In the last two weeks, so much has been reported about the efforts of the Rivers State government to take traders off the roads of Port Harcourt. Leading this drive is the new commissioner for urban planning, Dr Reason Onya.
Before his appointment, the governor, Nyesom Wike had vowed to lead the team that would chase street traders out of the streets. But with Onya's coming, the dream seems to have gathered so much momentum.
Last week, the new commissioner was reported to have gone to various parts of Port Harcourt, including Bishop Okoye Street in Mile 3, NITEL axis of D-Line, Waterlines, the Diobu Flyover, Education Bus Stop, where he pleaded with the traders and commercial drivers to leave the roads and do their businesses in the markets and motorparks.
Onya was quoted as warning the traders to beware of those who would deceive and extort them, under the pretext that with their money, they could secure a waiver for them and allow them to continue trading on the streets. He had also alerted them of the government's readiness to arrest and try all those who may want to dare the government and continue to carry out their businesses on the roads.
And true to the threats, the government raided various places in Port Harcourt, 24 hours after that first visit, and arrested about 17 people. Some of them were lucky to have secured a bail when they were taken to the court, while others are still being remanded in prison custody.
This appears to be the first time that the government looks serious about taking traders off the roads, taking drastic measures against the street traders. This is commendable and should be encouraged.
A situation where traders would shut down an entire dual carriage way in Mile 3, turning same into a market cannot be tolerated by any sane government. Although, the traders are said to have argued that the government ought to have provided an alternative place for them. But from reports, the leadership of the mile 3 market had pooh-poohed that position on the grounds that the traders merely chose to sell on the roads, whereas the markets were empty. Which means that traders were not selling on the roads because there was no space in the market for them, but that they believe it is only on the road that they could sell.
The picture at Bishop Okoye is actually very worrisome and scary. Apart from the traders, commercial drivers and truck drivers, mostly from the northern part of the country, have seized the road. This is wrong.
It is even more annoying that some people who claim to be community leaders would encourage people to sell on the roads, while paying fees to them on daily basis.
We applaud the decision of the government to fight street trading. The task may be daunting, but we believe that if they do not give in to threats and the crocodile cries by the traders, Port Harcourt would soon regain its pride of place as the garden city of Nigeria.
However, we suggest that the government should take steps to build more markets and construct parking lots in strategic places in the city, where people can park their cars, especially near markets and thickly populated parts of the town. This way, the roads would have been decongested, just as is the case in developed climes.