Traders in the popular Watt Market in Calabar metropolis have accused the chairman of Calabar South Local Government Area, Hon. (Mrs) Esther Bassey of allegedly harassing and extorting them using thugs.
Some of the traders said they are made to part with N750 to N1,000 on daily basis, a fee imposed on them by the council chairman.
GRASSROOT REPORTERS gathered that some of the shopping complexes in the market were shutdown for 9 days over non-compliance and the traders were asked to pay additional N5,000 each for it to be reopened while those who couldn’t afford the fee were had their goods, mobile phones seized and some were allegedly beaten by thugs allegedly brought in by the council chairman.
When GRASSROOT REPORTERS contacted the media aide to the Chairman, Ruth Ekeng for comments, she said the traders were occupying an unauthorized space meant for parking of cars at the shopping complex.
“There is an area reserved for Okrika(fairly used clothes) traders inside the market (fosbery area of Watt Market). If you get there, you will find few traders still staying there, doing their business and also paying daily ticket of N70 which is government approved rate.
“Many of them abandoned their spaces there, some even closed their shops and some abandoned their open shades to go and occupy the open space in shopping complex which was originally suppose to be used as car park, a legitimate revenue head in the council. The people handling this parking lot as revenue could no longer generate their revenue because of trading activities there.
“They were suppose to be driven out of that place but the youths of the community intervened and made a special arrangement for them to be paying N200 daily in order to settle the car park owner. The youth who pleaded for their stay takes N100 from them , the security team who suppose to lock the gates of the market by 6pm which is the normal closing time for markets all over Nigeria takes N100 from them for allowing them stay till 8:30 to 9pm, the sanitation man takes N150 from them for paying extra hands to clean the place. The council takes N100 and Cross River State Ministry of Environment takes N50 and that makes a total of N700.
“All these arrangement have been in existence for almost 10yrs before the advent of this administration. There is also monthly payment of N500 for the community while the council charges N30,000 yearly for allocation of space. These are all the collections currently going on there because it is not the right place to sell.
“Just last week, the union of Okrika stood up and started protesting against the payment and arrested some of the boys who does collections there, we were invited to the police and we went to Atakpa, from Atakpa they petitioned the Cross River State Police Headquarters which the police came to the market and made some investigations and saw that their existence there was the reason for all that payment, and that it was purely by choice since they have their shops and open shades and a designated place for Okrika at Watt Market, but they choose to abandon the place and close their shops and decide to go to an unauthorized place to sell.
“The police also concluded that since they had knowledge of all these payment before now but they still went ahead and did their renewal for 2022, that it was wrong for them to stand up at the middle of the year and start protesting. They were told to go back and continue the payment till the end of the year or vacate the place and go back to their shops and shades which they are not ready to.
“They came back and resorted to media blackmail.
So since they were causing unnecessary unrest and using security men to arrest the youths, the Chairman wrote to the Commissioner of Police to shut down the market until normalcy returns to the place”. Ekeng stated.