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Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market demolition: No peace for the wicked

By Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha on 29/08/2017

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•Bulldozer at work, demolishing Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market. Photo: Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha
•Bulldozer at work, demolishing Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market. Photo: Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha

Evil thrives when men of good conscience keep quiet. Evil thrives when the people refuse to take their destiny in their own hands. Evil thrives in the society when a people refuse to recognize the power of Almighty God in time of trouble. Evil thrives in the society when the people refuse to tap into the knowledge and wisdom of God in order to fight the evil ones among us.

Two days ago, the popular Ekeukwu Owerri Market was demolished on the orders of Governor Rochas Okorocha under the watchful eyes of the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Chris Okey Ezike and his team; including the Military, Civil Defense, Imo Security Network and hired militants from Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area, Imo State.

As early as 7am on Saturday the 26th of August 2017, I was already at the market to see things for myself. Thousands of traders, natives and residents had already gathered to see if actually the market would be demolished.

I walked through the crowd and came to the place Imo State government officials and security agents were standing. I saw the Deputy Chief of Staff (Mr. Kingsley Uju), Imo Commissioner of Police (Mr. Chris Okey Ezike), Commandant General of Imo Security Network (Chief Donatus Ejifugha), Ichie Best Mbanaso, General Manager of ENTRACO, Hon. Jeff Nwoha and a very large combined team of security agents in the state. I greeted the aforementioned people and almost on the spur of the moment, Chief Donatus Ejifugha exclaimed: “Samuelson, I am happy you are here. We are not demolishing the market; rather we are removing illegal projections and structures so that there would be easy traffic for all. We want Douglas Road to be like Wetheral Road.”
Of course I received the message from Chief Ejifugha with happiness and total acceptance. I am in support of that; especially stopping street trading. The Caterpillars and bulldozers actually commenced work from AMA JK on Douglas Road, removing all illegal structures. When the caterpillars and bulldozers got to the market, it demolished the plaza and all illegal structures and projections on the surrounding lock-up stores and shops.

Angered by the removal of illegal projections coupled with the attack by militants from Ohaji/Egbema, Youths in Owerri made attempts to confront security agents and stop the rampaging bulldozers. The security operatives reacted by firing tear-gas canister at the youths. They also fired gun shots at the crowd to disperse them.

The military men (soldiers) shot indiscriminately and even used their Armoured Tanks to frighten People. I went back to my house at Ikenegbu Layout Extension at around 11am. Few minutes later, I received phone calls from some people informing me that many traders had been wounded as a result of gun shots from soldiers and Police. In fact, I was told that a young boy identified as Somtochukwu Ibeanusi had been killed by soldiers. I also received another call informing me of the death of two other people.

It was at this point I hurriedly went back to the market at about 2:00pm. At the market, I confirmed that people were actually shot dead by soldiers including the little boy who was assisting his mother to evacuate goods in their shop. I felt bad and wept openly.
I also noticed that the bulldozers and caterpillars had gone beyond what I was told by Chief Donatus Ejifugha. Many more shops had been demolished. I returned to my house with tears in my eyes. Nevertheless, I was able to reflect on all that had happened and resolved to do a comprehensive article to that effect, in the following areas:

HISTORY OF EKE-UKWU OWERRI MARKET AND ITS CHALLENGES
In my published article in July 2016 entitled ‘OKOROCHA, DEMOLITION OF PROPERTIES AND RELOCATION OF EKE-UKWU OWERRI MARKET’, I wrote: 
“This is the Ancestral Market of NDI-OWERE NCHI-ISE. This market has existed for over 200 years . . . The Market has cultural and historical significance to the people of the entire Owerri. The Market is the biggest Market in Imo State, with a face value of over N60 billion.
When the market got burnt in 1987, the then military Governor, Lt. Commander Amadi Ikwechegh quickly built the Relief Market to cushion the effect of the losses traders incurred, before he gradually rebuilt the market one year later. Eke-Ukwu Owerri is the main hob of business transactions and activities in Imo State with an estimated daily turnover of about N1.3 billion. This market has extended to School Road, Chikwere Street, Ihugba Street, Kagha Street, Christ Church Road, Ekeonunwa Street, Okorie Street, Stadium Lane, Njemanze Street, Tetlow Road etc. Perhaps, the Okorocha administration is worried that the Eke-Ukwu Market has grown out of proportion, considering its proximity to both Government House and the City Centre. Perhaps, this is the main reason the Ikedi Ohakim leadership laid the foundation stone of the New Government House at New Owerri, which regrettably the current administration has discarded. But whatever is the reason for the planned relocation of the market, the present leadership did not exhaust other viable options before arriving at this unpopular decision.
Having come this far, let me inform the reading public that Okorocha cannot be allowed to be a law unto himself in a democratic setting. There are three arms of government, and they are supposed to be operating on the same page for the smooth running of the system. Bearing this in mind, one is in doubt if Okorocha ever sent an Executive Bill asking the Imo State House of Assembly to authorize him to relocate Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market to another Local Government Area. Since there is no such bill before the Assembly, and as such no bill has been passed urging Okorocha to relocate the market, the Governor’s planned action is illegal and in fact dead on arrival. Therefore, if Okorocha insists on demolishing and relocating the market, it means that he has ulterior motive, QED.

