Remodeling Ariaria International Market
As Abians from all walks of life will roll out their drums to celebrate the one year anniversary of Dr.Okezie Ikpeazu's administration few days from now, one of the major achievements of the administration is the concerted efforts of the administration to remodel and the restore the master plans of the markets in the state, especially the famous Ariaria International Market.
The establishment of the market was the aftermath of the fire incident that gutted the Ekeoha Market in Aba in the 1970s. Though nobody accorded it the chances of survival due to its location in a swampy outskirt of Aba, Ariaria has grown to become, arguably the largest market East of the Niger. It assumed the status of a one-stop market where goods are bought in retail or bulk in good prices.
Ariaria cuts across three local government areas of Aba North,Aba South and Osisioma, and countries both West and Central Africa such as Cameroun and Gabon are served by the market.
The market is the largest shoemaking cluster in Africa and is divided into over 85 zones specialising in specific articles of trade for easy shopping.
Before now, the market was a shadow of itself. The facilities, if there were any , were either overstretched or comatose. Traders were allegedly defecating in polythene bags due to absence of toilet facilities in the market. There were no parks to drop customers who came from afar to transact business in the market; and lorries locating spaces to discharge goods in the market was akin to the proverbial feat of the camel"passing through the needle's eye".
Customers could no longer access the market because of the deplorable conditions of the roads which made the entire roads leading to the market impassable. At a point customers coming from the neighbouring states abandoned the market and business was nearly grounded to a halt. The sanitary condition of the market was at its lowest ebb with substantial part suffering perennial flooding because shops were built on sanitary lanes. The situation degenerated to a point that shops designed for downstairs were converted to storey-buildings and the Fire Service Station in the market was converted to shops.
Unarguably, massive proliferation of shops in the market contributed immensely to the deplorable condition of the market. The situation of the market provoked Gov. Ikpeazu's concern during his campaigns and he promised to address it .
This formed the essence of constituting the Abia Market Development Committee headed by Chief Nwaigwe Solomon Nwaigwe. One of the mandates of the committee is to raise the standards of the markets to international level. Trade and commerce is one of the areas of Ikpeazu's administration , and it is worthy to note here that the state, especially Aba, has comparative advantage in these areas.
The first port of call of the committee was pulling those structures built on sanitary lanes but the demolition exercise had to be put on hold until the remodeling project takes full effect any moment from now.
According to Chief Nwaigwe, the remodeling project will be done in up to ten phases with a life span of over two years. The first phase will be carried out in parks 1&2 where between 5000 to 10000 shops are targeted with the installation of Close Circuit Televisions (CCTV), Cameras, Roundabouts,and Toilets.
Within this period, shop owners in the affected parks will relocate to Aba Mega Mall. Nwaigwe said that the relocation will be temporary which will last for six months, within which, other things being equal the remodeling of that phase would have been completed .If the affected traders do not wish to relocate to Aba Mega Mall, alternative spaces could be provided for them within the market.
Aba Mega Mall is strategically-located along Port-Harcourt- Enugu expressway. It is a purpose-built Smart Mall and Africa's biggest Mall with a leasable retail space of 100,000 square metres.
The remodeling project, like any other well-intentioned project, is facing stiff opposition from the traders who are threatening hell and brimstone.They have leveled all manner of allegations, which prominent among them is that the project is aimed collecting their shops.
While assuring the traders that state government would ensure that they will have the value of their money, Nwaigwe disclosed that over N5billion have spent to rehabilitate Aba Mega Mall to make it more conducive for traders.
To ensure that no trader loses his shop, a data collection of every shop owner in Ariaria is conducted. At the end of the day they will be issued with a Certificate of Ownership. The arrangement is designed in such a way that those who were not initially captured cannot lay claims on any shop.
Ukegbu, a public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.