The traffic on the Abuja-Keffi Express road has been a source of nightmare to many, no thanks to traders and transporters who have turn the highway to their business premises. The Nasarawa state government though is tired of this, and the bulldozers are roaring now.
Early this week, the Nasarawa State Urban Development Board commenced the removal of illegal structures along the ever-busy Mararaba-Keffi expressway. Since the exercise started, petty traders dislodged by it have been counting their losses.
Although the board claimed that it gave a long notice to the affected traders to relocate before the exercise, the traders disputed this claim, saying the state government did not inform them early enough before moving in to pull down their shops.
Chairman, Unique Traders Association, Mararaba, Ikechukwu Agbo told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that they were surprised last Monday to see bulldozers demolishing structures along the expressway.
"Actually the Nasarawa Urban Development Board (NUDB) told us that it doesn't want any illegal structure along the Mararaba expressway. But we thought that the illegal structures were the shacks by the roadsides used by hawkers and petty traders, because the reason for this exercise is the government's quest to reduce hold ups on the road.
But we are shocked that instead of chasing those selling on the main road, they are busy removing shops belonging to our members, even when these structures they are removing do not cause the traffic."
Agbo stated that the traders were "confused over the exercise, since they don't know the next line of action to take, because there are no alternative shops for them to move into."
He continued: "They claim that there is an international market somewhere for us, but nothing is happening at that market, since they have not completed it. It is under lock and key and they said it would be opened in July this year."
However, Agbo disclosed that their next plan was to meet the authorities to discuss the development.
A trader who sells clothes along the expressway and who simply gave his name as Ben said: "My brother, I am confused about what is happening here. This is because there is no other place for me to relocate to as shop. Apart from the fact that we were not served adequate notice concerning this exercise, there is even no other nearby market that one can move into to sell these materials."
Another trader, Femi Adeyemi, who sells car batteries but had his shop removed along the highway noted: "They are just removing people's shops without any plan to use the available space for anything. They have forgotten that it is not this extension of shops that caused the hold up on this road. It is the hawkers who come out every evening to sell their wares that create the holdup on this road."
Adeyemi stated that the affected traders were devastated by the exercise since many of them don't have any other alternatives shops to move into. He added: "There is another market here called Kapital Market where they want us to move into, but the rent for the shops in that market is too high for most of the traders being displaced here. So it is a very difficult situation for most of us here."
Another alternative open to the displaced traders is the Karu International Market, Karu, which is a few kilometre from Mararaba.
However, a visit to this market revealed that it is still under construction.
Also, Emeka Ugwu who sells foodstuff along the road does not understand the relationship between the shops being removed and the traffic hold ups along the expressway. He said: "It is not clear to me the reason given by the government for the demolition exercise. We all know that it is not the shops being removed that are causing the traffic jams along the road."
Ugwu alleged that the demolition team was selective in the course of the exercise, claiming that "some of shops along the same line were not removed."
Manager, Peace Park, Mararaba, John Asogwa, alleged that his firm did not receive any notice before the commencement of the demolition exercise.
His words: "We just suddenly saw bulldozers and armed policemen demolishing some structures along the highway. So as law-abiding citizens of this country, we have to obey them since they are government officials, and we cannot fight the authorities."
But Zonal Manager, Nasarawa State Urban Development Board(NUDB), Sunday Auta, who is in charge of the demolition, explained that the mission of the exercise is to carry out the removal of all illegal structures withing the boundary between the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) at Nyanya to a place called Ba'a Laifi in Nasarawa state.
According to Auta, "all illegal structures erected 30 metres from the centre of the road would be removed in the course of the exercise. People are not supposed to build within this range, since the place is meant for parking of cars and also for such facilities like power or telecommunication lines.
We are trying to decongest the road.Our own is to clear the road so that we have free flow of traffic on the road. We want to stop people from selling on the roadside, because of the risk that comes with that like vehicles running into people trading by the road side."
The zonal manager claimed that adequate notices were given to the affected traders before the exercise was launched.
He stressed: "In fact, we went to the extent of using the public address system to announce it to them. We even went to radio stations and took to the print medium to announce it to them. So they cannot claim that they were not informed."
On the possibility that the removed structures might resurface soon, Auta explained that the board would set up a surveillance team to monitor the cleared space and ensure "that people do not come back to where these structures have been removed.
He added: "The board is also going to have a mobile court to arrest and prosecute anybody that comes back to erect structures in the cleared space."
He urged the displaced traders to get permanent shops at the nearby Kapital Market, saying: "In this market there are many empty shops, but the traders are not willing to go there because they want to stay by the road side to sell their wares. They prefer to stay on the road side because they don't pay anything for the space they are occupying. They want to stay along the highway to sell but it is not everybody that can have a shop along the highway."