However, as a socio-political crusader that believes in 'Give and Take', Equity, Fairness and Justice, let me point out that government can ban street trading within and around the Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market. To make this ban effective, a mobile court should be established, where defaulters shall be jailed three months without an option of fine or appeal. This simple strategy will assist to decongest the market. Also, the following set of traders can be moved to the new place under construction, without relocating Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market: Medicine Traders, Books Traders, Electrical/Electronic Parts Traders while allowing only cosmetics, provisions, beverages and boutique traders to remain in the market. This strategy also will assist to decongest the market.

I am therefore recommending these simple strategies to the Okorocha led government to implement. It is crisis free and cost effective.”

This article was the moving spirit that motivated the Owerri Nchi-Ise Indigenes to approach the court and obtained an injunction restraining the state government from demolishing the market. Also, this article gingered everybody into action, and perhaps Okorocha saw the signal and recoiled in his timidity. Also, the State Police Command under the immediate past (C.P. Taiwo Lakamu) saw the signal and refused to mobilize for action.

INDECENT PRACTICE AND ACTIONS OF OWERRI INDIGENES ON TRADERS

With the temporary victory secured against the Okorocha government on the planned demolition of Eke-Ukwu Market, Owerri indigenes went berserk. Their youths started to extort traders with all sorts of fees and dues. In fact, street trading became more pronounced, while gangsterism and other criminal acts against traders by both indigenes and non-indigenes became a hobby. Also, criminal elements including cult boys attack, rob and rape female traders indiscriminately and openly to the chagrin of onlookers daily within and around Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market. Perhaps, these atrocities infuriated the Okorocha led government and may have led them to take the illegal action of demolishing the market.

THE SHAMELESS, HOPELESS, IRRESPONSIBLE AND CRIMINAL ACTION OF IMO STATE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, CP CHRIS OKEY EZIKE

It is a known fact that there is a court injunction restraining the Imo State government from demolishing and relocating the Eke-Ukwu Market. Conversely, any action on the market that is contrary to the court injunction should be seen as an act of lawlessness and criminality. For this reason, the immediate past Commissioner of Police in the state, CP Taiwo Lakanu (now an AIG) refused to mobilise officers of the Police Command when Governor Okorocha reportedly requested him to do so, sometime in September 2016, for the sole purpose of providing security for his bulldozers to demolish the market. Also, the then Commander of 34 Field Artillery Brigade Obinze rejected Okorocha’s plea to mobilize his soldiers to provide security for bulldozers to demolish the market.

The question now is; if the then CP Taiwo Lakanu, a Yoruba man could reject Okorocha’s plea and request to assist him to demolish Eke-Ukwu Market, why would the current Police Commissioner, CP Chris Okey Ezike, an Igboman stupidly, foolishly, hopelessly, criminally and most irresponsibly assist Okorocha to demolish Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market? I thought that CP Okey Chris Ezike was a gentleman, but now I know that he is a threat to the people of Imo State. In his bid to please Okorocha, an innocent, harmless and helpful boy (Somtochukwu) was brutally murdered and his blood spilled on the road. Oh, I am in tears. It pains me, it worries me and it hurts me that a shameless Police Commissioner and his counterpart at the 34 field Artillery Brigade conspired to shed the Innocent blood of Master Somtochukwu Ibeanusi on the road, just to please Governor Rochas Okorocha’s insatiable appetite for destruction of lives and properties in Imo State. Almighty God, my heavenly Father, I come to you in tears. I am on my knees with my two hands raised up towards heaven. Please let the dogs lick the blood of CP Chris Okey Ezike and indeed all those directly and indirectly responsible for the brutal murder of Master Somtochukwu Ibeanusi. Oh! Lord my God, you have never failed me and cannot fail me now. Feed the flesh of CP Chris Okey Ezike and all those directly and indirectly responsible for the brutal murder of Somtochukwu Ibeanusi to the vultures and other birds of the air. Oh Lord my God; in the book of Isaiah chapter 31 verse 3 you said, “For these Egyptians (Evil men) are mere humans and not God. Their horses are mere flesh and not Mighty Spirits. When the Lord clenches His fist against them (Imo Police, and other security agencies), they will stumble and fall among those they are trying to help (Rochas Okorocha). They will all fall down together and die”, in Jesus Mighty Name I pray, Amen. But before this happens, I am calling for the immediate dismissal, arrest and prosecution of the Imo State Police Commissioner, Mr. Chris Okey Ezike for his criminal, senseless and stupid involvement in committing illegality and murder, in the demolition of Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market, despite the court order restraining it. This is because, if the police commissioner did not mobilize his officers, other heads of security agencies in Imo State would not have mobilized their officers as well.
THE INVASION OF OWERRI BY THE MILITARY

