On a typical day at the ever busy Mararaba market junction, a peculiar sight confronts the visitor. The hullabaloo the area is known for is perhaps one distinguishing factor that sets it apart from other locations in the north. It has other attributes for which it is known far and wide. Notorious petty criminals have one of their greatest nests in the location. The horrific traffic snarl is another characteristic of notorious Mararaba. But with these troubling attributes it is still one of the biggest points of human congregation in the outskirts of the federal capital city, because of its proximity to the city centre many at times forget that it is not part of the FCT but a slum in Nasarawa State. Mararaba is yet known for another trend one which centres of the commercial nerve of both cities.
On this busy afternoon, the crowd is intense. From the Sharp Corner axis of Mararaba to the underneath of the massive bridge even unto the Orange Market section, the traffic is chaotic. Emotions are high as traffic wardens and the state task force officials' battle to bring a modicum of sanity to the situation. But interestingly, along the highway right up the steps of the overburdened pedestrian bridge to its top, traders of different kind of goods and services are having a field day selling their articles of trade. Despite the harsh rays of the sun, sweat streaming merchants of second hand goods, jewelleries, household items, consumables and even a few individuals promising untold riches via the lottery, battle it out for customers. The commercial war is not limited to the base of the bridge or its highway. On the top of the pedestrian bridge, many of these merchants can be found, some with goods perched precariously on the pedestrian railings, screaming at passing commuters. A young girl calmly places her bowl of vegetables on the ground in the alarming mix of human bodies. Another young man places some plastic bottles of strange looking liquid coloured amber, which he claims could heal a number of diseases. Two other young men can be seen conversing heatedly. Right in front of them are items ranging from combs, lanterns, candles to packets of drugs. They pause from time to time to attend to random customers passing over the bridge. On both legs of the overused bridge are long lines of beggars who poke and beckon at passersby in the hope of getting a stipend from kind-hearted ones. On Mararaba's pedestrian bridge it is a battle of the fittest in a queer like commercial war.
Young Mbakwe sells gala, a popular snack, along the fringes of the market. At times he climbs the bridge to make quick sales. Famished commuters coming from the city centre and alighting at the packed bus stop can quickly get a snack from the young man as they come down. But at times he makes quicker sales at the top of the bridge as many commuters who make use of the bridge and who are wary of pick pockets, prefer to get to the top of the bridge before extricating money for any purchase. He says many have relocated to the top of the bridge since there is no longer space on the road. 'The entire length of the highway has been taken over by traders. You cannot find a place to trade anymore. That is why you see many of us battle it out on the streets and on the bridges. We just have to survive.
Another young trader who does not give his name, says the unavailability of funds to rent shops, has made many of them to prefer doing their business on the bridge and the vicinity. "We cannot get enough money to rent shops here in Mararaba, not to talk of the city centre and yet we have to survive. So what do you expect us to do," he queries.
A Nasarawa State government official seen coordinating the traffic situation at the base of the bridge, tells the reporter that efforts are in top gear to remove the traders, or at least most of them from the roadside and the bridge. "We are building a market that will accommodate many of these traders. The market in existence has already been filled so there is no longer space. With the completion of the current one, more traders will be accommodated and the pressure on the road will be reduced.
But for another elderly trader who deals in second hand clothes, it would be a long time before the merchants leave the roads for another location. "Many of them have no alternatives. The local government even seems to have left them to their fate. There is a man that is allegedly an official of the local government who comes to collect levies from those that sell at the base of the bridge and along the highway. Each trader pays a token of N100 for a space. That is why when you 'trespass' on another merchant's space it can lead to quarrels and fights. Many prefer the top of the bridge to do their business," he enthuses.
A commuter, Olusina, who plies the route daily, says he never bothers to make use of the pedestrian bridge due to its constant overcrowding. "I prefer to just cross the road as it is easier that way. For one the road is always congested while the bridge is also congested. So it is much easier to cross the highway."
Another commuter however sees a positive side to the presence of the traders, especially on the top of the bridge. According to him, they ward off potential threats from petty criminals especially pickpockets.
But their presence continues to pose a threat to the fluid movement of traffic at the axis. With the heavy presence of these traders, including a high volume of vehicular movement, officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps, have daily battles controlling traffic. FRSC Commander, FCT axis, Fanola Kayode says the road infrastructure in the area is not enough to cater for the heavy human presence. "On the Nyanya-Mararaba road the capacity of traffic there supersedes the road infrastructure available. But the road is wide enough if we all follow the rules guiding traffic. It takes one odd person or motorist to cause the blockade. Also, a lot of low and middle income earners live along the route, and all of them come and leave the city centre at the same time. It is not a traffic jam but heavy traffic volume. And also you must agree that the life of a rapidly growing city like Abuja is in the nature of traffic. It is like a human, what shows you are alive is the pulse, blood flow and heart beat. It shows the city is alive. It happens in all mega cities around the world. In the future by the time we have light rail, the roads are expanded and then we have a good bus system just as the FCTA is planning, the problem will be reduced."