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Enugu: Succession dispute threatens order at Ogbete Market


Ogbete Main Market. PHOTO: Jide Odukoya

The leadership crisis rocking the largest commodity market in Enugu State, the Enugu Main Market, also known as Ogbete Main Market is taking another dimension.

The crisis, which stems from an election of a new set of executives for the market, has now taken up a tribal coloration as it has pitched Nkanu and Nsukka traders against each other.

Sited on a large expanse of land in Enugu North Local Council, the market has over the years positioned itself as one of the best organised markets in the South East due to the volume of businesses that go on in it, and the number of traders it plays host to daily.

But whatever positive contributions the market has made on the development of the state, including shoring up its internally generated revenue is now being threatened by the alleged inordinate ambition of some traders to foist a strange leadership on the market, by jettisoning the constitution that guides the conduct of its activities, including elections. It is the insistence by other members that the constitution must be followed that is the bone of contention.

Nkanu natives in the market are claiming that going by the constitutionally approved delegates’ election, they are favoured to produce the next president, as they have 75 per cent of the total delegates.

They, however, allege that Nsukka traders are working to thwart the advantage, using contacts in government. Nkanu natives further claim that Nsukka traders are against holding the election based on the existing constitution. Instead, they want a situation where all traders in the market participate in the election of new executives.

A trader from Nsukka, Ikenna Ugwueze, said it was the turn of Nsukka to produce the next president of the market in line with the practice, especially since the area produced the incumbent governor.

He said: “We were all here when Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani was governor. He foisted his fellow Nkanu man, Ossy Peters on us as president of the market. When Sullivan Chime took over, he ensured the emergence of Temple Ude, from Udi, his country home as president. Now an Nsukka man is in power, the right thing should be to conduct an election for someone from Nsukka to be elected as president. Those kicking against us and accusing us are being economical with the truth.”

He described the “representative election process” in the constitution as “defective,” stressing that it was designed “to favour only the Nkanu traders since they are stronger numerically.”

Ugueze, who further claimed that some traders had called for a review of the constitution, which came into force in 2005, but call was turned down, added that it was fair and just to give traders a sense of belonging by making them to be part of the electoral process.

The Nkanu traders, who oppose the idea of popular vote, insist that such would give room for manipulation of the process, as well as, negate the spirit of the constitution, which approved a prior notice of three months for amendment of any part of the constitution.

While pointing out that no general meeting of the association was held to seek an amendment to the constitution, they wondered why such suggestion should be upheld when it had not been contemplated before, neither has it been used in an election of the association.

In their petition to the state government, they complained that there was a ploy to derail the peace in the market with the introduction of the “unpopular election process.”

In a petition to the state governor titled, Passionate Appeal to Come to the Rescue of Ogbete Main Market Association Through the Reversal of Brazen Mockery of its Constitutional Provisions and a Calculated Attempt to Impose Leadership,” signed on behalf of some traders by Chief Robert Ugwu, they cited markets in the state where elections were conducted using delegates.

They therefore, sought the governor’s intervention in the conduct of the election, using the provisions of the constitution.

While wondering why the constitution, which the association has guarded jealously over the years, should now be set aside, they stressed the need for the governor to intervene to “ensure transparency, equity, justice and fair play in the election in order to avoid breakdown of law and order.”

The succession crisis in the market was first regarded as a rumour, but when the state government on September 12, 2017 dissolved the elected leadership of Chief Temple Ude, six months to the expiration of its tenure and appointed a caretaker committee headed by Mr. John Eze, many started expressing worry.

Although Eze is described as “a non-trader” in Ogbete Market, government hinged its action on alleged “security threat,” which it claimed erupted as a result of the activities of the office seekers in the market union.

The government further maintained that its action was to avoid the manipulation of the electoral process.

Government’s defence was received by majority of the traders with deep suspicion.

They also queried the motive behind a caretaker committee without a clear directive on how the union’s election would be conducted.

Apparently perturbed by the non-conduct of the election almost 10 months after replacing the executive with a caretaker committee, and the inability to resolve the festering constitutional crisis, a group of concerned traders wrote to the governor asking him to put a halt to succession crisis.

In the letter entitled, Time to Stop the Macabre Dance of Deceit at Ogbete Main Market,” signed by eight concerned traders, they deplored the “division, tense and restive” atmosphere in the market over the election.

They informed Ugwuanyi that his decision to dissolve the market association’s executive “and bringing a non-trader to head the market, placed logic “upside down” and urged that the action be redressed “by directing an immediate election into the executive by genuine traders of the market.”

This was followed by another petition to the Chairman; Enugu State House of Assembly Committee on Local Government.

Dated April 12, 2018 and entitled, “Need for the Immediate Conduct of Election in the Ogbete Main Market, Enugu,” the petition, which was signed by counsel to the representatives of all traders in the market, Chief M.O Uzor, said the traders were “now worried about the stalemate introduced into the market and, which the government placed on the association.

They said it was high time the state government recalled the dissolution of the market association and the executives thereof, and then, dismantle and recall the caretaker committee it had set up, and thereby, allow traders in the market, to conduct an election, to democratically elect their leaders.”

Worried by the disturbances, the state government, through the chairman of Enugu North Council, Mr. Emma Onoh, began an effort to conduct the election and address other lingering issues in the market.

In a meeting with over 500 traders on June 6, 2018 at the Enugu North Headquarters, the council chairman emphatically told the traders that the governor “is interested in the election of the new president of Ogbete Market Traders Association.”
He said there was a directive from the governor that the representatives’ election should be replaced with a general election, adding that the council would embark on the registration and issuance of identity cards at the cost of N300 per trader. It is only after this that they would be eligible to be part of the election.

He stated that the governor was “interested in peace and order in the market,” and would want the election conducted as fast as possible, adding, “whatever the governor wants us to do, we will do.”

Although the registration process has commenced with the election date yet to be fixed, counsel to the association, Uzor, has written to the Legal Adviser to Enugu North Council, Prof Gab Agu, pointing out the constitutional procedures that are to be followed in electing officers of the association.

He advised: “Explicitly stated, election by zonal representatives is the stipulation of the constitution and not a free for all members general election”.

He added that he had taken the pain to be detailed on the issue “so that the proponents of anti-constitutional approaches to the issue of the conduct of elections, to the executive council of the association, may have to be advised appropriately, to go and have a re-think and do the needful, and allow peace to reign supreme in the market.”

Commenting on the issue, the State Commissioner for Information, Ogbuagu Aniekwe, who said the government was on top of the matter, however, denied that the governor has any special interest in the leadership of the market.

He noted that the “governor set up the caretaker committee to ensure that peace is restored in the market and to pave way for a peaceful election that would lead to a new leadership in the market.

“The caretaker committee is made up of equal members drawn from the two warring factions.  What this means is that no faction is being marginalised. Apart from the transition committee chairman, every other member is a member of the market association. As soon as it is ascertained that they can hold election that will be rancour-free, the election will hold.”

He added that government will also uphold the constitution to ensure that members are carried along, adding that how long the caretaker has stayed in office does not matter as much as a peaceful resolution of the leadership crisis.

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