Let me also express my displeasure over the invasion of Owerri by soldiers attached at the 34 Field Artillery Brigade, Obinze. They openly used their Armoured Personnel Carrier Vehicles to threaten, intimidate and harass residents of Owerri. The soldiers shot indiscriminately and in the process people died and many sustained various degrees of injuries. Owerri is not in a war situation, why then should the military be deployed to intimidate the poor masses? This is very condemnable.
THEMILITANT BOYS FROM OHAJI/EGBEMA LGA

It appears we are now in an era of madness, whereby youths and militants from another Local Government Area were imported and used to fight residents of Owerri and thereafter used to destroy Eke-Ukwu Market. This is an act of lawlessness and must be condemned by all. It is a shame that social misfits would be used to destroy the cultural heritage of the people of Owerri Nchi-Ise.
THE TRADERS AND THEIR MIS-MANAGEMENT OF SYMPATHY

When Governor Rochas Okorocha made known the intention of the State Government to demolish the market two years ago, the traders had the sympathy of about 90% of the people of the state. Hence many people (excluding politicians) stood up for them and even asked Okorocha to step down his plans to demolish the market. It is on record that Okorocha had made his intention (government intention) to demolish and relocate the market in 2015. It is now two years since that intention was made public. One had expected the traders to make alternative plans by at least approaching government for a peaceful resolution to the 'government-inflicted' crisis. I doubt if this was done. Neither did the traders conduct themselves in proper and polished manners. Rather, as soon as an injunction from the court restraining government from removing the market was obtained, the traders went berserk and reportedly connived with Owerri natives to further annoy the state government by trading on the streets and roads in the state capital. The market association, (Owerri Market Traders Association, OMATA) could not even assist government to dissuade their members from street trading. Perhaps, if OMATA had managed their members effectively, if they had assisted government to stop street trading, if they had assisted government to sanction any of their members that flouts (flouted) government policy on street trading, government would have changed its decision on the demolition and relocation of Eke-Ukwu Market.

WHY I AM NOT HAPPY WITH GOVERNOR ROCHAS OKOROCHA

I will not really question or challenge the wisdom of Governor Rochas Okorocha to remove the Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market. Rather, I am expressing my displeasure on why the Governor did not see the traders as his own children, no matter the provocation. Even if he must demolish the market, he should have first ensured that he finished or completed the two new markets at Naze junction and at Akwakuma axis, which are still under construction. Now that Eke-Ukwu Market has been demolished, Okorocha and the state government must be ready to face the consequences of their action, since it is obvious the present leadership did not exhaust many viable options before arriving at this unpopular decision; and it has started.
How will the very corrupt, shameless, hopeless, senseless and irresponsible Imo Police Command that participated in the demolition of Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market be able to confront or handle the problem they caused? This is a big question which the Police must answer.
The consequences of this unpopular decision include the following:
Thousands of traders, families and shop owners have been pushed into the unemployment market, as a result of the demolished market.

Economic activities in the state capital will die a natural death because Eke-Ukwu is/was the biggest industry in the state.

Cost of living in the State Capital will rise to an unprecedented level. The crime rate in Imo State will be overwhelming and unprecedented in the history of the state. Total dis-equilibrium of the system will take place in the state. Due to the state government’s inflicted hardship assisted by the Police and other security agencies on the traders, many of them won’t be able to pay their house rents and children’s school fees. And so on and so forth.

Let me use this opportunity to warn some desperate and ambitious politicians in the state, who are now pretending to be Messiahs and who are pretending to be sympathizing with traders over the demolition of the Eke-Ukwu market. These set of politicians never offered suggestions, advice or the way forward. When Okorocha first made known his intention to demolish the market, they all kept sealed lips: only for them to now be pretending as if they really share in the agony of these traders. Let me ask; how many traders have these shameless politicians empowered? How many widow-traders have these shameless politicians empowered? How many lock-up shops have these shameless politicians provided for the traders? Most of these politicians are even far worse than the devil himself. If these politicians are truly sympathetic to the plight of the traders, I challenge them to make available for use their numerous properties scattered in the state capital by the now shopless traders.

Let me conclude by clearly stating that Governor Okorocha is truly making it difficult for his political party to retain Imo State come 2019. Leadership must have human face. Leadership is all about selfless service to the people. Leadership must be anchored on love, truth and honesty.
Nevertheless, I am happy that it is not all government officials that supported the demolition of Eke-Ukwu Market. Over 85% of them are not happy over the development. Specifically, the Deputy Governor (Prince Eze Madumere) and the Chief of Staff (Hon. Uche Nwosu) are reportedly not happy with the demolition of Eke-Ukwu Market. Perhaps, it could be the reason Hon. Uche Nwosu angrily travelled out of the country. It is very unfortunate.
Let me at this point condole with families whose sons and daughters were wounded and killed by the shameless and criminally minded Imo Police Command and other Security agencies during the heartless demolition of the Market.

Iwuoha is a former Senior Special Assistant on Media, Imo State House of Assembly.

Source News Express

Posted 29/08/2017 9:06:32 PM

 

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