Enugu Artisans Market Crisis: Rioting Hausa traders barricade Enugu - Port Harcourt expressway, vehicles burnt

By Tony Edike on 23/04/2021

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• Police arrest five, order investigation as Enugu govt calls for calm

The crisis that erupted at the Enugu artisans market located on the Enugu - Port-Harcourt expressway Thursday afternoon caused serious tension and panic among residents of the Enugu capital city following the reported use of sophisticated weapons by the rioters and attacks on motorists by hoodlums. 

The Hausa traders, who vehemently refused the demolition of structures in the market recently reopened for business after the state government shut it down four years ago for security reasons, confronted those who suddenly stormed the market with bulldozers for demolition of their shops.

During the confrontation which degenerated to a riot, hoodlums most of who are artisans living in the market stalls, took advantage of the situation to unleash mayhem on motorists plying the area. Many sustained injuries while some motorists that ran into the riot had their vehicles looted and vandalized. 

Eyewitnesses said while sounds of gunshots were heard from the market, hundreds of rioters descended on the bulldozers brought by the family of a deceased traditional ruler, Igwe Gabriel Nnaji popularly known as Nwajanja to enforce a subsisting Enugu High Court judgement over ownership of the land where the market is situated.

The northern traders had accused the state government of forcefully shutting the market in a bid to take over the land for the development of an estate but the government denied the allegation saying its action followed the violence in the market that claimed two lives including a policeman in December 2016. 

The government said it had provided an alternative location for the market  and shut the new Artisans Market since 2016 but some of the northern traders and artisans continued to trade and reside in the shops until recently when migrants from northern states flooded the area increasing their population.

Speaking on Thursday incident, the Enugu state police command through its spokesperson, ASP Daniel Ndukwe, said it was a case of unlawful resistance, by unscrupulous elements, to the execution of a Court Order issued by High Court of Enugu State, authorizing the demolition of structures and possession of the land area covering the Market by Nwajanja Family of Akpugo in Nkanu West Local Government Area of the State. 

A statement from the Nigeria Police, Enugu State Command entitled “Acts of violence at New Artisan Market: Normalcy restored” reads: 

"The Commissioner of Police, Enugu State Command, CP Mohammed Ndatsu Aliyu, psc, has ordered the immediate launch of thorough investigation to fish out and bring to book, miscreants whose acts of violence led to the sustaining of injuries by innocent citizens, vandalism and burning of vehicles at New Artisan Market, along Enugu/Port-Harcourt Expressway, Enugu at about 4.00pm of today, 22/04/2021.

"Preliminary investigation reveals that the unscrupulous elements within the Market, became riotous and resisted the execution of a Court Order issued by High Court of Enugu State, authorizing the demolition of structures and possession of the land area covering the Market by Nwajanja Family of Akpugo in Nkanu West L.G.A. of the State. 

“It further shows that the unwarranted rioters set up burn-fires on the road, obstructed vehicular movement, injured unascertained number of persons, vandalized two (2) caterpillars that had gone to carry out the demolition exercise and set ablaze three (3) vehicles.

“Meanwhile, normalcy has been restored by Police Operatives, while fives (5) persons connected with the riotous act have been arrested and are helping ongoing investigation.

"Consequently, the Commissioner has enjoined law-abiding members of the public, especially those plying the NNPC Mega Station axis of Enugu/Port-Harcourt Expressway, to go about their lawful businesses without fear of intimidation or harassment, as necessary measures have been taken to forestall further occurrence of the riotous act.”

Enugu govt reacts

On its part, the state government in a statement signed by Steve Oruruo, Special Adviser to the Governor on Information, defended the action of the Nwajanja family saying they were on a mission to execute subsisting judgement of an Enugu State High Court for the demolition of the market in order to take possession of the land as ordered by the court. 

The statement reads: “The attention of Enugu State Government has been drawn to the brigandage, roguery, banditry and lawlessness exhibited by some hoodlums at New Artisan Market today being Thursday, the 22nd of April 2021, acting under the cloak of a demonstration while surreptitiously and unlawfully disobeying an order of Court. The social and mass media have also been inundated with divergent tales of what perhaps appeared a crisis.

“It has become necessary to make it abundantly clear that the aforesaid property illegally occupied by traders, particularly livestock dealers from the North, belongs to the family of a revered traditional Ruler and Statesman, late HRH Igwe Gabriel Nnaji (NWAJANJA) of which there is a subsisting judgement of the court to that effect. 

“The Enugu State Government, Law enforcement agencies and the leadership of the predominantly Hausa merchant community of New Artisan Market were duly briefed on the intended execution of the judgement and its implications. In line with good conscience and utmost regard for human dignity, a robust plan was set in motion to resettle these traders whose importance to the economy of the State cannot be underestimated. 

“While the leadership and genuine members of the business community peacefully and gladly leveraged on the alternative property benevolently offered by the peace-loving Governor of the State, some miscreants and hoodlums who had apparently reduced the property to an abode of criminality and immorality capitalized on the prevailing circumstance to instigate a crisis. 

“Enugu State has a historic reputation for hospitality to her vast demography of migrant residents, which has grown stronger under the administration of His Excellency, Rt Hon Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi. The Governor has diligently and consciously instilled the spirit of harmonious coexistence of law abiding residents within the state without prejudice to ethnic or religious sentiments. Therefore,  no brigandage, disobedience of court order, gimmick or brazen lawlessness displayed by a few recalcitrants will thwart the peaceful coexistence, serene ambience and thriving amity enjoyed in the Coal City State.

“In furtherance to his unwavering commitment to protect the lives and properties of the citizenry, the Governor has swiftly instructed security agencies to take absolute control of the situation and sufficiently punish anybody found in breach of the law. The Governor has also been briefed of the efforts and resilience of the Enugu State police command to unravel the cause, extent of the destruction and those responsible for them.

“The Government of Enugu State is saddened by the grave losses occasioned by this development and is determined to decisively deal with the situation .

“While the government of Enugu State shall continue to jealously sustain the cordial relationship with every law-abiding resident of the state irrespective of background, orientation, leaning and affiliation, it shall uncompromisingly adhere to the principles of Rule of Law.

“We therefore, enjoin the public to ignore any reckless, provocative, incendiary or inflammatory pictorials and sentiments fruitlessly bandied by unscrupulous elements to incite elusive restiveness. The general public are hereby encouraged to go about their businesses without fear of intimidation or harassment.”

We are not involved in the market demolition - ECTDA

Earlier, the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) had in a press release singed by its Executive Chairman, Dr Josef Onoh, denied involvement in the attempt to demolish the Artisans market.

The development control agency said: "The Attention of Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) has been drawn to the authority's name being peddled in connection with the Thursday, April 22 2021 incident at the closed New Artisan market.

"Recall that the state government had in some years past shut down the new Artisan Market.

"ECTDA has been inundunted with calls on inquries, regarding a demolition said to had been carried out at the previous market.

"The Agency however wish to state that it is not aware of any enforcement at the New Artisan market, nor has it received any petition to that effect.

"Let it also be known that the ECTDA was not part of whatever activity that took place at New Artisan and do not have any business with whatsoever activity there. The general public should please be informed."

Posted 23/04/2021 03:25:14 AM


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