Right groups threatens protest against Ebonyi govt over forceful sealing of shops in Abakaliki – By Reginald okoro

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Gov Dave Umahi

Rights group, the Human Rights Defenders (HURIDE), Ebonyi chapter, has decried Ebonyi government’s continued sealing of shops located in streets within the peripheries of the defucnt Abakpa Main Market in Abakaliki.

Mr Samson Nweke, HURIDE’s state chairman in an interview with Summitnews correspondent on Thursday in Abakaliki condemned the action and urged the government to unseal the affected shops.

He said that the group would mobilise the shop owners and other oppressed citizens of the state to embark on a sit-in protest that would protesters to occupy major government institutions and roads in Abakaliki.

Nweke maintained that the government’s action was a direct affront to the shop owners’right to pursuit of legitimate livelihood and described the sealing as ‘grave’ injustice.

According to Nweke, the group is disturbed that the affected traders have been thrown out of business for close to two weeks that their shops were forcefully sealed.

He added that HURIDE had given the Ebonyi government a seven-day ultimatum to unseal the shops which he said would on Thursday, June 18 .

He said: We gave the state government seven days ultimatum to open the sealed street shops so as to save the traders from sliding into extreme poverty and depression.

“If after seven days which expires by the end of today (Thursday, June 18) and this demand is not met, we shall cause the frustrated shop owners and other oppressed traders in Abakaliki to occupy the government house in a sit-in protest.

“We shall occupy the old Government House; entrance to major public institutions in the state capital as well as major roads and shall remain so until this demand is met.

“Ebonyi people cannot afford to continue living in fears as a conquered people, our citizens must be governed in line with provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended and other extant laws.

“The people must stand and demand for their rights and also ensure that the government which they elected to serve them, lead according to the laws of the land as enshrined in our statute book.”

Nweke further alleged that the victims were not issued prior notice by government or its agents before embarking on the action.

“We got phone calls earlier this June from some persons who complained that the government’s taskforce teams were sealing their street shops with no reason given and with no prior notice.

” I quickly led a team of the Human Rights Defenders to monitor the activities of the combined taskforce team from where we learnt they were acting on the direct order of Gov. Dave Umahi.

“The governor has insisted the street traders must relocate to the international market, the same market which rent runs in millions of naira.

“First, we got at Gunning road where we saw six hilux vans of Ebonyi Neighborhood Watch with members very busy chasing shop owners and sealing all shops and plazas with red ribbons.

“We went to other affected streets and met same development; it was so disheartening watching the traders stranded, helpless and milling around their shops.

“Other streets affected include; New market Road, part of Ogoja Road, Afikpo Road, Obiri street, Ziks Avenue, Ojeawere and Hosanna streets.

“We interacted with some traders who told us in tears that they came out for a normal day’s business only to see government taskforce chasing them out of their shops and sealing up same with no prior notice.

“The traders lamented that are stranded, helpless and frustrated as the action is coming when they have paid all taxes to the government and most of them had already renewed their rents for two to three years.

“They also noted that their shops were not part of the relocated Abakpa market and they were never carried along during the allocation of shops in the new international market,” Nweke added.

The rights activist said that the group had implored Umahi to rescind his decision on the street traders and temper justice with mercy.

“While we restate our commitment to employ legitimate avenues to compel government to to respect the rights of the affected shop owners and landlords of the sealed buildings, we wish to appeal to the governor to tamper justice with mercy.

“Many people are going through severe hardship especially with the lockdown occasioned by the global COVID-19 pandemic which is currently ravaging economies of the world.

“Moreso, considering the poverty index of the state as captured in the recent report of National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), we appeal to the governor to resist indulging in any action that will aggravate the sufferings of the ordinary people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emma Uzor, Special Assistant to the governor on Markets said the affected areas were allocated for residential purposes but due to its closeness to the defucnt Abakaliki Main market, landlords in the area converted their buildings to commercial shops.

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