Tears flowed freely on Tuesday as the Rivers State government embarked on the demolition of the popular roadside market at Afikpo, in the densely populated Mile One area of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
The demolition team, which was led by the Commissioner for Urban Development and Physical Planning, Chinyere Igwe, was mainly made up of members of the Urban Guard from the same ministry who were seen burning heaps of market tables, stools and other items.
Amidst tears, 67 year old Mrs. Erebi Horsefall decried the destruction of her market wares such as fish, cow-hide, stock fish, melon and others, which has rendered her “useless”.
“I went to market yesterday (Monday) to buy things. All the fish I bought, the melon, cow-hide and many others have been taken away by government. I did not pay my customers one naira for the things I bought. Even my hand set has been taken away. At my age, where do I start from in life!
“I am a widow. My only son has just died. Please, people should help me beg them to return my items let me look for where to sample them to feed myself and pay my customers. They have made me useless,” Horsefall complained in tears.
Madam Comfort Ikhlioju, 75, chairperson of the Afikpo Market traders Union, AMTU, pleaded with Governor Nyesom Wike to “tamper justice with mercy” by allowing them to trade by the roadside at 4pm daily rather than sacking them outright from the place.
She said: “I have been trading in this market since 1969. When Ken Green was the chairman of the Port Harcourt City Council, he used to collect one penny from us as table levy. In this market we pay levy to the government through the City Council. Police come here every day to collect money from us.
“Many of these politicians today got their training from the proceeds of this market. I have been trading in this market for more than forty (40) years. Why should they just come here without notice and render people poor!
“I am begging Wike to help us.
Things are very hard in Nigeria. All of us are using this market to feed and train our families. I hope they don’t want to turn us to beggars.”
Also complaining, the Secretary of the Union, Mrs. Amaka Eze, said that the traders were given just a day to quit the market because business activities contributed immensely to the traffic gridlock that has been experienced along the Afikpo/Ikwerre road roundabout.
According to her, “This is evening market. They should allow us to do businesses here in the evening. They did not give us enough time to prepare ourselves before they brought caterpillars to destroy our market. We pay all manner of levies to this same government. We pay table levy and sanitation.
“Let them give us a new place to settle down for business. It is not just destroying the market but is to relocate us to even a better place.”
When contacted at the demolition site, the Commissioner for Urban Development, Chinyene Igwe declined comment on the matter.
“I have addressed this matter enough. I am here to effect the order (demolition),” he said.
It will be recalled that Governor Wike promised to create an area for the roadside traders when the construction of the second phase of the Rumuoji market, popularly known as Mile One Market, was completed. Work is yet to start on the project.