Chief Mrs Ifeyinwa Ezenwa is the President of the Market Women and Men Association of Nigeria, South-east zone. She is also a delegate to the ongoing National conference. In this interview, she speaks on challenges facing market women, insecurity and violence against women and children among others.
What are the major challenges confronting market women in the country?
We don't have standard markets or what you may call markets of international standards .What we have are markets without toilet facilities, water and units for first aid treatment and ambulance. We have markets which do not have police posts and places for nursing mothers to keep their babies. We also have markets without fire vans or services in case of fire outbreaks.
Do you call all these markets? Majority of our markets don't have light. Most market women and men leave their houses in the morning and close in the evening. They only spend the weekends at home .When someone spends about seven to eight hours daily in the market that means most of his or her life is spent in the market and when these facilities are lacking it means market men and women suffer discomfort and have a lot of problems.
We also complain of being over taxed in the markets. Local government authorities will come for their tax, state government will come for their own and the federal government will still come to collect their own tax from us .This is a huge burden.
Government should let also know specifically which tax we are paying , will the state government collect tax from us and remit to the Federal government or the local government remit to state? We are confused, people keep coming to extort tax from us and become rich over night. They say sanitation levy and at the end of the day no toilet facilities. Why should you take money from the market without developing it? Funds we generate should be used to develop the markets too.
Do you think market women and men are being carried along in politics?
Market women and men are not politicians. They are business men and women in the market. But they have the right to participate in politics, contest elections and be voted for on merit.
So how many market women and men have contested elections in the south-east and have emerged successful?
Well I am not aware of any market woman that has come out to vie for positions at all levels especially where I hail from, Anambra state.
What do you think is the problem?
The problem is that the men don't want to carry women along. They see us as the weaker vessels. They always want to be the ones to contest. But if they give women opportunities to contest, they will be better politicians than the men anywhere in the world.
What issues about women in the country gives you cause for concern that you want addressed at the conference?
It is the issue of abuse and sexual violence against women and children. We need a law that will deal with people who rape or abuse women. Women need protection. Government needs to enact a law that will adequately protect women and children from such violence.
More so, market women and men need protection in the market places. When crises come up who suffers most? It is the market men and women. Look at what happened in Borno , the insurgents went to the market, collected the traders' foodstuffs and goods and killed them. Another incident is the bomb blast at the Terminus market in Jos. Market women and men were the most affected.
Markets are targeted because they are usually crowded. So we are calling on government to ensure adequate protection in markets. There should also be surveillance units in markets to watch people going in out of markets.
Market women in Aba were instrumental to the Aba women riot, are your members still maintaining the same tempo in national development today?
We are still contributing to national development. We contribute money among ourselves and carry out developmental projects and maintain the markets. Like the provision of boreholes in the market, we contribute in different ways , we don't don't wait for government to do everything.
Insecurity is one of the burning issues in the country, how do you think it can be tackled?
Yes it was one of the contributions I made at the conference and in my submission I told them information is power. Any country without information will get weak. Look at the United States for instance, they don't joke with heir information and intelligence unit. They make sure they get all vital information about people in the country and monitor everybody's movement.
So security and information go together, without information you have a very big problem.
I told them at the confab that you don't see Nigerians moving freely in other countries as you see foreigners moving any how here. It is important to find out the reasons the foreigners are here, we should know what their motives are and what they are engaged in or doing in Nigeria. This will help check mate the many problems we having in the country.
There is need for surveillance at our borders too. Government should get sophisticated satellites and other equipments that will capture our borders. When the borders are porous it heightens insecurity.
Do you subscribe to the idea of state police?
I don't support state police because some of these politicians and barons will use them for their greedy motives. More so, because they are from that state the policemen will want to please the top men or those in control of the state.
If you take a look at what is happening now in the country, you will observe that police men attached to these politicians and barons are loyal to them even when they are doing something wrong so establishing a state police will worsen the problem.
The south-east complains of marginalisation and having only of five states as against others. Do you think the conference will address the problem and others in the country?
I see unity and love among delegates at the conference. I see a spirit of understanding, sacrifice and letting go of wrongs among the delegates.
In the beginning it was a bit rough but with time we became at peace. You see someone from one state making case for problems of people in other states. People that are not from Kogi state for instance brought up the issue of the Ajaokuta steel company, likewise people who are not even from Borno canvass for solutions to the crises there.
So we are putting heads together to address problems confronting the country.
Also in the area of energy which is the committee I belong to, we have recommended that government and the privatising firm put heads together to harmonise things.
More so, we are putting forth recommendations on how government can address the issue of oil theft and protect our pipelines. If Niger Republic can protect their pipelines form vandalistaion how much more Nigeria the giant of Africa? There is need for Nigerians to fight the cartel stealing our oil.
Do you see the confab addressing the problems of women in the country?
A lot of issues on women have been deliberated on like empowerment, equal rights in politics , creating better opportunities and protections for women and more are still coming.
All Nigerians should make sure they love each other, let us stop alienating ourselves on the basis of religion, tribe or language. We should see ourselves as one.
I also urge Nigerians to pray for the Chibok girls. There should be less noise and more prayers. We should go into our closets and pray and there is nothing Almighty God can't do.