A first time visitor to the popular flyover in Port Harcourt will be confronted by hundreds of umbrellas that cover more than two kilometres radius of the rail track belonging to the Nigeria Railway Corporation. The makeshift umbrellas in different shapes and sizes were mounted by hundreds of traders that use it as a shade to display their second hand clothes, popularly known as okirika, shoes, beddings and foodstuffs.
The umbrellas were mounted in compartment forms with traders displaying their wares in different sizes and shapes. From the left wing of the market are hundreds of umbrellas occupied by dealers of second hand clothes while on the right wing are another category of traders that sell foodstuffs and fruits to potential buyers.
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The foodstuffs section has different varieties of food items such as meat, fish, vegetables, rice, beans, garri and other edibles. Over one hundred umbrellas serve as a makeshift shield for hundreds of traders that deal in foodstuffs.
At the entrance of the market are hundreds of umbrellas that provide shield to the dealers on second hand clothes. Buyers and passers-by from that end are confronted by youths in their 20s canvassing for customers. These youths are armed with different types and sizes of clothes appealing to the conscience of the passers-by to patronise them. There is another category of youths who have organised themselves into a group and use soul-moving renditions to canvass for customers.
At the extreme end of the market are dealers in foodstuffs. Most of the foodstuffs displayed in this section of the market are fish, meat, vegetables, tomatoes, pepper, onions and other edible items.
The location of the market which our reporter gathered does not have the approval of Rivers State government or Port Harcourt City Local Government Area has constituted a nuisance to free movement of railway coaches as well as passers-by. Hundreds of passers-by find it very difficult to walk through the market as they meander through hundreds of traders that display their wares on top rail tracks and any available space.
The flyover market in the early 90s served as a transit market where farmers from the rural communities brought in different types of farm produce to sell to willing buyers. But the market became prominent soon after the Mile one market was gutted by fire in 1998. Many of the traders Daily Trust Saturday learnt were displaced as a result of the fire incident took advantage of the open space at the rail track to display their wares. The area later turned into a big market where hundreds of traders converge on a daily basis to transact one business or the other.
Many of the traders fixed their umbrellas on top of the rail track. Until the Nigeria Railway Corporation coaches stopped its Port Harcourt/Aba/Enugu routes operations, the traders had devised means of removing their umbrellas the moment the locomotives approached. On sighting an approaching locomotive, the traders would alert themselves at which point they would start to dismantle the umbrellas and bring it back as soon as the locomotives passed.
Some of the traders who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said that they have been in the market using umbrellas to display their wares since 1999.
A trader at the market, Chinedu Oboko, said that it’s cheaper to do business under the umbrella than renting a shop.
“I had a shop at the Mile one market but lost it when the Rivers State government awarded a contract for the reconstruction of the market. Many traders lost their shops just as we were assured that the shops will be given back to us after the completion of the market. But immediately after the market was completed, many of us could not get our shops back. I have to come here and secure a space where I pay some amount of money to display my wares. I deal in second hand clothes and have been here for a very long time,” he said.
Obodo also said that all the traders who transact their businesses under the umbrella do so because they cannot afford the high cost of renting shops.
Another trader, Jenet Amara, said that the flyover market has become a source of survival to many families in Port Harcourt, adding that those who cannot afford the cost of renting stores use the market as an alternative option.
“I deal in food items and have been in this market since 2015. It does not cost much to do business here. We pay a daily tool to the community and council and get canopies to shield ourselves from the scorching sun or rain. Although there are risks involved in the business such as staying in the sun and rain as well as the risk of displaying our wares on top of the rail tracks, we come here every day to do our businesses and fend for our various families,” she said.
Another trader, Titus Ojaka, said, “It’s cheap to do business here but risky because of the rail track on which most of the traders display their wares. One has to survive because it’s not easy to rent a shop in Port Harcourt. There are few markets in Port Harcourt which are not enough to accommodate all of those that do one form of business or the other. So many of the people you see here have no other option than to stay here and transact their businesses,” he said.
The traders had in the past incurred the wrath of Rivers State government and the Nigeria Railway Corporation because of the haphazard way they display their wares and the risk involved in displaying goods on the rail tracks.
Peter Okoni, a trader in the market, said that both the state government and the Nigeria Railway Corporation have in the past raided the market where the umbrellas and tables used by the trader were destroyed and set ablaze but the traders were unperturbed and came back to continue with their businesses.
“All these people you see here are die hard businessmen and women. On several occasions, both the Rivers State government and the Nigeria Railway Corporation have raided the market, impounded goods belonging to the traders as well destroying and setting ablaze the tables and umbrellas used by the traders . The market was occupied by the law enforcement agents but after sometime, they vacated the market and the traders came back and started their businesses,” he said.
Residents of Port Harcourt also use the market to buy some of their household needs.
Marry Oyale said that she visits the market from time to time to buy one thing or the other.
“I come to the market each time I want to buy second hand clothes. This market is the biggest market for second hand materials. There is no type of second hand material you cannot find in the market be it underwear, bags, shoes and what have you. It’s cheap and many residents of Port Harcourt come here on a daily basis to buy their daily needs,” she said.
Daily Trust Saturday learnt that buying and selling was suspended in the market between March and June 2020 as a measure to curtail the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. The market was shut down by the state government while all the traders were forced back to their respective homes. But succour came their way when the state government opened the market and business activities resumed.
Apart from the risk of transacting business under the umbrella, both buyers and sellers in the market are exposed to the activities of street urchins and criminals who from time to time rob traders and visitors to the market.
Despite the presence of a police station beside the market, criminals and street urchins operate at will.
Moses Emeka (not real name) narrated to our reporter how he was robbed right inside the market.
“I went to the market around 6:00pm to buy something and just on my way out of the market, I was confronted by two boys who ordered me to hand over my bag and handset to them. Before I could say Jack, one of the boys pulled out a gun and, out of fear, I handed over my bag and handset to them. I had N30,000 inside the bag,” he said.
Rivers State government had on completion of the second phase of Mile one market said that it would not allow any form of illegal market in Port Harcourt and its environment. The state government advised those that are on Illegal Street trading to take advantage of some of the markets built by the state to transact their businesses but traders at the flyover seem not to have yielded to this advice.