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NSUKKA CORN MILLERS WEEP AS COUNCIL BULLDOZES MARKET

By NBF News

Wednesday September 1, will remain indelible in the minds of hundreds of mill owners and other citizens doing business at a section of Ogige Market in Nsukka Urban popularly known as corn mill zone.To them, it was a black Wednesday as they lost not only their shops, but also their various means of livelihood.

As early as 6:30 a.m., the mill owners and traders had arrived to their places of business in the expectation that their presence could prevent the Nsukka Local Government from carrying out its plan to demolish their shops.

Their calculations were wrong as the local government made good its plan. Their leaders had for the past few months engaged the local government authorities in dialogues to persuade the Hon Tony Ugwu-led administration to give the reconstruction of the portion of the market a human face than taking to the manner of el-Rufai in those days at Abuja, when it was alleged that property were demolished with reckless abandon and the owners thrown into economic hardship. But the controversy over the reconstruction of the corn mill zone did not start with the present local government administration. It was actually bequeathed to it by its predecessors in office, especially the penultimate and immediate past administration of Daniel Ugwuja, who made an attempt to reconstruct the corn mill zone.

Daily Sun gathered that Chief Onyeman Idoko's three month's administration had given a written authority to the mill owners through the their market superintendent to reconstruction their shops by themselves, a document which Ugwu's administration, according to the millers, treated with contempt and disdain.To stop the administration of Ugwuaja from going on to demolished their stalls, the mill owners had gone to court in a suit No N/ 34/2009, which the Ugwu administration inherited.

This remained the situation, but on September 1, it became obvious that the negations between the mill owners and the local government had collapsed. Consequently, at about mid-day, on that fateful Wednesday, the demolition of the mill zone had commenced in earnest, causing panic as mill owners and traders in the zone ran helter-skelter in a last minute effort to rescue their movable property. Amid wailing and crying, the bulldozer operator descended on the hundreds of shops within the area designated corn mill zone and in a jiffy the area which once housed mill-stones and other business ventures lay desolate.

Pensive-looking victims were seen rummaging in the rubbles, searching perhaps for valuables trampled underneath by the massive earth-moving equipment.The police had used its Hilux patrol van to block the busy University Market Road lying parallel to the market to prevent the flow of both human and vehicular traffic. Traders in other parts of the Ogige Market not affected by the controversial demolition exercise abandoned their wares and trooped to the area perhaps in sympathy or sheer urge to have a glimpse of what was going on.While the demolition was going on, some placard carrying victims of the demolition exercise matched peacefully along the University Market Road, chanting Christian song to invoke divine intervention.

The millers reactA widow and mill owner, who does not want her names on print for fear of victimization by the local government authority while lamenting told Daily Sun: 'We are finished. My husband died after starting a corn mill business; since then, I and my eight children had depended solely on the mill as our only source of income to eke out a livelihood. Now that we have been displaced without being relocated to another place we will go home and prepare for the worst.'A university teacher who gave his name as Dr S. Agu, reacting to the demolition said; 'when el- Rufai was demolishing the property of Igbos in Abuja, all of us were condemning his actions. Now what can you say about what is happening here today? I am not against market reconstruction, but it should be done in a manner that will attenuate its resultant hardship.'

'I am diabetic,' said one Mr Ozioko Paul, 'and my wife comes here to grind wheat for me. My problem is that the council has failed to provide an alternative place for the displaced victims. I am in trouble because I cannot afford the high cost of packaged wheat.'A trade unionist and president of Allied Business Community Nsukka Urban, Comrade Ezike Theo Nzuteigbo frowned at the demolition, saying that the authority had failed to take the plight of the victims into serious consideration before embarking on it.

'I lack words to express my feelings about what happened today. I am surprised that some social crusaders as soon as they are voted into a political office, they begin to do those things they were condemning. Only God can determine the fate of hundreds of our people affected by this insensitive exercise. Many can die out of frustration. The Allied sympathizes with the victims of this mindless exercise that smacks of official rascality,' Nzuteigbo said.The President of Ogige Market Traders Association, Nsukka, Mr Festus Onugu, however, differed from the others.

According to him, the demolition was necessary to bring the corn mill zone in conformity with other parts of the market that have been modernized.However, the leader of the mill owners, Chief Anthony Ozo-Onwuemdie condemned the action of the local government, describing it as selfish and a violation of the gentleman's agreement they reached with the LG Chairman, Mr Ugwu where they agreed that the demolition would be in phases and that his members would be allowed to do the reconstruction themselves to attenuate its attendant hardship.

'It is inhuman to throw hundreds of people into more serious economic hardship. All of us have paid our rent to the local government for the whole year and now our shops have been demolished. I think it is a rape of democracy and disrespect to the rule of law and court process. The economy of the local government area and indeed the revenue of the local government will be adversely affected,' Ozo-Onwuemelie pointed out, expressing fear that many people will lose their shops after the reconstruction exercise unless wiser counsel prevails.

Reacting, the council chairman, Ugwu said the demolition was not intended to witch-hunt anyone, but to modernize the Ogige Market.'The people are expected to re-build their shops by themselves, but where they failed, we will do it,' the chairman told Daily Sun on phone.According to him, an alternative temporary location would be provided to the affected people very soon.Earlier, the Ugwu-led administration had carried out the same controversial exercise which his predecessor had parried when it bulldozed the yam market.The yam traders have since been settled at a new market known as Ikpa on the outskirts of the urban town.