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AWKA TRADERS SPOIL FOR WAR OVER MARKET LEADERSHIP

By NBF News

Peter Obi
The relative peace in Awka, capital of Anambra State, has been threatened by an alleged refusal of the state government to recognise the elected leadership of Awka Market Amalgamated Traders Association (AMATA).

Consequently, Governor Peter Obi is being called upon by both the traders and the Awka community, including the traditional ruler, Obi Gibson Nwosu, to urgently intervene so as to prevent the situation from snowballing into mayhem.

They urged the governor to direct his Special Adviser on Parks and Markets, Chief Sylvester Nwobu Alor, to without further delay present the usual government certificate of recognition to the alleged elected President General of AMATA, Sir Charles Ikechukwu Anierobi.

Already, the situation in the various markets that made up AMATA is one of complete break down of law and order as traders now act lawlessly, while infrastructure in the market have been abandoned to dilapidate as no authority is recognised to issue instructions or organise things.

Worse still, youth bodies in Awka are spoiling for war because the leadership that is not recognised is headed by a native of Awka, Sir Anierobi, who is said to have won the AMATA election twice.

Currently, protest posters authored by six different organisations in Awka - Awka Movement for Actualisation of Hope, Awka Peoples Vanguard, Conference of Awka Age-Grade, Awka Cultural Protection Forum and Awka Youth Movement - adorn streets of the city, demanding for justice, equity and fairness.

Daily Sun gathered that for three years now election for the leadership of AMATA had been conducted three times and each won by a native of Awka, but the government cancelled them, hence the anger of the community in the last election won by Sir Anierobi.

However, while the Awka people and traders are clamouring for Anierobi's recognition, his fellow contender to the position, Hon. Alex Okoyeugha, who allegedly came second in the election, is also laying claim to the office, saying he won the election.

Narrating what happened to Daily Sun, Anierobi said: 'When the tenure of Chief Christian Nwozor, the immediate past president-general of AMATA, expired sometime in 2006, he conducted election on June 31, 2006, in the AMATA executive in which one Godwin Chijioke Godwin Nwosu was declared winner, but Awka South Local Government cancelled the election on the ground of gross irregularities and directed Nwozor to continue in office until fresh elections were conducted.

'Aggrieved and saddened by the extension of Nwozor's tenure in AMATA, Alex Okoyeugha and some members of his group went to court, challenging the authority of Christian Nwozor to continue to lead AMATA. The court in suit No: A/261/2006 gave judgment on October 15, 2007, and among other decisions, ordered Christian Nwozor to conduct election unfailingly into the AMATA executive on or before December 17, 2007.'

The judgment, which was handed down by Justice Celine O. Nweke, read in part: 'That election shall be held into the vacant positions of AMATA executives not later than 12th December, 2007.

'…That the plaintiffs, their agents, cohorts or any person who may intend to cause mischief are hereby restrained from interfering with the functions of the first defendant and members of his executives in the performance of their functions as AMATA executives until fresh elections are held as ordered by this court.'

According to Anierobi, in compliance with the orders of the court, Nwozor initiated the process of election into the AMATA executive in accordance with the provisions in the AMATA constitution, while Okoyeugha and his group made spirited but unsuccessful efforts to get Chief Alor, Special Adviser to the Governor on Parks and Markets, to stop the election process for a caretaker committee.

'However, the election was conducted and I emerged winner. So, later on when the ABS, NTA reported it on TV and radio, the same Sylva Nwobu Alor, Special Adviser to the Governor on Parks and Markets, went to the air to announce that Anambra State government will not recognise any election held into the office of AMATA. Now, we went to court to challenge it because it's a court order, court gave order to conduct the election and the election was conducted before I came into office and the matter was lingering in court. Now, even before this final election of March 8, 2010, we were still in court before Sylva Nwobu Alor brought a notice of election to the market, saying there must be an election in the market on March 8, 2010. Then, we told him there was still a court order and that the case was still pending in Enugu Appeal Court. But in the interest of peace, we obeyed, we submitted ourselves for the election and it was conducted, constituted by Anambra State government under the Special Adviser to the Governor on Parks and Markets.

