The relocation and proposed demolition of the Lugbe Building Materials market, situated at Federal Housing, on the Airport Road in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as a result of road and power line constructions, has drawn bad blood among members of Lugbe Building Materials Dealers Association (LBMDA).
This had led to claims, counter claims and indictment of traders, government officials and those involved in the hullabaloo.
PAUL OKAH investigates.
The market The Lugbe Building Materials market has been in existence since the 1990s and evidently dominated by many traders from the South-east, who specialise in the sales of building materials, furniture making, timber distribution business and many other undertakings needed for house construction.
Many traders from the North, who specialise in the sales of second-hand products, popularly called pantakers, equally dominate the market.
Artisans, petty traders, food vendors and hawkers of different products also eke out a living in the market.
However, recent developments in the market, especially the decision by Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) to relocate the market to a permanent site in the hinterlands of Agwansawa, Aco Estate, Lugbe, have led tothe traders forming factions and moving to different parts of Abuja to continue with their businesses.
Traders’ nightmare Blueprint Weekend investigations revealed that many of the traders are still in the Lugbe Building Materials market, especially building materials dealers, furniture makers, artisans and hawkers.
However, many of them are not operating in full capacity, as they do not display their full products, in anticipation of the demolition that may take place any moment.
One of the traders, Emeka Moses, described the situation thus: “We are one leg in and one leg out.
The 7th July that AMAC gave us, as the final for relocation, has elapsed; so, we are now operating with anxiety and uncertainty.
We have to be careful how we operate here, because AMAC and the Development Control will come at any moment and we have to be ready for them.
I already have a shop somewhere else, but I just don’t want to leave this place just like that because my root is here.”
Multiple relocations Further checks revealed that, following the proposed demolition, a greater number of building materials dealers, timber dealers and furniture makers have already relocated to Lugbe Relocation market, where exigencies necessitated their renting shops not originally meant for their type of businesses, and occupying every available space originally designed as car park for the buildings in the market.
Here, the noise of heavy duty machines used in hewing woods and the activities of their operators render communication and movement around the market impossible.
Furthermore, other traders migrated to Kugbo furniture market, which is believed to be the largest furniture market in Abuja, while others relocated their businesses to Kurudu, Karu, Wuse, Mararaba, Zuba, Nyanya and every other market they believe they can make sales in Abuja.
The new market at Aco Estate It was also gathered that many of the traders have already started carrying out their trading activities at the permanent site in Agwansawa, Aco Estate, Lugbe, which AMAC allocated to the traders in April, this year.
However, shops here are still under different levels of construction.
The traders, therefore, keep their wares in open spaces for the patronage of few customers who discover about the existence of the market, while their shops elected chairman of the market and took his oath of office on August 26, 2016.
Relocation threat In one of his official visits to congratulate the AMAC chairman, Abdullahi Adamu Candido, on his electoral victory in 2016, Blueprint Weekend gathered that Obieze was informed, though informally, by the vice-chairman of Council, Lawrence Onochukwu, that the present location of the building materials market was not on a permanent site and should contemplate relocation.
This allegedly led to the chairman of the market appealing to AMAC boss to provide a suitable site for the traders, in order for the over sixty thousand traders depending on the market for their livelihood not to have their sources of income cut off; something the AMAC chairman allegedly promised to “look into.” AMAC officials in bribe allegation A trader in the market, Mr.
Dozie Chidiebere, alleged that the market chairman capitalised on his connections and access to the AMAC hierarchy to start extorting traders.
“The chairman claimed that officials from AMAC, Development Control and Power officials wanted us to bribe them, so that they can leave us alone to continue doing our business in peace, and not worry about the demolition of the market.
We agreed and contributed three million naira.
Each shop paid N7, 500.
At another time, he made another demand and we paid N5, 000 per shop,” he said.
Extortions, factions Similarly, another trader, Ugwu Okeke, said different factions came up in the market due to the alleged extortion and issue of accountability on the part of the chairman.
