As Abians from all occupations will roll out the drums to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Dr.Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration, one of the major achievements of the administration is its concerted efforts to remodel and to restore the master plans of markets in the state, especially the famous Ariaria International Market.
The establishment of the market was the aftermath of the fire incident that gutted the Ekeoha Market in Aba in the 1970s. Though nobody accorded it the chances of survival due to its location in a swampy outskirt of Aba, Ariaria has grown to become, arguably the largest market East of the Niger. It assumed the status of a one-stop market.
Ariaria cuts across three local government areas of Aba North, Aba South and Osisioma, and countries of West and Central Africa such as Cameroun and Gabon are served by the market.
The market is the largest shoemaking cluster in Africa divided into over 85 zones.
Before now, the market was a shadow of itself. The facilities, if there were any, are either overstretched or comatose. There were no parks to drop customers who came from afar to transact business in the market; and lorries locating spaces to discharge goods in the market was akin to the proverbial feat of the camel”passing through the needles’ eye”.
Customers could no longer access the market because of the deplorable conditions of the roads, which made the entire roads leading to the market impassable. At a point, customers coming from the neighbouring states abandoned the market and business nearly grounded to a halt. The sanitary condition of the market was at its lowest ebb with substantial part suffering perennial flooding because shops were built on sanitary lanes. The situation degenerated to a point that shops designed for downstairs were converted to storey-buildings and the Fire Service Station in the market was converted to shops.
Unarguably, massive proliferation of shops in the market contributed immensely to the deplorable condition of the market. The situation of the market attracted Gov. Ikpeazu’s concern during his gubernatorial campaigns and he promised to address it.
This formed the essence of constituting the Abia Market Development Committee headed by Chief Nwaigwe Solomon Nwaigwe. One of the mandates of the committee is to raise the standards of the markets to international level. Trade and commerce is one of the areas of Ikpeazu’s administration, and it is worthy to note that the state, especially Aba, has comparative advantage in these areas.
The first port of call of the committee was demolishing those structures built on sanitary lanes but the demolition exercise had to be put on hold until the remodeling project takes full effect any moment from now.
According to Chief Nwaigwe, the remodeling project will be done in up to 10 phases with a life span of over two years. The first phase will be carried out in parks 1&2 where between 5,000 to 10,000 shops are targeted with the installation of Close Circuit Televisions (CCTV), Cameras, Roundabouts, and Toilets.
Within this period, shop owners in the affected parks will relocate to Aba Mega Mall. Nwaigwe said that the relocation will be temporary which will last for six months, within which, other things being equal the remodeling of that phase would have been completed .If the affected traders do not wish to relocate to Aba Mega Mall, alternative spaces could be provided for them within the market.
Aba Mega Mall is strategically located along Port-Harcourt- Enugu Expressway. It is a purpose-built Smart Mall and Africa’s biggest Mall with a leasable retail space of 100,000 square metres.
The remodeling project, like any other well-intentioned project, is facing stiff opposition from the traders who are threatening hell and brimstone. They have leveled all manner of allegations, which prominent among them is that the project is aimed at seizing their shops.
While assuring the traders that, state government would ensure they would have the value of their money, Nwaigwe disclosed that over N5billion have spent to rehabilitate Aba Mega Mall to make it more conducive for traders.
To ensure that no trader loses his shop, a data collection of every shop owner in Ariaria has been concluded. At the end of the day, they will be issued with a Certificate of Ownership. The arrangement is designed in such a way that those who were not initially captured cannot lay claims on any shop.
Ukegbu, a public policy analyst, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.