Thursday, September 10, 2020

Kaduna traders struggle for survival as markets remain closed

Traders in Kaduna are cornering and congesting every available space along streets leading to major markets such as the Abubakar Gumi central market and Kantin Kwari in defiance of government’s directive on relocation to neighbourhood markets to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The roads to major markets in Kaduna have become cramped, busy and congested by the multitude of traders that now spread their wares by the roadside as they compete for space and attention.
It has become a struggle for survival,” said Solomon Chinedu, who sells stockfish on the roadside of Kantin Kwari market, now overtaken by traders. The situation is the same around the popular Abubakar Gumi central market and Lagos Street as traders either spread their wares on the ground or display them from their vehicles, whose trunks and doors are opened to attract buyers.

Partial reopening 

On June 10, Governor Nasir el-Rufai lifted the state’s quarantine order, permitting a significant reopening of the state but exempted markets and schools. El-Rufai had said it was still unsafe for markets and schools to reopen but assured that the state government would continue to engage with relevant stakeholders to determine the appropriate timing and conditions for their reopening. Before then, the state government had in April directed traders to relocate to the neighbourhood markets within public schools in Chikun, Igabi, Kaduna North and Kaduna South LGAs. Due to their large empty fields, the schools had proved a temporary measure in decongesting major markets and adhering to the health protocol on COVID-19. However, most traders and residents had expressed reservations on the temporary adjustment and had only adhered to the directive during the quarantine order. While on a visit to two designated neighbourhood markets at LEA Primary School, Maiduguri road and Kurmin Mashi Primary School, our correspondent observed that only a few traders have remained as others have relocated to the streets to sell their goods. Ibrahim Ahmed, who sells provision at LEA Primary School, Maiduguri road, said, “as soon as the state government lifted the quarantine order in June, traders left the neighbourhood markets. Some of them went to Lagos Street because it is close to the central market while others have moved to Kantin Kwari and Ahmadu Bello Way.” At Kantin Kwari market on Gombe road, which is both a motor park and destination for foodstuff,  we observed that the market was partially opened to commercial vehicles while traders were denied access. Because of this restriction, traders have converted the sides of the road leading into the market into makeshift stalls where they display their products. “Everyone that sells goods here is struggling for survival and it is getting hard to make ends meet due to the high price of goods and unavailability of some goods we normally sell. We are all scattered, we have no permanent stalls for regular customers to patronise us,” said Solomon Chinedu. With no stall to house his unsold goods after market hours, Chinedu, like most traders at the Kantin Kwari market, begs a neighbour who owns a shop in one of the shopping complexes by the roadside to keep his goods. “Since the shop is not mine, I have to come very early the next day to pick up my goods so I don’t inconvenience them. I have to wait for them every morning because it will be stressful for them to pack my goods out,” he said. Under the scorching sun, Chinedu is seen with an umbrella he uses for shade; but his umbrella can hardly protect him from the rain which forces him to scram himself along with his goods into any available shade. “If it rains in the morning, there wouldn’t be much sales that day because the whole area becomes muddy and very few customers will visit the market. However, the difference is not much when it rains in the evening because most of our sales have already taken place,” he explained. But like many traders on the roadside, Chinedu does not only have to contend with the natural elements but also market officials that demand daily tax of N50 or N100 to allow the traders maintain their spots. Sadiya Aminu, who owns a baby products supply shop at the Abubakar Gumi central market, now spreads her goods by the roadside along Benin Street. She said traders are allowed into the market between 3pm and 6pm to restock as well as return some unsold goods for an unspecified fee to market security guards. “We go with wheelbarrow porters to help us carry our goods but the guards solicit money from us. There is no fixed price but any amount we can afford helps and we are allowed to move in and out unhindered,” she said. So as markets remain officially closed in the metropolis, traders have come up with the new marketing strategies to beat security agents who sometimes harass roadside traders. Uche David is one of the traders. He has now converted his personal vehicle into a provision shop. While speaking with our correspondent, he said, “Life is very tough now that the market is closed. I try to leave my house before 6am to come here so I can get parking space at a strategic area to display and sell my goods.” Our correspondent observed that the Abubakar Gumi central market is still under lock and key and market security guards could be seen keeping watch at the various gates. One of the guards who confided in us said that they sympathise with the traders which is why they allowed them access to their shops in the evenings. He, however, said security agents do not solicit bribe from the traders but also do not turn them down when they offer to ‘appreciate them.’ Customers such as Gladys Daniel said it was safer for residents if markets are reopened due to the congestion on the roadside. “It has not only become difficult to get some commodities because the traders are scattered but if you think about it, now that they are on the streets, there is no social distancing,” she said. Ibrahim Kabiru who sells wrappers at the central market said he has since evacuated his goods to his home for fear that the shops may be burgled. Kabiru, who has also turned his vehicle into his shop said, “It is unfortunate that the state government has not said anything about reopening the markets. “Initially they claimed that the markets will remain closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but the real question to ask now is, is the roadside any better? There is obviously more congestion now.” The Managing Director of Kaduna Markets Development and Management Company (KMDMC), Muhammad Hafiz Bayero, did not respond to enquiries made by our correspondent, but the state protocols for temporary markets and neighbourhood stores state that markets are prohibited and remain closed. They also direct that all market activities will continue at the temporary neighbourhood markets in designated public schools and spaces which are to open daily between 10am and 4pm.

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