Trading in various goods is one business in which most Nigerians are engaged, especially in the urban centres like Kano, Lagos, Aba, Ibadan and Onitsha among others, which host markets of various sizes to accommodate the teeming army of traders. In these trying times, trading, a free enterprise which could be embarked upon by anyone who has some capital and is not afraid of competition, is so pervasive, no thanks to the high rate of unemployment in the land. This accounts for the high number of traders of every hue, to the extent that among their ranks are graduates of various disciplines from our tertiary institutions who have become traders as a way of keeping body and soul together. However, the dispersal of markets around Port Harcourt where street trading is rife, following the reconstruction of the Rumuwoji Market or (Mile One Market) and the ultra modern township market in the old Port Harcourt Township by the Rivers State government, has for sometime now constituted a problem to town planners and environmentalists.
As a result, traders on assorted goods, fabrics, electronics, building materials, motor spare parts and vehicles, have taken over every available space and some residential areas in Port Harcourt, thus prompting calls for an international market that would accomodate a vast majority of the traders. It is noteworthy that apart from defacing the city by converting every street corner or available space into a market place, the activities of traders have contributed to the high tenancy rate of residential houses whose landlords prefer traders or shop owners who may pay higher rent. This development which did not go down well with the state government prompted its intervention in the building of the modern Rumuwoji market in Diobu area after the old make-shift market was razed by fire, while reconstruction work is ongoing at the ultra modern Port Harcourt township market along Creek Road, which was allegedly torched by unidentified elements.
However, since the completion of the first phase of the mile one market the authorities seem to have problems allocating the stalls to traders for want of an agreeable allocation formula among stakeholders. Some of the disagreements, sources say, include proper identification of traders who were displaced to give way for the new edifice, identification of new and genuine stall seekers, accommodation of the interests of the “sons- of -the-soil”, rate changeable for the stalls, the interests of other stakeholders, among others.
The Rivers State government has, no doubt, spent a huge sum of money in building this modern market, not for the purpose of enhancing the landscape of Rumuwoji community, but for the purpose of providing a platform for the citizenry to participate in the economic activities available to them. Besides, the market is expected to generate revenue for the government to help it develop the second phase. Thus, leaving the market fallow for longer than is necessary would not be in the best interest of the people and the government that needs money to develop the second phase. Mindful of this need to clear whatever clogs that are militating against just and fair allocation of the stalls, the state governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi recently accepted to meet with the parties with a view to resolving the issues. It is therefore expected that during the meeting which would have the Allocation Committee Members, representative of traders and government in attendance all the knotty issues blocking the allocation of the stalls so far, should be settled. This move would boost economic activities in the state as more converts would become traders as a way of checking unemployment.
It is pertinent at this juncture to note that in allocating the stalls, the interests of those misplaced therefrom should be accorded some significance, even as the stalls may not be let below current market value. Granted that some indigent traders would be affected by this requirement, the need to form co-operatives so as to pool their resources together to meet government demand would make some sense. It should also be instructive to guard against allocating stalls to non-traders whose main interest would be to get the stalls either through community patronage or by government allocation, only to sublet them to real traders at very exhorbitant rates. This practice should be discouraged, because it works against government intention of improving the economic well-being of its citizens. Besides, such move eventually contributes to the high cost of goods as the traders must pass on the incidence of high cost of stalls to buyers.
When the second phase of the market is done with government should as a matter of urgency consider the building of an ultra modern international market in the state to raise economic activities to another level.
Apart from being a money spinner for government the international market has the potential to mop up motor car dealers, car spare parts dealers, dealers on building materials and assorted electronic goods now occupying residential buildings. In addition to forcing down the high cost of accommodation in Port Harcourt, moving certain categories of traders to the international market would help us realise more fully our dream of a Greater Port Harcourt City where change which everyone could see is being unravelled.