ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes that Mile One Flyover Market in Port Harcourt has defied every relocation attempts and even demolitions from all the state governors, right from the time of former Governor Peter Odili.
he Mile One Flyover Market, which is an overflow of the popular Mile One (Rumuwoji) Market in Diobu area of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, could be said to be as old Rivers State, which recently celebrated it’s golden jubilee anniversary.
The market, which is on both sides of the Port Harcourt-Enugu rail line, was known as Railway Line Market, but had a change of name to Mile One Flyover Market, after the construction of the Mile One Flyover by the then military administration of Colonel Dauda Musa Kimo, who was the Military Administrator of the state.
Majority of the traders in the market, also known as the Umbrella Market, due to the number of umbrellas that serve as roofs for makeshift shops in the market, deal on second-hand clothes, shoes, bags and other accessories.
It is on record that during the administration of former Governor Peter Odili, the Rivers State House of Assembly, passed a law banning trading under the Mile One Flyover, Port Harcourt.
The decision of the assembly to ban trading under the flyover followed the rise in crime under the flyover, as it served as hideouts for hoodlums at night.
With the law in place, the Odili-led state government and the authorities of the Port Harcourt City local government council, pushed the traders out of the market, demolished the makeshift shops and built a police station under the flyover.
As soon as officials of the state government saddled with the responsibility of demolishing the market left, the traders came back with their wares, though without makeshift shops and umbrellas. They run away with their wares whenever they see government officials approaching the area, only to reappear when the officials were gone.
At a time, the Odili government got tired of chasing the traders around and gradually, the traders rebuilt their makeshift shops and normal trading commenced in earnest.
The same scenario played out during the short-lived administration of former Governor Celestine Ngozichim Omehia and during the eight-year rule of Chibuike Amaechi, who is now the minister of Transportation.
At a time, the Amaechi-led administration decided to demarcate the market, leaving the traders with only one side of the rail line, while the other side, where the police station is situated was turned to a garden. It is noteworthy that crime and criminality continued under the flyover, especially at nights, despite the presence of the police station.
Apparently worried by the level of crime that goes on under the flyover, and acting on the existing law banning trading under the flyover, the administration of Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike recently dislodged the traders and demolished the makeshift shops once again.
As expected the traders decried the action, saying the state government did not consult them before embarking on the action, which they claimed was their only source of livelihood.
According to Mrs Beauty Komi, a widow and trader on secondhand children’s clothes, by the action of the state government, her only source of livelihood had been destroyed.
Komi, a native of Wigbara, Gokana local government area, stated that the action of the government had left her confused, adding, “This is my only source of livelihood. It’s only from here I get money to feed and train my children.
“I trade on secondhand children clothing, now that this market has been demolished, I’m confused and don’t know the way forward.”
Another trader, Mr. Uchenna Madu, also decried the demolition of the market, saying that no government official informed them of the need to relocate.
“They have destroyed our goods. This is a wicked act. During the 2015 campaigns, Governor Nyesom Wike promised to build the market and make it conducive for us. We voted for Wike, this is what they are paying us back with. The government is out to frustrate us.”
To Mr. Azubuike Onyeji, a trader on locally produced shoes, they were only told not to put up umbrellas at their various stands.
He said, “We obeyed them but just last week a pregnant woman fainted due to the intensity of the sun because there was no umbrella to shield her.
“We even contributed money to reach out to the authority to allow us put on umbrellas but I’m surprised they are here today to demolish the market.”
However, Hon. Chinyere Igwe, a former member of the House of Representatives and the state’s commissioner for Urban and Physical Planning, the ministry saddled with the responsibility of demolishing the market, described as untrue, the allegations by the traders that they were not consulted before government took action.
Igwe stated that the state government held several meetings with the traders before the demolition, saying that the traders were free to apply for shops in markets within Port Harcourt City local government area.
He said the ongoing removal of illegal structures at the market was for the safety and security of the people, noting that dredging was done along the rail line, which he described as unsafe for humans.
Igwe stated that while the state government was poised to increase the revenue base of the state it would certainly not be through illegality, adding that the state government was committed to its urban renewal programme.
He said the state government would continue to remove shanties and illegal structures to restore Port Harcourt to its former glory, pointing out that several meeting notices, reorientations and awareness campaigns had been carried out to sensitise the traders on the need to comply with government’s directives.
The commissioner advised displaced traders to move into other markets in the state, including, the Uruala and Azikiwe mini-Markets as well as the Mile One Market, which he described as being empty, largely because stall owners preferred to trade in open places outside the ultra-modern market.
Despite the efforts of the state government aimed at dislodging the traders, it has been observed that the traders yet again have starting trickling back with their wares and have begun re-erecting makeshift shops and putting up umbrellas.