Just In: Massive Protests Rocks Ariaria Market As Displaced Traders Demand Return Of Their Shops

Suleiman Anyalewechi, Aba

Business and other related activities were on Tuesday June 27, 2023 brought to a halt at Ariaria International market in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia state following a spate of protests march by thousands of traders demanding the return of their demolished shops .

NewsCritic online reports that in September 2021, an estimated 20,000 traders lost their shops to the demolition exercise carried out by the immediate past administration of Governor Victor Okezie Ikpeazu.

The demolition affected the densely populated lines A, B and Medicine line with over 5000 shops affected.

Chief John Okiyi Kalu, then commissioner for Trade, Commerce and Industry, in a statement cited the dilapidated state of the shops, the need to arrest perennial flooding at the market, and government’s desire to bring the over 37years old market in tune with global best standards as reasons.

Government in the said statement, also promised to conclude the remodeling and reconstruction of the affected shops before the end of 202 as well as returning the shops back to their original owners on or before the end of the year.

Although, the traders resisted the move, government nonetheless pushed ahead with the project, and left office without fulfilling any of its earlier promise to the original shop owners, most of whom have had their businesses  severely affected.

NewsCritic online gathered that the protests was sparked by the realization by the original shop owners that their property may have been allotted to a different set of people by the Okezie Ikpeazu regime and the contractor handling the reconstruction exercise, Blessed Henken, at the expense of the original owners.

Most of the protesters who spoke with NewsCritic online said that apart from taking away their shops without compensations, they were made to pay 25,00 naira each as registration fees and  other sundry levies on the understanding that after the reconstruction exercise, they will be given back their shops while they pay back the cost on an instalmental basis.

“Hon Frank Moses one of the original shop owners and former vice Chairman of the Market, said the most painful aspect of the matter is that a few of the shops that are still under construction have been sold to the highest bidders at prices ranging between 6 million and 7 million naira, with some believed to have been allotted to some government cronies.

“The truth of the matter now is that we the original shop owners have been defrauded. First, the government told us that the shops will be returned to us at the end of the exercise. We were made to pay registration fees…. Some people were having between 3 and 5 shops which they acquired through their life savings. Even some have died as a result of shock. Others have had their  businesses dislocated. We have lost most of our customers from across the country because they can no longer locate us.

In all this, they have finally allotted our property to some strange bodies.  

“This is unacceptable. We are therefore calling on Governor Alex Otti to wade into the matter.  We have been defrauded and rendered useless. We are demanding for justice. You can not wake up and decide to take away all that we have laboured to build and hand them over to your cronies. We will continue to demand for justice until we get it,  “Hon Moses stated.”

Efforts to speak with the management of the contracting firm Blessed Henken were not successful at the time of reporting, while presently the market has no clear cut leadership to approach for comments.

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