'Then after the election, I was declared winner of the election; I scored 228 votes while the other person scored 193 votes, they called C.I.D. Anierobi as the winner. Then, they told the Special Adviser to the Governor that C.I.D. had emerged as the winner, he called them on phone to stop the election, this is what happened. He is the person who constituted those that conducted the election; we didn't know anything about the election.'

Noting that security agencies and even Awka traditional ruler's representatives were present at the election, he said, 'Of course, government had their own representatives to monitor the election, the town union of Awka had their own representatives to monitor the election, even the Eze Uzu of Awka sent his own representative to monitor the election; all these people have written their own reports to the government, but Nwobu Alor denied all these reports, even the Nigeria Police were there, the Nigerian Army, SSS and even the civil defence were all there; all these organs of government were there to monitor the election because that was the third time, and we alerted everybody so that they would be aware of what was going on. That was why all these organs were there to monitor the election.'

Corroborating what Anierobi said, some chairmen of the Line Markets, who spoke with Daily Sun, stressed the need for government to recognise Anierobi as the elected leader and not to politicise the market.

Chairman, Motor and Motorcycle Spare Parts Union, Mr. Iwuchukwu Okoye, said, 'Well, the election was conducted in our presence, free and fair. All along we have been waiting for government to recognise our new chairman, Sir C.I.D. Anierobi, but up till now nothing has been done about that and because of that there is tension everywhere.'

Reacting, however, Chief Nwobu Alor said that government does not conduct market elections, but rather supervises to make sure the election was peaceful, free, fair and transparent, just as it engages the services of security agents to ensure the elections were held according to the provisions of the market constitution.

'In the case of this Awka thing, my attitude was the same, I even went to the extent of going there to make sure it's an adult suffrage delegate election. I was informed that it was a delegate election and that also means that the 65 lines will produce five persons per line, which is 325 or so, and then I was satisfied that that was done, they got accreditation and we expected 325 votes; that should be the maximum, it cannot be more.

It can be less because some may not vote, but it cannot be more. In this situation, I left the place and the market carried on with the election because we must supervise it to make sure it complies with the provisions of their constitution and, of course, morality will get involved, too. Immediately after I returned to the office, they phoned to say that there was fighting and other things like that, I asked what is it, I was told that somebody was counting far and above the required number, and I said can the election go on, they said it's not possible, that there was fighting all over the place and that people were running away, in fact, including the police, everybody ran away.

'So, I sent for the contestants, they came here, I asked them what happened, they told me, I sent for the observers; the police, the SSS, the government representatives and president of ASMATA, that is, the president of all the markets in Anambra State, who were there. They told me the same thing, that the people counted totally over the required number and because of that somebody intervened and the entire crowd surged in and there was crises all over the place.

'In order to avoid unnecessary bickering, I sent for the man who actually won the election and I begged him in my office to see, for sake of peace, whether he could surrender his position and take the position of a deputy.

He almost slapped me, saying that was madness, that he didn't know that I was as low as this, he said all sorts of things, in short, he refused. I said in a situation like this I would now get back to the governor, which I did, and made my recommendations, which is still pending. As soon as it gets response, we will do whatever the governor says. If he supports conducting another election, we will do it. I don't buy the idea of appointing caretaker or appointing an Awka man as chairman. That has nothing to do with a person of my integrity; it is a way of destroying democracy.

However, one of the illustrious sons of Awka and former Representative of Anambra Central senatorial district in the Senate, Senator Ben Obi, in a frantic bid to check the looming crisis had earlier written to the governor, urging him to listen to what the traders are saying, 'I have therefore, read with keen interest the submissions made by the President-General of AMATA, Sir C.I.D. Anierobi, a gentleman, good Christian of Catholic faith and well known big trader in Eke Awka market in his appeal for your intervention, which I hereby forward to your office via this letter, for your attention and favourable consideration.

The traditional ruler of Awka, Obi Gibson Nwosu, is said to have also appealed to the governor to intervene and allow the elected leadership of AMATA to be.

But in a swift reaction, Chief Okoyeugha laid claim to the leadership of AMATA, saying he won the said election of March 8, 2010, with 193 votes against 132 votes, which he said Anierobi scored.

He also alleged that Anierobi created disorderliness during the election to deny him victory, just as he claimed that his political opponents bombed his car and had been sending him threat messages.