By Akan Mkpong & Kenneth Orusi
Foresight, good intentions, ease of passage way, convenience, preservation of lives, standard facilities, peaceful co-existence, healthy competition and creation of employment were some of the hallmarks and desires of the erstwhile Governor James Onanefe Ibori in seeking to establish an ultra-modern market complex to the people of Ughelli and environ in Delta state. Five years on, the market is still under-utilized and there is no conscious effort or political will to utilise the complex. What factors or reasons warrant the neglect? What justification was there to waste tax payers’ money if the project was a waste as it is made to appear? If no justification is found, what accounts for the present administration’s nonchalant attitude towards it?
From a third party’s ex-ray of former Governor Ibori’s good intentions and fore-sight, the present Ughelli main market is congested no doubt. The spill-over effect is seen in the volume of trade along the main passage or road, denying road users easy access. Not done, the number of deaths occasioned by motorists at the same spot needs urgent attention. Another worrisome aspect is that different groups of touts are out there in the market molesting innocent citizens for some unknown tax payments or levies which offence ranges from N3,000 to N10,000. Then also is the morbid fear by shop owners that should they move to the new complex, they may loss their customers to other traders.
Most revealing is the fact that the new complex was to foster peaceful co-existence among the communities bordering the complex; the major two being Ughelli and Ogor. For now, it is not clear why the present administration of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan set-up a 30-man committee, saddled with the responsibility of relocating traders to the new complex since 2010; but nothing concrete has come out yet. Another frightening dimension is the insecurity in the complex. Traders see the site as being far removed and prone to attack. But allaying the fears, Chief Kenneth Iwhewhe of Ughelli kingdom says that though insecurity has been a major challenge in the state, government has put “all security measures in place” to take care of the unknown.
In 2010, forms for the allocation of the new stores within the complex were given out at a cost. But majority of those who bought the forms were non-traders who profiteered in them. The state government had to step in with a promise to allocate the shops to traders who were directly affected during the dualisation of the market road. Without allocating the shops or assurances to those who paid for the shops, another request for acquisition of shops by the same Committee has been made. Traders are not sure what the government is up to. The crisis of confidence on the Ughelli North Local Council, on the Committee, and on the government is worrisome. The situation is complicated as no one can vouch safe for traders’ fears.
From the look of things, there is no doubt that government is playing politics with the market complex. What about leaving it to those who voted for her during elections to outdo others in the bidding? If government wants the market to be functional, it would stamp her feet for what it wants. There is no how a committee of 30 men set up by the government can stand as a cog in the wheel of progress. Putting aside the lack of confidence on the committee with regard to its inability to be accountable or show transparency in the allocation of shops, there are finishing touches to be made before the stalls are certified okay. What happens if traders refuse to make fresh payments since the former ones had no guarantee of redemption?
On the whole, it is the government that has left the project to be subject to interpretations. What happens in Delta is common and a replica of what is found in other states. Being a growing concern, no government should indulge in projects it cannot finish within its life span. But even though government is a continuum, what really counts is the tax payers money, and perhaps, the interest of the people who must benefit from the gigantic projects. There is no place in Nigeria where relocation of market is left in the hands of the local people and it works out though market administration remains within the jurisdiction of the local council. Governor Uduaghan, you can make it, take up the gambit.