Christopher Ewhrudjakpo is the permanent secretary, Bayelsa State Environmental Sanitation Authority. In this interview with PAULINE ONYIBE, he explains the rationale behind the demolition of the Swali Ultra Modern Market and many more. Excerpts:
Why did the government choose this period to demolish illegal structures at the Swali ultramodern market?
Actually, initiative of the government to carry out this demolition exercise was not just because of this COVID- 19 alone so as to enforce this social distancing and other rules that will enable us survive the COVID-19. But it was also to ensure that the beauty of the city, Yenagoa metropolis is glaring and seen by everyone. And you know with the plans they built and the illegal structures that they mounted on the road side, did not actually give the city a beautiful look. So when the demolition took place, when you go now, observe that before and after the demolition, the difference will speak for itself.
After the demolition, will there be some measures put in place to see that it remains like that?
That is why the government has followed up by setting up mobile court which is now there. And the sanitation authority staff are there. The staff ministry of trade and investment are there. The staff of ministry of environment, all are there. And the magistrates that have been assigned by the chief justice of the state and then the personnel. So after some time, the government is going to take a look at it and see what they can do to make it more beautiful and more ecstatic than it is now.
Are the Swali traders still going to remain after now?
That is government’s decision. The Government will decide if they are going to still remain there or not even after the COVID 19.
Do we still expect these mobile courts in places like Tombia and Kpnansia markets?
Yes when they finish at Swali. I think his Excellency said it that he has seen the progress of this demolition in Swali market. He said that the action will be taken further to other markets. And he specifically mentioned Kpansia market with a follow up action. A similar action that took place at Swali will take place there but if they comply before that time, then such a serious measure will not be taken.
Is it not better to have sensitised the people instead of constituting a mobile court?
We also know that this sanitation board has a department for beautification? The department of beautification has been properly restructured to become park and gardens. It is an agency of itself now and both park and gardens and this authority are all agencies under the ministry of environment. So they are in charge of seeing that the Bayelsa State and its environment particularly the metropolis is beautified. So beyond this time now, if there is going to be anything like beautification, it is those people that are going to do it not sanitation authority. On sensitisation or leaving it at the mobile court level, before the mobile court was even established by our lordship, Chief Justice of the state Justice Kate Abiri, sensitisation has been done severally. The ministry of trade and investment had already done their own sensitisation before we started. And then after we even did our own, the state COVID -19 task force also met and went to the market holding several meetings with their leadership and all the rest of them. So they were fully and properly sensitised. It was because they were adamant and felt that it was just a matter of politics. They felt that after now, government will just relax and nothing will happen. That was what led to this demolition.
People were like the timing was not right at this particular time that people are suffering…..
Well when they say people are suffering, I think they are being economical with the truth because apart from asking them especially those that are not selling those essential commodities, like food stuffs, pharmaceutical and all the rest stuff, the COVID-19 team has gone and determined places where those people can go and sell- that is the location where they relocate them to. You can even carry your wares to the front of your house. So anybody complaining of hunger is just being economical with the truth and doesn’t want to help the state. Some traders were also complaining of lack of shops. They said they were ready to move into the shops if there are any. That also is a very bad picture they are painting about the government. After the sensitisation, I went into the market myself. There are in fact about 600 shops. Nobody was occupying them but they are half walls though. They are not lock up shops. And there is an open space inside the market. Government immediately authorised the clearing of that place and sand filling and then fumigated it so that the people who have no stalls will go there and sell.
Were they having stalls by the road side?
No. They were using these umbrellas and other make-shift shades. So if they enter into the market, they can also prepare similar things inside the market instead of blocking the road. Tombia market, we found out they are always carrying out their businesses on top of the bridge. And there have been clamours that they should disperse. I don’t know how far environmental sanitation has gone about that and if there are plans to demolish illegal structures there. The law establishing this sanitation authority, has it that the authority has a right and the powers to arrest, prosecute and even impound goods that are being sold on an unauthorised places. And when you go by the definition of a market, the bridge where they are currently selling is not a market by definition. So already since the definition of a bridge is not a market, that place is already an unauthorized place by law. So there is no point allowing any person to sell on top of the bridge. That is what informed the authority to hold several meetings with all the market leaders, women, men, chairmen ever union involved both the meat union all the rest of them including the Keke driver’s leaders. We invited them and held several meetings with them until this mobile court came on board. I now convened another meeting to tell them that now that the mobile court is on, any person we see on the bridge, henceforth we are going to carry their things and charge them to court. When I held the meeting with them, I said alternatively if we see that people are stubborn and they are running away, the market leaders are going to be held responsible and you will go and answer for them because most of these sellers too are not residents here. They come from Delta state to come and sell. So when the authority goes to make arrest and we cannot get the culprit, the market leaders will be held responsible. They now said no, that they will help the authority to enforce the law. And the deal is working. The demolition of Tombia market is not the issue now because the governor has not given any body the go ahead to make any demolition. Until the governor gives the approval for any demolition or the committee to go ahead, it is then it will be done. Still talking of social distancing, why did they demolish Swali market and now they have not given approval to demolish illegal structures at Tombia and other market? Yes the governor said that it is going to be a gradual process. All the markets will not be rushed at a time but with the demolition of Swali market, if other markets here will comply on their own, then better for the state.
Are there plans to expand Swali market or taking it to another location?
The governor mentioned it that there is an open area, very big enough which we have checked. Just by the Swali market that they built all these illegal structures. So the area has been bulldozed open and the governor has said that he was going to meet with the relevant ministry to see how it will be developed. So it will develop. There is this clamour that meet sellers should not be burning their meat with tyres because of the health implications. Yes in our sensitisation, I even went to the market. All the market leaders were with me. We went round and we even saw the chairman of the meat sellers and we told him from eight o’clock, we don’t any burning of meat because of the smoke. At most before eight o’clock, they have finished burning everything and the issue of burning with tyre is not tolerated at all. It is against the sanitation law. After discussing with the chairman of meat sellers, he told us that they have been told and some people were already complying. He said that majority of them are now using fire wood.
How healthy is the meat that we consume in Bayelsa state. Who certifies them healthy for consumption?
We have not actually gone into medical inspection of meat for consumption. And it supposed to be done in conjunction with ministry of health, ministry of agriculture and ministry of trade.
There is a lot of dirt in Tombia and Swali markets. I don’t know who is supposed to be in charge of clearing them?
The person in charge of refuse evacuation is doing his best. One Brikari Nigeria limited is in charge and they are working. Even the Swali market refuse after demolition, they were the people that evacuated them free of charge. Sometime ago, it was agreed that any sanitation levy should be paid directly to the bank. But some of your men still move around shops collecting cash. We don’t pay directly to the bank. The policy was that if they cannot pay, there was a POS that they were using. That system at a time failed.
Last year, they did it and for some time now it did work again. As we speak, the machines are here but they are no longer functional. Just yesterday we contacted the contractor in charge of the POS and he said we should take it to somewhere for it to be serviced and re- activated. Since that system failed, our people are going around. If they come back, they pay to the accountant who goes to remit it to the bank.
But those who want to pay because we have given them the notices, when they come, we issue them receipt. That is why most of them when our staff go, either we collect cash and issue them receipt directly or they can come and pay to the office here directly.