Suleiman Anyalewechi, Aba
Palpable tension has enveloped Abia State largest market, the Ariaria International Market Aba, with traders at the over 150,000 number shops market poised for a showdown with the government appointed market officials over imposition of a last-minute levy.
NewsCritic online has gathered that the decision of the market executives, who were only appointed a few days to the last gubernatorial election, and whose tenure may not likely outlive the outgoing Gov Okezie Ikpeazu regime, to impose a N2000 security levy on each shop owner is not going down well with the majority of the traders. They have therefore vowed to resist the levy, insisting that they would only pay to a properly constituted market leadership under the incoming Dr Alex Otti’s administration.
But the Chairman of the market, Chief Chijioke Michael Amuta has said there is nothing strange nor unusual about the security levy the traders are being asked to pay, noting that it was supposed to be paid at the beginning of every year but was postponed.
Most of the aggrieved traders who spoke with NewsCritic questioned the motive behind the decision of the market executives to embark on the collection of the levy at a time the administration is winding down. They feared that the about N300 million proceed from the levy may be shared by the market officials and their benefactors in high places.
“The fact is that the decision of the market executives to collect this levy now that nothing is certain, including their tenure is highly suspicious and uncalled for. We have it on good authority that the plan is to collect this money and then use it as a parting gift both to them and their patrons. And if this happens, there will be no money to settle some security related issues when the need genuinely arises and by then they and those that appointed them will be nowhere to be found.
“What we are expecting from these people is for them to tell us how several thousands of our members whose shops have been taken over under the guise of reconstruction will get back their property, now that the government that demolished them is about to leave. This last-minute levy is provocative and we will resist it”, said one of the traders.
However, the market chairman, Chief Amuta has denied any ulterior motive behind the security levy, insisting that it is a yearly payment by the traders for the maintenance of security at the market.”
In a telephone interview with NewsCritic last Wednesday, he said this year’s payment was only shifted from January to now. “What happened was that when the levy was to be collected at the beginning of the year, the governor graciously granted a postponement so as to allow the traders to recover from their end of year expenses. And you are aware that some weeks back the state government issued directives for revenue collection to recommence. The situation is that the market authorities are the ones to be held responsible in the event anything happens to any of the shops and or any trader’s wares as a result of any security lapses. So, you can see the essence of the levy and why it should be paid irrespective of who is in charge and or how long they are going to stay in office,” Chief Amuta stressed.