“From last year that the issue of demolition and relocation came up, we have paid N7, 000, N5,000, N3,000 and N2,000, depending on whatever story he came up with or agency he claimed he wanted to settle.
However, he has never been able to account for all the money given to him at different times, leading us to believe that he was obtaining the money for himself, especially as we have never seen any of the agencies coming to dislodge us.
As a result, dissatisfied members of the Union decided to form their own association,” he said.
Doomsday looms A trader and dealer on home appliances, Mr.
Attah Kingsley, said the confusing activities of the chairman of the market and other agencies alleged to be involved in the relocation of the market have made them to be “ready for any eventuality.” “Many of us are tired of the back and forth dealings between the chairman, Development Control, FCDA and AMAC.
We have packed our things in readiness to go to the new site AMAC allocated to us.
I won’t pay a dime more as bribe.
If they bring their bulldozers, then they can demolish an empty shop,” he said.
Another trader, Mr. Christian Chinedu, said he took his wares to a safer location when many traders left the market in droves and rumour was rife of AMAC paying an unannounced visit with their bulldozers. Continuing, he said: “We have received enough repeated warnings and threats from Development Control, AMAC and FCDA.
Isn’t it time we left for good? Some of our members have already left for the new site at Aco.
Others followed another faction to Lugbe Relocation market.
We are just divided.
This place is now scanty and there is no security. It is better we leave and have rest of mind.” Market chair fingered Blueprint Weekend found out that traders in the market are divided into factions, some loyal to the chairman who wants all the traders to move to the new site at Aco Estate, while others are loyal to another factional chairman, who took many of his loyalists to Lugbe Relocation market.
Consequently, the traders speak in favour or against any of the factions.
Ofoegbu Udenna, who supports the market to remain at his present location or for the traders to relocate to Lugbe Relocation market, alleged that the chairman has already embezzled millions of naira since the relocation hullabaloo started.
He said: “Many of us will simply relocate to our villages and start farming if government insists that we must go to the new site at Aco Estate to continue our businesses.
The time that AMAC gave us for relocation has elapsed since 7th of July, without their coming to harass or intimidate us, so I don’t know why Obieze should be pretending to care about us.
The truth is that he bought over ten shops at the new site and wants to make money from us by selling them at N300, 000 each; something he bought at N120, 000 each.
It doesn’t work that way.
I am comfortable where I am, just like many others you see here, but he must account for all the money he embezzled since this relocation business started; that’s if he wants peace to reign.” However, a trader loyal to the chairman, Chinonye Matthew, said the chairman “is not guilty of the allegations levied against him.”
“Mr. Obieze has always had the interest of the market Union at heart; so, I don’t understand why people are accusing him of what he will never dream of doing.
I have been to AMAC office several times with him and his sole purpose of visiting is always how to solve the problems affecting members of the market Union,” he said.
Factional chairman reacts This writer discovered that many traders rented shops at N130, 000 at the Lugbe Relocation market, as opposed to going to the approved new site at Aco Estate.
There, at the market, they formed their own association, with Mr. Joseph Obi as the chairman and a former chairman of Lugbe Timber Shed, Mr.
Ngwoke Virgilus, serving in different capacities to organise the new faction “bears” a grudge against anyone not in their group.
Speaking to Newsmen, Obi pleaded to be recognised only as coordinator until their association is formally recognised by government.
“It is true that government allocated land to us at Aco Estate in April, this year.
Many of us are still trying to pool our resources together, in order to erect structures at the new site.
Therefore, we are just here at the moment until we finish the structures there,” he said.
Moves to acquire permanent site It was also gathered that Mr. Obi and traders loyal to him have perfected plans to acquire plots of land situated directly opposite the Lugbe Relocation market and have no intention of moving to the new site, no matter whose ox is gored.
Moreover, further checks revealed that talks between their lawyer, the landlord and interested traders were already at an advanced stage, as many of the traders paid hundreds of thousands of naira to acquire plots.
