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Anger trails Rivers govt’s demolition of 50-year-old slaughter market

There is no way for a visitor to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, cannot notice the Slaughter Roundabout, the gateway to the Oginiba Slaughter Market. For more than five decades, this bustling but somewhat chaotic market had met the economic needs of sellers, while satisfying the needs of buyers.

A few days ago, the state government demolished the market after years of complaints against its hygienic state, and the activities of criminal elements, which are very difficult to identify as they blend easily with genuine sellers and buyers. Those that argued for the shutdown of the market was of the opinion that it has grown into a monster that was doing harm rather than good to go there for business or to those passing by.

To them, the danger the market posed to the peace and security of the people outweighs it’s economic importance. The key complaint was the activities of hoodlums, especially armed, violent criminals, extortioners made up mostly of gang members who operate in carved turfs that opposing gang member’s respect. It was no longer be business as usual as a new dawn has commenced in the area.

The day of demolition started like any other day. But the moment armed security operatives stood at alert to forestall any obstruction or attack and government officials supervised the demolition, the once imposing stalls that formed the architecture of the market was flattened, creating a view that leads straight to the lagoon. In recent times the market had become renowned as a crime zone where a few criminal elements ambushed people, especially at night and the early hours of the day. Countless victims had been ambushed and attacked by armed hoodlums who sometimes brandish their weapons in the open.

The commonest was the snatching of bags, phones while users are on call in slow-moving vehicles. Some victims had been robbed with a gun or machete at night. A journalist and mother of two remember how she sustained a neck injury one evening while sitting at the back seat of a taxi heading to Woji Town.

She was wearing a gold chain and as the driver was still looking for more passengers to fill the taxi, somebody grabbed the chain from her neck and pulled it with force. The thief eventually succeeded by adding more force, injuring her in the process. One of the things that stand the slaughter market apart from the other markets in the state is that it is located almost directly beside the Port Harcourt Zoo, one’s of the state’s historical landmarks. What separates the two is the dual carriageway road network that leads one to Woji community and in the opposite direction to Trans Amadi Industrial hub, which was once a bubbling industrial haven up to early 2000.

Some multinational companies, including those outside the oil and gas industry, like Michelin, the renowned tyre makers once had a factory a stone throw from the slaughter market. The demolition has created a divide among those who heaved a sigh of relief that “the madness that used to take place there” according to a taxi driver who loads at the Slaughter Roundabout” and those who condemn the demolition. Most of those who fault the demolition are traders, whose livelihood depended on the market. Indeed, over the years, the economic importance of the market had risen as more sellers brought more wares to the waiting hands of ever-increasing buyers.

So, some, especially sellers and others who used to do business in the area are unhappy that the government demolished the market. Some of the affected traders complained that the government acted in a hurry without providing them with an alternative area to trade. Amid tears, a mother of three who used to sell bags of rice, groundnut oil and processed tomatoes just besides a barricade preventing traders from extending their activities to the road that leads from Woji, lamented that the government acted hastily, arguing that a month notice for the market’s demolition was too short.

She said: “It is true that people are robbed within and outside the market in the early hours of the day and at night, but the government should have exercised patience so that people like us that are traders can find an alternative area to do business. “If not because I trusted my instinct, and moved my wares to a warehouse, I would have landed myself in a big trouble. Honestly, most of us were not ready for this government action.

I just pray that government provides us with another place to sell our wares.” However, the experiences of government agencies and their officials, whose futile effort to ensure law and order over the years following the complaints of thousands of people who ply the route to work and for business, to a large extent gave the government no other option. Just like some areas in the city, one of the waterfront settlements where some criminals seek shelters from where they launch their activities, the slaughter market, which back leads directly to a canal, had witnessed the emergence of make-shift shelters that some hardened criminals use as a launchpad to terrorise residents.

It was after a state executive meeting almost a month before the demolition of the market that the state government issued a month notice to those doing business there to vacate the market. Also, it was at the same meeting that the market was shut down indefinitely, According to the Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Fred Kpakol, said a new project of government has been designated to be sited at the market, recalling that at its previous meeting, the state council approved the building of a new abattoir in Mgbuosimini, Rumueme.

 

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