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AGAIN : Imo Women Protest Alleged Sale Of Ancestral Market

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Scores of women of Orji Community in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State on Saturday, February 3 staged a rally to protest against the alleged ‘outright sale’ of the newly-built 193 shops at the ancestral Nkworji Market.

Clad in all-black attires and chanting songs which depicted anger, the women led by the President of Orji Women Organization, (OWO), Mrs. Prisca Mboma stormed the market and double padlocked the shops including tying the doors and iron protectors with yellowish palm fronds.

Some of the traders who occupy the affected shops were nowhere to be found as they had fled out of fear of tasting the wrath of the women.

One of the traders who summoned courage to reappear when the women reached his shop pleaded to be given a seven-day grace to evacuate goods from his shop, a wish the women granted him.

One female shop owner had to plead with the protesters to temporarily unlock her shop in order to recover her child mistakenly locked up in her shop.

The women bore placards with inscriptions such as “Ndaa Developer, Leave Our Market Alone ooo”; ‘Orji Women Say We No Go Gree’ and ‘We Say No To Any Developer Selling Nkworji’

They disregarded claim by some traders that their double padlocked shops harboured perishable wares.

Speaking during the protest rally, the President of Orji Women Organization (OWO), Mrs. Prisca Mboma said they were not opposed to the development of the market but regretted the outright sale of the shops by the developer after the exercise.

She insisted that any arrangement that doesn’t concede some shops to the original land owners is unacceptable.

According to her, Orji women should have been considered as a matter of right in the allocation of the shops.

Also speaking, Mrs. Helen Azuoma disclosed that all the 10 villages that make up Orji Community had tables and spaces in the market prior to the remodeling of the market.

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She wondered why the villages were no longer considered on completion of the development of the market.

Mrs. Azuoma regretted that all entreaties made to the developer by the OWO were rebuffed leading to the women staging the protest rally.

According to her, the OWO wrote letters and reported the matter to the relevant ministry and the Imo State Amalgamated Market Traders Association (ISAMATA) which scheduled meetings between them and the developer, who refused to attend any.

She blamed the developer for the crisis, saying that he came to the community with the intention to cheat the Orji Community.

Prominent indigenes who also spoke with our correspondent insisted that the 2021 court judgement on the market must be obeyed for peace to reign in the community.

A High Court of Imo State had in 2021 directed that the 39 shops in the market belonging to the Umuachonwa family who are the original owners of the land on which the market is situated be reserved for the family.

According to the Administrator of Nfunala Development Initiative (aka Orji Aborigines Union), Chief Amanze Chidinma Paschal Njoku, the court order was neither vacated nor appealed against.

Chief Amanze Njoku like Oha Mike Njoku, Head, Orji Traditional Arbitration Council; Chief Martin Njoku, Retired Commissioner of Police (CP), Barr. Henry Njoku and Chief Emma Oguchuruba submitted that only obedience to judgement of the court will resolve the matter.

Chief Amanze Njoku further gave an insight into the matter.

He said; “Around 1996, we took the old Owerri Local Government Council to court about the market and there was an agreement that the council concedes to the Umuachonwa descendants 39 shops. The council obeyed.

“We developed the market and built our shops. During Rochas Okorocha’s time, they said they wanted to redevelop the market and tried denying us our right, we again dragged the government to court.

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“The court gave a verdict which was in our favour. Let them obey the law and give us our right. We are living in a lawful society.”

Chief Amanze added that the time of appealing against the judgement has elapsed making it imperative that the verdict be obeyed. He however alleged that some big fraud is being committed by some elements without the knowledge of the government.

Barr Henry Njoku and Chief Oguchuruba see the Traditional Ruler of the community, Eze Innocent Opara as the brain behind the current crisis in the market. While the former CP submitted that the monarch caused the instability in the community, Chief Oguchuruba insisted that the royal father has no right to tamper with the market.

Chief Oguchuruba, who disclosed that he had resigned from the cabinet of Eze Opara when things began to go awry maintained that the natural ruler has no right to deny the Umuachonwa family their 39 shops at the market. He asserted that the Orji Community does not belong to the royal father.

A mild drama played out as the protest rally was on. Some policemen ostensibly deployed at the behest of the developer stormed the section of the market housing Igbudu Orji, the shrine of the community to effect the arrest of the president of OWO. This was also when the Ohas (priests) were petitioning the god of the community to fight for them.

Besides one of the Ohas shouting at the cops to leave the shrine premises, the women stoutly resisted the arrest.

As things stand at present, the crisis in Orji Community seems to be at its embryonic stage. It may not explode into a full-blown conflagration if the authorities rise to the occasion.

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