Angela Nwaeze Mbaocha
An apprentice has been feared dead following a clash on Wednesday between traders at Abakaliki main market and members of Ebonyi state taskforce over revenue.
The revenue collectors where said to have thronged the market to enforce payment of taxes by the traders and were even sealing shops of some of the traders.
Their action led to an uproar causing chaos in the capital city while the market was completely shot down.
It was gathered that more damage would have been done if not for police intervention.
Policemen deployed to the market were said to be shooting canister tear-gas on the marketers, even as the aggrieved markers were said to be hauling stones and other dangerous materials on government officials.
A trader who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that when she was going to the market, she saw traders running helter skelter that she was told that some thugs had issues with one of the traders which resulted to beating and eventual death of an apprentice.
According to her, the trader that was killed had an altercation with the persons alleged to b thugs attached to the task force which resulted in his death.
She said, “As I was going to the market, I saw people ruining helter-sketer in the market. I was actually going to buy something. I was told there is crisis in the market, that someone has already been killed. When I tried to know the people behind the crisis, they said some men were locking up shops.
“And when they got the man’s shop that was killed, the man was said to have tried to ask them what the mattar was and what was his offense. By trying to know the offense he committed, they said one of the thugs slapped him and the man retaliated and they started beating the man. And one thing led to the other. They killed the man, and the man was confirmed dead. As at the time I went to the market, policemen have taken over the market and the market was under lock.
“As at now, nobody is in the market. The market has been locked. All the traders have vacated the market. In fact, there is no business transaction ongoing in the market now. The people were said to have met with the chairman of the market that they were given orders to lock up the shops. The state government should do the needful and ensure that shops are given out at affordable rates to avoid such uprising in the future”, she appealed.
When contacted, the special assistant to Ebonyi state Governor on internally generated revenue, Okwuegu Martin, denied the death of one of the marketers. According to him, the state government had given the traders several demands notices to pay up which they refused to comply with before they embarked on the enforcement drive.
His words, “Before now, we treat the marketers at Abakpa as a group. Each time we want to collect taxes from them, they do that and remit the same to the government. But the past leader, Eze Christopher did collected but from our record, it did not tally. It shows he is owing government up to fifty million naira or thereabouts.
“Because of the breach, the man was removed and a caretaker constituted. People who think they paid to him were not happy. But we served them warnings and they refused to comply. This we started as far as May and this is August. The marketers were to come on their own to verify, but they did not. We overlooked and served them notices just to make sure we explore all necessary avenue for peace.
“Yesterday, I informed the commissioner for internal security that we are going on enforcement. We have our legal backings. I went with him this morning as early as eight o’clock, we sealed six or seven shops at different lines to enable us to enforce the law. We sealed and we came out because I got a call from my boss that we are having a meeting. So, I am hearing that someone died for the first time. We did what we did in a peaceful manner. One of the shops I sealed belongs to my junior in school. I told him we were not here to fight them. He is Ebuka by the name”, Okwuegu stated.
On his part, the acting chairman of Abakpa market traders association, Mr. Oba Peter, explained that he only took the tax enforcement agents to shop owners who have refused to pay up their taxes, before the break out of protest by some persons.
He said, “What happened is that government called me that many people have not paid their IGR and some are instigating people not go pay. When they came to my office, it is my duty to show them those persons. I went and showed them their shops because the government has their names. They told me they have served them demand notice and they refused to pay. I showed them the shop and they sealed it.
“After that, I heard there were people protesting in the market. I cannot tell people not to pay government revenue. If there was any fight, I do not know”, he claimed.
As at the time of filing this report, police has taken over the market and could not allow traders to access it. Petty traders who came from the rural areas moved to sell their products in nearby streets.