The coming of a Special Task Force to clean up the mess and disorderliness in markets and motor parks in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, is returning the state capital to its Garden City status, writes ANAYO ONUKWUGHA
On August 16, 2019, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, inaugurated the State Task Force On Street Trading and Illegal Markets and Motor Parks, with the aim of bringing back Port Harcourt, the state capital, to its Garden City status.
While inaugurating the Task Force at Government House, Port Harcourt, Wike charged its operatives to sanitise the streets and return Port Harcourt to its Garden City status.
According to the governor, the Task Force is a product of law, following his assent of the Rivers State Street Trading, Illegal Markets & Motor Parks (Prohibition) Bill No. 8 of 2019 .
He said that all the operatives of the Task Force have been profiled by the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Police, while those found wanting were weeded out.
Wike said more appointments will be made into team headed by former Caretaker Committee, Chairman of Obio/Akpor local government area, Hon. Bright Amaewhule, to replace those screened out by the security agencies.
The governor said: “All of us love the state and we must love it fully. Not in half measures. When we build roads, before you know what is happening, the roads are taken over by street traders and illegal motor parks.
“The Task Force has the responsibility of cleaning up the streets. Ensure that nobody trades on roads. You must wear your vests and identity cards during your work period”, he charged.
He stated that mobile courts have been established on a zonal basis, even as he charged the operatives to take arrested street traders, mechanics and illegal motor park operators to the mobile courts for prosecution .
Wike warned the operatives against extorting money from street traders and mechanics, saying that any operative indicted for bribery would be sacked and replaced.
The governor said: “We are not inaugurating you to extort money from traders and mechanics. You will start work on Monday August 26. We have given the street traders enough time to leave the streets. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information should continue the sensitization announcements.
“We will give each zone two Hilux Vans for Operations. You must keep Port Harcourt clean. You must make sure that you work in shifts and close by 8:00pm at night. My interest is to return Port Harcourt to what it used to be.”
However, few days after the team commenced operation, the operatives clamped down on newspaper vendors, tagging them street traders and ended up detaining one of them, Ms. Ibiso West.
The development drew a bad blood between the operatives and members of Newspaper Distributors Association of Nigeria (NDAN), who had the support of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).The NUJ, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt after the incident, called on the Task Force to exclude newspaper vendors from street trading restrictions in the state.
The statement, which was signed by Stanley Job Stanley and Ike Wigodo, Chairman and Secretary, respectively, noted with dismay that the Amaewhule-led team had been harassing newspaper vendors on the streets.
It reads in part: “All over the world, newspaper vendors are an important agent of information dissemination that can not be hounded out of the street. Even though their modus operandi is to hawk newspapers on the streets, they are not roadside traders and so can not be treated as such.
“We are not against the maintenance of law and order in Rivers State. In fact, we welcome any move by the state government to restore sanity and orderliness to the state and return Port Harcourt in particular to its Garden City status.
“As a professional body made up of decent men and women, NUJ has always been in the vanguard of speaking against indecency, disorderliness and illegal business transactions on the streets”.
The issue was later resolved and the operativws told vendors not to allow crowd in front of their newsstands as such development could create ugly scenes. As the Task Force continued with the operation, sanity once again returned to Port Harcourt roads and streets as all illegal markets and motor parks as well as street trading became a thing of the past.
Not few residents of the state applauded the Task Force for working towards the target of the governor, which is to return the Garden City status of Port Harcourt, the state capital. The Eze Emeka Ihunwo, the traditional ruler of Woji Town in Obio/Akpor local government area, in his assessment lauded Wike, for setting up the team, saying that within few days, the Task Force had brought sanity to the streets of the Rivers State capital.
Ihunwo said: “To start with, I have called the Chairman of that taskforce to come to Woji as a matter of urgency. They are doing a very great job. That taskforce that the Rivers State government set up is in tandem with what we are doing here in Woji before this time concerning street trading.
“The people are in fact causing nuisance. Even when many of them have the opportunity to go into the market, they have refused to go and they try to create nuisance on the roads all the time. So far, the work of that committee is quite commendable.”
The monarch frowned at the activities of fake officials of the Task Force, and called for the arrest and prosecution of anyone caught impersonating officials of the agency.
Ihunwo said: “I think the governor at the inauguration of the committee warned them against touting or collecting money from people.
“I have also on several occasions heard the Chairman of the committee, Chief Hon. Bright Amaewhule said they have authority to arrest. If they see such persons, they should arrest and prosecute them.”
However, few weeks after, there were reports of extortion and other sharp practices by operatives of the taskforce, including beating up of offenders instead of taking them to the Mobile Court as stipulated in the Act establishing the taskforce.
Worried by this unpleasant reports, Wike recently summoned the leadership and operatives of the taskforce to a meeting at Government House, Port Harcourt.
Addressing th meeting, the visibly angry governor declared that he would dissolve the taskforce if the productivity of its operatives continue to decline. He expressed regrets that the operatives of the taskforce have compromised in some locations, negatively affecting their performance.
The governor, who stated that the taskforce, through reduced performance has allowed street traders to return to Mile One, Air Force Junction, Rumuokoro and Agip areas of Port Harcourt, however praised the team operating in Garrison axis of the state capital
He said: “If the productivity of the taskforce continues to go down by tomorrow, I will dissolve the taskforce. We will not tolerate a situation where the progress we have made is reversed”.Wike warned the operatives of the taskforce against acts of extortion , saying that they must focus on their official responsibility.
The governor said: “All acts of extortion must stop forthwith. Any operative found wanting in this regard will be sanctioned. There is no reason why you should receive bribes from defaulters”.
He said that leaders of non-performing zones must rise up and work hard to ensure that the streets are free from illegal traders and motor Parks.
The governor warned members of the public against physically assaulting operatives of the taskforce, noting that going forward, the state government will take measures to protect the operatives from criminal elements.
He said: “From now on, we will change our strategy. We are going to activate communication outlets for immediate response whenever criminal elements attack the operatives. Security operatives will be on ground for rescue operations when the need arises.
“We must show that we are ready to protect the operatives at all times. We are determined to clean up our streets, stop illegal trading and improve all round security.”
Wike stated that the taskforce started excellently, noting that they should not allow themselves to end badly. The governor, who that if the present set of operatives fail, they would be shown the way out, wondered why operatives would be complaining about their monthly allowances when they earn more than some civil servants.
He urged them to see their appointments as a privilege to serve the state and build their future.
Wike said it was the same way that some members of the State Executive Council complained that they were not getting anything from the administration, but they are now lobbying extensively to return to Government.The governor informed that an additional 200 operatives will have their biometrics captured on Monday to strengthen the capacity of the Task Force.
He stated that that his commitment to return Port Harcourt to its Garden City status will not be compromised on any account and reiterated that Rivers interest is his priority.