kaduna Road, or Maje along the Suleja-Minna Road being manned by such a task force. They would hold the vehicle owner on the road demanding a huge amount of money, and by the time the person paid that money he would never come back to this market again.
They would hold a vehicle owner, demanding one thing or the other for a long time, and if the vehicle owner eventually made up his mind to pay the tax, he would lose interest in coming back to this market any longer.
“We used to have customers filling our shops, the traders came from Lokoja in Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and the FCT, but you can see it for yourself; now they are nowhere to be seen; everywhere is just empty; no customer.
Ayuba Abdurrashid, also a trader at the market, said traders in the market no longer found it easy to transport goods they bought from places like Lagos, Aba, or Onitsha to Suleja. “We face problems in bringing in goods to the Suleja market due to the activities of the task force or whatever revenue agent you have around the roads linking into the Suleja town.
“When we travel to Lagos, Aba, or Onitsha, we find it difficult to get a driver who would transport our goods back here. The drivers are rather prepared to transport our goods to Zuba town in the FCT, or Kaduna Road on the outskirts of Suleja town. This is simply due to the harassment that they are going through from the task force. Any driver that accepts to take our goods down to Suleja, will transfer the burden of task force charges over to us, by demanding a high rate, due to the harassment or numerous revenue charges that they are going through around here.
“Any driver that refuses to pay the charges will get his vehicle’s number plate removed. At times, they would damage something on the vehicle, or take away something. You can see there are no visitors around, contrary to what we used to get in the past. Everywhere is just scanty; no business functions well,” he added.
Another trader interviewed, Salisu Abdullahi, said there are various tax officials, including thugs, mostly working under the Suleja council.
“They extort the visiting traders or individuals who come with their vehicles from outside Suleja town to make transactions with us. There is no official parking space provided around the IBB Market, as every space has been sold out to the traders by the same local council, for shop development.
“But the task force would remove the vehicle number plate of a visitor, over the allegation of wrong parking. Others would ask the visitor about his vehicle sticker registration, even though he is not living in this area.’’
Also speaking, the chairman of Suleja Traders Association, Alhaji Yakubu Yusuf Bagobiri, said as a result of the development, some traders have migrated to other areas like Mararaba in Nasarawa State. “We regard visitors as a blessing to us, and also to Suleja. Our delight is always to see that the town is filled up with visitors every day, not scanty, as we are witnessing now.
“But you don’t expect to see visitors coming if they are being harassed and forced to pay unnecessary charges.
“This has made a number of our traders migrate to areas like Mararaba in Nasarawa State. And the most annoying aspect of it is that most of these so-called officials are just operating illegally, as they are not working on behalf of the government, but for themselves.
“This development started a long time ago before the withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum,’’ Bagobiri added.
He said the Suleja council should do all that is necessary to save the situation from getting worse before it becomes too late.
A trader, Christian Ajeze, has simply described some of the task force officials as hoodlums who, according to him, cannot introduce themselves to the people clearly, or indicate where their office is located.
“These hoodlums would stop a visitor over the road and extort money from them without giving any reason,” Ajeze added.
Daily Trust also learnt that other factors scare away the visiting traders, especially women, which include snatching of handbags, and mobile phones. Some traders who spoke on the issue said the authorities should rather turn their operation against such youth whose bases are well known.
Efforts to get the response of the Suleja council chairman, Malam Ishiyaku Bawa Naibi, were not successful, as he was said not to be on the seat when Daily Trust visited his office on Wednesday, and later Thursday.
On his part, the Director General (DG) of the Niger State Transport Management Agency (NISTMA), Muhammad Auwal Dattijo, declined to respond to the allegation, specifically made against the agency.
Council vows to make Suleja business-friendly
The Suleja Area Council has vowed to make the area a business-friendly environment.
Reacting to the allegations, the council’s chairman, Isiyaku Bawa Naibi, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Haruna Garba Kaninko, said the chairman had held a meeting with all stakeholders that included the traders, transport union members, as well as the officials of the Niger State Transport Management Agency, NISTMA, where the issue was discussed.
“Officials of NISTMA who are responsible for blocking the road and molestations have been cautioned by the chairman who asks them to apply professionalism, and also be vigilante and mindful in their conduct.
Kaninko said the chairman has also promised to contact the headquarters of the agency to ensure that the activities of its officials are made people-friendly.
He also distanced the local government from the activities of any thugs, adding that the council has no task force of any kind.
“However, a new committee was constituted following the report, with the mandate to go round and stop all those collecting one levy or the other from the motorcyclists and tricyclists.
The commandant of the Niger State Transport Management Agency NISTMA, Muhammad Auwal Dattijo, said the agency had reduced the number of checkpoints scattered across the Suleja zone. Personal liberty is a fundamental right guaranteed to every Nigerian citizen by the 1999 Constitution. That right applies as much to public officials as it does to ordinary citizens. It applies even to accused persons, no matter the alleged wrongdoing, since any restrictions on the personal liberty of accused persons can also be by the law. The right to personal liberty requires that the arrest and detention of any individual must be in accordance with the law.