FOR ALMOST EIGHT DECADES, THE POPULAR UMUAHIA MAIN MARKET REIGNED SUPREME IN ABIA STATE. HUSTLING AND BUSTLING WAS ALWAYS AT ITS PEAK. BUT ON OCTOBER 26, 2013, NOISE ASSOCIATED WITH THE MARKET WAS NOT HEARD. THE RUMBLINGS OF BULLDOZERS, CREAKING OF METALS AND CORRUGATED IRON SHEETS FILLED THE AIR. BUILDINGS CRUMBLED, SHOPS WERE FLATTENED AND DUSTS SWIRLED IN THE AIR. IN A MATTER OF HOURS, UMUAHIA MARKET COMPRISING OVER 2, 000 SHOPS WAS REDUCED TO rubbles. EMMANUEL UGWU WRITES ON THE MARKET’S 78 YEARS HISTORY AND THE JOURNEY TO ITS NEW ABODE
For years, traders at the Umuahia Main Market had resisted being moved to a new site. The traders who for decades had made the market the source of their livelihood felt the movement would negatively affect their businesses. But after 78 years, the relocation eventually took place. The exodus of traders had commenced in earnest on October 21 when it became clear to them that government really meant business in its intention to relocate the market. Goods were hurriedly packed and people moved briskly carrying one thing or the other to waiting vehicles – trucks, buses, tricycles (Keke Napep).
It finally dawned on all the traders that Umuahia Main Market was finally moving away from the location where it had sat for decades. This prompted one of the traders, Benett Izugha to blurt out, “This market is now history,” as he waited for the evacuation of his goods from his shop on A Line. “Government said we must move and there is nothing we can do about it,” he added.
Relocation of the old market was earlier slated for September 30, 2013 but the logistics associated with the allocation of shops at the new market appeared to have suffered some hitches. Government was compelled to relent and set another deadline which expired on Monday October 21. As early as 7.00am on the fateful day, security agents had taken positions around the market to enforce the order for traders to pack and go to the new market. The then chief press secretary to the governor, Mr. Ugochukwu Emezue had explained that the presence of security agents was to ensure that traders evacuated their goods in an orderly manner. He told THISDAY that government was aware that a mass evacuation of goods could spark looting hence the need to keep hoodlums at bay and allow traders to pack their goods under a well-secured environment. Emezue said that the security agents would keep watch over the old market for seven days during which traders were expected to have removed all their goods and personal belongings after which the bulldozers would move in to demolish the old market.
The new abode…
The journey to the new market is about eight kilometers from the Isi Gate where the old market is situated. Ubani, an Ibeku village on the northern edge of the capital city is now playing host to the new market. Governor Theodore Orji said that no effort had been spared to make the condition in the modern Umuahia Market very good for traders as provisions were made for adequate water supply, fire station, banks, hospital and school. The new market also has provision for car park with spacious internal roads to make for easy movement of goods and people. With over 7, 000 lockup shops, the new market is far larger than the old one and is better planned and arranged to enable customers to easily locate where any type of goods are sold in the market.
With an array of eye-catching red roofs, the new market is ubiquitous lying on close to the end of the territorial boundary of the capital city along the road to Uzuakoli in Bende Local Government.
Challenges of relocating the market…
Relocation of the Umuahia Main Market did not come easy. It had defied every government right from the colonial period. Governor Orji said that the idea of relocating the market was mooted by the colonial administration as far back as 1935. And 78 years on, successive governments had been toying with the idea of relocating the “Ogumabiri Ibeku” as the market was fondly called by the indigenes. The desirability to relocate the market became pertinent when Umuahia became the state capital of the newly created Abia State on August 27, 1991. Every government since the birth of Abia had equally expressed the desire to relocate the market. But it remained just a wishful thinking as there was no political will to overcome the resistance of the traders. Yet, government said the main market was not good for a capital city. “Or how can it be explained that a market should be the first thing to welcome a visitor to Umuahia,” said a top government official some years ago.
