PAULINUS NTA, our correspondent in Uyo reports on the activities of street traders in the state capital who seem to have resolved to continue with their trade on the streets, despite the hazards they face.
Apart from defacing the aesthetic architecture of the capital city of Uyo, street trading has constituted severe threat to life, for residents of Uyo, the capital City of Akwa Ibom State. The worst hit is the Ibom connection, popularly called the Plaza, as traders and hawkers in recent times have abandoned the modern market facility which was built inside the plaza by the Victor Attah's administration and congest the bypass and the circus, forcing pedestrians into the right of way of moving vehicles.
When our correspondent visited the market inside the plaza, the stalls were almost empty, save for a few sellers, who trade on shoes and clothes.
Responding to questions from TNN on why the traders abandoned the well – structured market to sell by the roadside, a trader, Madam Christiana Etuk said it all started when Senator Godswill Akpabio, then the state governor shut down the entire plaza and said he wanted to maintain and renovate the plaza.
According to her, Akpabio's government shut down the plaza for close to three years for “reasons known to him” and when they opened the plaza, nothing was done, apart from a small police post that was built inside. “By that time, sellers brought their products and sell along the street and the Ibom Connection. When they finally opened the plaza, people were already used to buying clothes and other items beside the plaza; so many people would prefer to get what they want outside. Some of us who had earlier bought space inside, returned to our stalls but business became tough as buyers were not used to the market again.
By this time, Igbo traders who come in with their goods, lobbied the plaza security and occupied the pedestrian ways and bypass. They paid heavily and caused the security to look away, even when they caused incidents and other dangers.
It could be recalled that following rising criminal activities around the Ibom plaza at night, Akpabio, towards the end of his first term, locked the plaza and shut down economic activities, a development that was viewed by critics as a technical slap to his predecessor, who had built the then “popular relaxation centre ”. A police officer at the Ibom plaza post who did not want his name to be mentioned, however agreed that there was rising trend of criminal activities, such as robbery, rape and cult activities, leading to the shutting down of the place, but noted that the state government did not take serious steps to combat the criminals. “There was no security. If they had deployed police to the plaza, it would not happen”.
Another hot bed for street trading is Itam junction beside the Itam market, along Calabar/Itu road. A visit to the area, especially on Itam market day, like the last Friday, presents a frightening scenario, as keke, cars and heavy trucks wriggle their ways out among buyers and sellers. A single dual passage way, the trunk “A” road plays host to trucks that convey gravels and other stone products from Akamkpa in Cross River state, to the other parts of the South-South and links the two sister states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom. The situation in Itam is by far, worse than that of Ibom plaza.
Here, food items, ranging from meat, fish, and all other articles are sold on the busy road. Other articles include clothing, shoes, beddings and others. A tricycle rider who spoke with our correspondent, disclosed that at intervals, cars and trucks run into the crowd and crush both buyers and sellers. Effiong recalled early last year when a truck loaded with gravels from Akamkpa rammed into the road market and killed four people, including a pregnant woman.
Apart from the danger of road accidents, street trading also breeds the menace of shop lifting, robbery, bag and phone snatching. This is made possible because of the thick population. At Mbiabong market, before customs office, along Oron road, the story is not different, as sellers have expanded the market into almost the middle of the road leading to Victor Attah International Airport.
The development exposes buyers to the dangers of coping with racing cars who rush to meet flight schedules, government convoys and other vehicular movements. When asked to comment on why they extend the market into the major road, Mrs. Arit Emmanuel, a fish vendor said the “inside is very mashy and buyers would not like to come in.” So in order to sell their items, they must stay outside. She however agreed that a lot of risk was associated with street trading, but blamed the state government for refusing to respond to several calls to build stalls and equip the old market with modern facilities.
Another worrisome development in the heart of Uyo is the rising trend of mobile restaurants along Wellington Bassey Way (Barracks road) that leads to the governor's office, Uyo. It is no more news that the governor's office road starting from the entrance, where we have the Christ the King Cathedral to a few meters to the gate of the governor's office is littered with food vendors, who attract heterogeneous crowd. What is however news, is the refusal of the state government to curb the menace.
When contacted in his office to make comments on the development, Commissioner of Environment and Mineral Resources, Dr. Iniobong Essien said machinery has been put in place to arrest the situation. According to him, a Joint Task Force has been mobilized to enforce the policy with effect from Tuesday 9th April, 2019.