One killed and several shops burnt as Hope Uzodinma’s government demolishes Hausa settlements in Imo

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One person has been killed and several properties (including homes and shops) were burnt down as alleged government officials under Governor Hope Uzodinma destroyed some Hausa communities in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State.

According to Daily Trust that the officials, believed to be agents of the Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA) and Environmental Transformation Agency (ENTRCO), alongside policemen set ablaze shops and properties in Avu Junction and Hausa market, Nekede No 1 market and Arugu market as part of the government’s efforts to remove alleged shanties and illegal structures.

“Several houses and shops belonging to northerners were burnt down, most of us are currently taking refuge in the bush and our Juma’at Mosque was equally demolished by the taskforce and the police,” said Nura Kabir Umar, a youth leader at Nekede No 1 market.

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Umar, said tension started brewing on Thursday and climaxed on Sunday when policemen on the invitation of ENTRACO officials shot and killed a 35-year-old trader identified as Mudashir Muhammad and injured another.

Recall that the Imo State Government, through the OCDA had last year declared a take-off of an enforcement order to reclaim the city capital from street trading, shanties and illegal parking.

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The OCDA General Manager, Francis Chukwu, had then met with the leadership of Hausa communities in the state and urged them to cooperate with the government in achieving the plan.

However, efforts made to verify if the operations at the three markets were part of the plan, proved abortive, as the Imo State Commissioner for Information, Declan Emelumba didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to his phone.

But traders at Nekede No 1 Market yesterday told our correspondent that there had been no notice or order from government agencies asking them to vacate and insisted that any allegation of crime within their neighbourhood should have been investigated.

They alleged that government officials, with the connivance of the police, had instead set their wares ablaze and caused them to lose goods and properties worth millions of naira.

However, the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, at a news conference on Sunday denied allegations that the three markets had been set ablaze. Instead, CP Barde said an inferno had gutted Avu market.

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The CP, who spoke to journalists in Owerri said: “I invite you here this afternoon to clear some misleading reports making the rounds on social media, alleging that hoodlums attacked and burnt the popular Hausa Market Avu which is not true.

“For the purpose of clarity, I wish to inform you that the incident that happened at the market was a fire outbreak that led to loss of properties. No life was lost in the inferno and it’s under investigation and the outcome of our investigation will be made known to the public.

“I am pleased to inform you that, the Executive Governor of Imo State, His Excellency, Hope Uzodinma, has been informed and directed arrangements be made for him to meet with those affected.”

Nura Kabir Umar, however, later confirmed that CP Barde had returned to the scene of the incident on Sunday evening after his men allegedly shot and killed a 35-year-old man.

“He came to the scene and urged us to exercise patience, adding that the governor was not aware of what had happened. We were at the scene assessing the damage to our property when members of ENTRACO and the police came and opened fire on us. They killed one and injured another,” he added.

Traders from the three markets affected by the incident yesterday giving their own accounts state that the statement by the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, was far from the truth. They said there was no fire incident in any of the three markets, insisting that they had been directly targeted and attacked by government officials and the police.

Narrating the genesis of the incident, Musa Isa who had a provision store in the market said he lost goods close to N10 million in the incident.

“It started on Thursday at about 11 am. We heard that some people had stormed Onitsha Road burning shops belonging to Hausa people and injuring many. Some of their properties, goods and money were stolen. Many of them were beaten up,” he said.

“Twenty minutes later, the taskforce and the police arrived at Nekede No. 1 market. They burnt houses and shops. They beat up people and the hoodlums confiscated our money.”

He said upon realising that some of the attackers were police officers, together with members of the Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA), and Environmental Transformation Agency (ENTRCO), they made efforts to contact other government officials to find out what was happening.

“We were not told anything; we asked our people not to take laws into their own hands,’’ he said.

Abdullahi Umaru, a suya seller from Sokoto State said his three selling points were burnt down. “I have lost everything. My wife and I now sleep outside, we don’t know what to do.

“For the police to say it is a fire incident, is unfortunate. These people came with bulldozers on Friday and demolished our place of worship. Who would see what has happened and claim it is a fire incident?

“They did not destroy only one market, or does that mean the fire jumped seven kilometres from one market to the other? These are people we saw, they came here with a bulldozer, demolished and burnt our properties and we are surprised to hear this coming from the commissioner of police,” Nura Kabir Umar said.

The youth leaders said they had approached policemen at the scene on Friday while their place of worship was being demolished but the security agents had instead asked them to leave. “It was soon after that, that they started setting the shops and the houses belonging to our members ablaze,” he said.

One of the Hausa community leaders in the state, Lawan Fagge, when contacted by this reporter also said suspected members of ENTACO group who claimed to be in operation to remove hoodlums from the area had burnt down their markets.

He said the attacks were carried out on three markets at Nekede No 1, Avu Junction, along Port Harcourt road, and Adugbo Park along Onitsha road.

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