The market covered the face of the city like a veil, which must be parted either side to get a full view of the rest of the city. To get to the heart of the city, a visitor to Umuahia would either turn right or left and make a circuitous journey to the city centre. And to reach a particular part of the state capital from the market, you are required to make a semi-circle or full circle trip because the market bestrides the city. The location of the main market was blamed for the increasing traffic logjam affecting Market Road, Club Road, Library Avenue, and the intersection of Umuwaya Road and Warri Street at Isigate area of the city. Those complaining about the location of the defunct Umuahia main market also fingered it for the stunted growth of the capital city as it has been pulling development towards the city centre like a centripetal force. Efforts to make Umuahia attain the level of aesthetic expected of the capital city was also said to have been blighted by the market. In fact the market was said to have constituted a huge distortion of the master plan of the capital city. Further more, it was seen as a breeding ground for criminals who usually hid under the cover of the market to engage in drug abuse and then ply their trade at sundown.
“As a home boy and one quite familiar with the embarrassment and all the draw backs associated with the inappropriate location of the Umuahia Market, Governor Orji had set out to relocate it for good. He made his intention known during the electioneering campaigns for 2011 election when he promised to move the market to a better location if he won his second term. He won and he has kept his word. Orji had earlier tried to move the market during his first tenure but it didn’t work out. At that initial attempt, the construction of the new market was conceived as a public private project (PPP) but it didn’t take off the ground as the private firm that expressed interest in the project later disappeared without commencing work. However, the jinx that had held down the expansion of Umuahia has finally been broken. Having summoned the political will to relocate the market Orji never looked back even when traders were expressing misgivings and sometimes outright hostility to idea of moving them to a new location.
Just like in the past, Orji’s intention to remove the market was met with hostility and barrage of criticisms. But the governor refused to succumb to any pressure to drop the idea of implementing the new market project. He never hid the fact that he considers as one of his “legacy projects” that must be completed for posterity. Every now and then, while work was in progress, he would visit the site to monitor the progress of work. During one of such visits on September 24, 2013, the governor was faced with a grim fact of not meeting the deadline for the relocation to the new market as the expected finishing touches to the shops were still going on. The hitch did not faze him. Rather, he remained as resolute as ever, insisting that “it is very feasible.”
By the second week of October, the shops were ready for traders to move in. As at that time, the Chairman of the market relocation committee, Chief Ebenezer Offor said that over 4, 000 shops had been allocated to traders. That in concrete terms was the spur that the traders needed to start the exodus to the new market. As it is with every change, the relocation was not fully embraced by all the traders. There was grumbling over one issue or the other. But the governor was ready to bend backwards to accommodate the traders if only to clear every hurdle that could impede the relocation plan. When the traders complained about the high cost of the shops and the issue of ownership after payment as spelt out by the relocation committee, Orji stepped in to resolve the matter.
Cutting fees to encourage relocation…
To encourage quick relocation, the governor reduced the payment for the purchase of the allocation form to N20, 000 while allocation fee was pegged at N100, 000. It was also resolved that after the relocation, each trader would be required to pay N300, 000 spread over four years to take full ownership of their shops. However, those who did not own any shop in the old market and are coming into the new market to own shop would pay extra N100, 000. This means that the shop owners in the old market would pay a total amount of N400, 000 to take full ownership of a shop in the new market while those who did not own shops in the old market but want to become shop owners in the new market are required to pay N500, 000. In explaining the reduction of the money payable by traders to acquire shops in the new market, the governor said that the motivation of government was not to make money as a project of such nature is a long term investment and a monument for posterity.
“What government has in mind is not to make money. Money would come to government in the long run,” Orji said. He was referring to tax returns that would be accruing to government when the market begins to boom with commercial activities. Governor Orji has also inaugurated a market shuttle transportation scheme serviced by four mass transit buses for a start. The transport fare is highly subsidized and more buses have been added to the fleet to make movement to and from the new market easy and pocket friendly. The transportation arrangement is planned in such a manner that in every point in time (within an hour) a bus would be on its way to the market while another would be returning with passengers from the market.
Implications of the relocation…
As the famed Ogumabiri Ibeku has finally completed its 78 year journey to a new abode at Ubani Ibeku, away from the city centre, the old has finally given way to the new. Umuahia is now expected to be jolted into expanding towards the new market and spark development activities beyond the boundary of the capital territory as far as Uzuakoli. Already, a private firm has commenced development of a housing estate close to the new market as traders are expected to set up new homes near the market. It was for this reason that school and hospital were included in the design of the new market to take care of the new settlements that would grow around the market area. “I’m sure the people will be better for it,” Orji said, adding that the removal of the old market would also reveal the beauty of the state capital.