Membership of the faction allegedly cost above N500, 000- for registration alone – with other requirements to be considered before a portion of land could be allotted anyone capable of paying.
Traders speak, express fear Many of the traders revealed that the main reason for their decision to remain in the Lugbe Building Materials market or to relocate to somewhere else other than the allocated permanent site at Aco Estate was because the new market is “located inside the bush,” where they will not have access to security, light, water, road, healthcare or many other basic amenities needed for their businesses to thrive.
One of them, Innocent Amanze, told this reporter that he fears for the safety of the traders that have already relocated to the new market site in Aco.
He said: “The place is inside the bush, how can my customers locate me for patronage? Those that are already there are complaining that the road is not good and that their goods are not secured.
What if Fulani herdsmen attack them there, how will they get help, when there is no police outpost there? We should be concerned about our safety first before going anywhere.”
Similarly, another trader, Michael Obinwa, said that the location of the market is the reason why he prefers to stay at Lugbe Relocation market.
“I paid N120, 000 for shop here and N10, 000 for agent fee.
I prefer it that way than to go and start life anew in a village where my safety is not guaranteed.
I am a businessman, not a farmer in the bush.” Chairman fingers AMAC, FCDA, others Chairman of the market, Chief Festus Obieze, in a chat with this reporter, he has a clear conscience and not guilty of all the allegations of embezzlement levied against him by other traders.
He said he had received different amounts of money from members of the market Union at different times, but that the money was used in “settling the agencies” involved, so that the traders could be allowed to continue carrying out their business transactions, without interference from anyone.
“The cabals against me are many and they are the people peddling rumours about me and tarnishing my image, but God will surely vindicate me.
I meant well for my people, but they are paying me back in a bad coin.
When AMAC said that they wanted to relocate the market, I pleaded for time and they listened to me.
The dates they gave us for relocation have been relapsing and I have always pleaded for extension, which they always grant me.
We have been contributing money to give to AMAC, FCDA, Environmental Board, Development Control and other government officials whenever they want to disturb us,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “Severally, every one or two months, we contribute either N2 million, N1 million, 800,000 or 500,000 to lobby and keep the officials off, for us to continue trading in peace.
However, I became tired of paying them and insisted that we must move to the land that was allocated to us by AMAC.
That is why I am being attacked left, right and centre by the cabals, who are no longer getting any financial inducements from us; in order to look the other way.” AMAC allocation for land Continuing, Obieze said he paid a total of N12 million to AMAC for the allocation of 300 shops for the permanent site.
He said he originally applied for 600 shops, but AMAC was only able to grant N300 at N120, 000 per shop.
He added that AMAC initially suggested that it could construct the market at N3 million per shop, but that many traders would not be able to afford that; hence his efforts to obtain the land at N120, 000 for any trader interested in erecting his own shop.
“I was given a shop for free as chairman of the market, but I paid for many other shops I have within the market.
To show their foolishness, some of the cabals waited for the last minute to acquire their own lands, but the 300 allocated by AMAC had already been taken, so they had to buy at N150, 000, N200, 000 or even N300, 000 from AMAC.
Perhaps, their anger is because they paid double amount, compared to those who bought at the original price of N120, 000, but you can hardly blame me for their penny wise, pound foolish decisions,” he said.
We’re working to unite factions – AMAC When Blueprint Weekend visited AMAC office, the chairman was not in seat and all efforts made to reach him proved abortive as at the time of filing in this report.
However, the Director of Town Planning, Mr.
Ali Adamu, said there are many issues on ground that need to be resolved, especially the unification of all the factions.
“The chairman and his deputy are not in seat.
However, he is very much concerned about the problems in the market.
He is working day and night to bring all the factions under one table to discuss the way forward.
Many of the traders visited the office yesterday and we had a positive meeting.
Hopefully, the issues in the market will be resolved very soon, people just have to be patient,” he said.