Mixed reactions had greeted the decision of the Abia State Government in 2012 to relocate the over- congested old Timber Market situated near the World Bank Housing Estate right inside the city centre to its current location at Isieke Ibeku.
Some traders kicked and almost frustrated the move while few others reluctantly complied. Some others had in protest moved to a rival market at Onuimo in the neighbouring Imo State just to spite the government.
Undeterred, however, government insisted on the relocation which it explained was in the best interest of traders. It promised to expand and upgrade the new market to accommodate more traders.
Government also promised to provide modern facilities including toilets, water, electricity, fire service station, car parks, etc for the comfort of traders and visitors to the market.
True to its promise, some of these facilities were provided. But four years after the relocation, traders in the market are complaining bitterly over low patronage which they blamed on many factors.
Thousands of shops were built in the market most of which are yet to be occupied. The market has three sections: The Timber section, Building materials section, and the Carpentry section.
Government had also explained that relocation of the market was in pursuant of its new vision of expanding the state capital by taking development to the outskirts of the city, thereby decongesting the already filled-up city centre.
The new development agenda tagged ‘Triangular Equilibrium’ saw the relocation of old Umuahia Main Market from the heart of the city to Ubani Ibeku at the Northern flank, Auto Spare Parts market ( Mgbuka) to the current Ohiyya Mechanic Village towards the West, and the old Timber market to its current location at Ahiaeke towards the East.
The location of the New Industrial market towards the two federal institutions in the state - Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike; and National Root Crop Research Institute as well as the Umuahia campus of the Abia State University Uturu was strategic as it would help fast track development in the region.
When The AUTHORITY visited the market recently on fact finding mission, it was discovered that the traders have finally appreciated that the relocation was in their best interest as they now have a more spacious and conducive environment to carry on their business.
It was also discovered that a number of shops are still empty while some unoccupied open sheds have been overgrown by weed. Most internal roads in the market were also found to be in a bad shape although the major ones are still okay.
The pulse of traders were also elicited during interactions with some of them on their experiences so far. Mr. Andrew Ayozie a dealer on iron rods in the market, acknowledged that initially when they relocated to the market, traders recorded some progress, but added quickly that things are now on the reverse gear.
According to him, the market really provides adequate accommodation to trader with enough room for expansion, but the current low patronage is beginning to eclipse the initial gains.
Apart from low patronage, he also complained that the market has no functional electricity, claiming that “the electric poles and wire you see here are for decoration, there is no current in it”.
He also complained of lack of water in the market although he lauded government for providing adequate security in the market.
His words: “Security is okay but we have no water and light. Our road is also a total mess. You know that trucks ply on the roads a lot, and most of the internal roads here have been destroyed.”
Corroborating his accounts, the Chairman of the Carpentry and Furniture Workers Association section of the market, Mr. Noble Ugbaja, said the road leading to their section of the market had been washed off by erosion.
He said his members resorted to self-help to make the road manageable, using sand bags to fill some of the deadly potholes on the road.
He however, applauded government for relocating them to the market which he said had adequately accommodated them.
Mr. Ugbaja identified low patronage as one of their major challenges which he blamed on government’s inability to compel other unwilling carpenters and furniture makers who stayed back in the town instead of moving into the market.
He regretted that their potential customers now patronize those on the streets instead of visiting the market, and appealed to government to intervene.
“When we were moved out of the old Timber Shed, some carpenters and furniture makers fled to Onuimo, others stayed back on the streets, and that is affecting us here. If everybody is here business will be booming, that is why we want government to force all of them to this place”.
He also decried the absence of public power supply in the market which he lamented, make them to spend much money on alternative power source for their various machines.
The Chairman also pleaded with the government to urgently come to their rescue by repairing their roads, while pledging their continued loyalty and readiness to pay all government approved levies.
Later in an interview, the Chairman of Timber Dealers Association wing of the market, Chief Felix Uzor, also hailed the state government for the decision to relocate the market saying it was one of the best things that had ever happened to traders in the state.
He said that the initial resistance and opposition that greeted the action were done out of ignorance, acknowledging that of late traders had realized that the decision was in their best interest. “We are comfortable here”, he affirmed.
But he expressed worry that the current depreciation of the Naira which triggered alarming increase in the prices of building materials especially rods, roofing sheet, cement, etc had adversely affected timber dealers.
According to him, the continued rise in the prices of imported and core building materials has led to a sharp drop on demand as many people no longer embark on building projects.
Resultantly, customers are not forthcoming especially for timbers, a situation, he said had put many traders in a tight corner.
He said that while other building materials are witnessing sharp increment in their prices, the price of timber has either remained constant or had little reduction.
He said that for instance, “2 by 4 by 18 wood” which previously sold for N800 now sells for N750; while “1 by 12 by 12 plank” previously sold for N780 now sells for N750.
The Chairman also appealed to government to intervene on the deplorable condition of roads leading to the market to alleviate the plights of the traders and their customers.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Building Materials Traders Association in the market, Mr. Iheanyichukwu Omeokwe, while praising government for relocating them to the specious market, also decried the poor condition of the roads.
He blamed the low patronage currently experienced by traders on bad roads leading to the market particularly the Umuahia- Ikot Ekpene federal highway.
He said that the nightmarish condition of the highway had taken its toll on the traders as customers from Ikwuano and other parts of the state hardly access the market.
Omekwe also decried the activities of touts who he said harass their customers inside Umuhaia town demanding all sorts of payments from vehicles conveying building materials, a development he lamented, had scared away potential customers from the market.
He also agonized the high cost of goods as a result of the continued fall of the Naira which he said is making goods unaffordable for many buyers.
“Now those who used to sell 100 bags of cement a day hardly sell 15 bags because things are very costly and not many people are willing to buy any more. A bundle of zinc which previously sold for N40,000 now sells for N75,000.
“Can you imagine that half inch rod which previously sold for N1100 now sells for N1800, while 5/8 rod which sold for N 1600 in January now sells for N3200?”
He, therefore, appealed to government to formulate the right policies that would help reverse the current biting inflation in the country to make life more affordable for the masses.
Adding his voice, the President General of the Umuahia Industrial Market, Hon. Naths Odokara, identified the sorry- state of Umuahia- Ikot Ekpene highway which is the major access route to the market as the greatest challenge of the traders.
He regretted the perennial traffic jam which has become a regular feature on the road especially in the morning and evening hours when the staff of the neighbouring MOUA and NRCRI are usually on transit.
The President, however, said that traders, had on their own embarked on filling the dangerous potholes on the highway as a palliative measure pending when government’s intervention would come.
He said the leadership of the market had articulated their challenges before Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu, who he said promptly set up a committee to verify their claims.
He expressed hope for a positive response from the governor as the report of the committee is being awaited.
Describing the market as the most peaceful in the state, he enjoined traders to remain unwavering in their peaceful disposition, support for government, and to comply with government approved levies.
However, some traders who pleaded not to be mentioned expressed sadness that the State Government failed to compensate them after demolishing their shops at the old Timber shed before relocating the market.
According to them, government should have given them at least one shop each in the new market as compensation for their many shops demolished at the old site.
“It is bad for government to demolish our shops at the old site without compensating us. Some people lost up to five, seven and more shops at the Old Timber Market without getting any compensation at the new market. Traders are not happy the way government treated us over this”, a source said.