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Calabar South Vs. Mall Small Business Fiasco: Problems, Prospects and Resolution BY EFIO-ITA NYOK

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250 petty traders in the mall complex, Watt Market, under the auspices of the United Traders Association, are currently being exploited and extorted by the youths of Wards 3, 4 and 5 as well as the local government council of Calabar South led by the Hon. Esther Bassey.

From the data and estimates available to me, the local government council of Calabar South is extorting without a receipt:
1. Daily ticketing for one year up to Nine Million Seven Hundred and Fifty Naira (NGN9,750,000) only;
2. Annual Sublease of Space amounting to Seven Million Five Hundred Thousand Naira (7,500,000 NGN) only and,
3. Monthly payments to youth totaling One Million Five Hundred Thousand Naira (NGN1,500,000) only in one year giving a gross total of Eighteen Million Seven Hundred Fifty Thousand Naira (NGN18,750,000) only.

Mr. Ike Bassey, a resident of Cross River and Chairman of the Mall United Merchants Association, while appealing for intervention from the state government, disclosed that “we pay NGN 30,000 a year for space at the Calabar South Local Government Council, NGN 500 per month to youth in the community and NGN 750 per day for ticketing”.

According to traders, a breakdown of NGN750 not received is as follows:
– NGN200 for current and former advisors (allegedly collected by an Effanga Effanga),
– 200 NGN instead of 50 NGN for sanitation (morning and evening),
– NGN200 (collected allegedly by Tony Edem to tune the PDP boys),
– NGN70 (collected by Mr. Diamond for an unknown ticket office),
– NGN50 (collected by Apostrophe for the environment), and
– NGN100 every Wednesday by Stamula.

The challenge here is that petty traders are now crying out against extortion saying they can no longer pay those 750 NGN after nine years, while Calabar South Council with its young beneficiaries in Wards 3, 4 and 5 are insisting on that small traders must continue to pay. There have even been death threats against the leadership of the United Traders Association and disgraceful treatment of vendors/boys and other traders.

On the other hand, the argument of the Southern Council of Calabar on this is that traders have spaces to trade inside the market where they will only pay Seventy Naira (NGN70) (contrary to what s ‘they have to use the mall space illegally, they have to pay NGN 750), but the traders countered by explaining that there is no such space in Watt Market, Calabar that they can use.

The small traders are asking the Calabar South Council Authority to reduce the daily ticketing to four hundred and twenty naira (N420), which the council chairman refused.

According to the small traders, the president said there was nothing she could do to remedy the exploitation, that since they had agreed to pay the fees much earlier, they would have to continue to the end.

However, when they refused continued payment, they were forced to stop displaying and selling their goods and products for nine days, after which, when they resumed, the Council asked them to pay the sum of five thousand naira (5,000 NGN) for ‘good conduct.’

Now the unilateral use of force by the local council authority to achieve compliance is completely unacceptable. Again, the decision of young people in Wards 3, 4 and 5 of Calabar South to continue to extort small traders, particularly for reasons of tribal sentimentality, will not solve the problems. The selective treatment accorded in favor of Efik traders but against Igbo traders will complicate the issues.

I demand resolution and/or peaceful resolution of the dispute between these three parties by a neutral party, say the state government, traditional rulers, etc. I therefore propose that mediation/conciliation be explored where a neutral party mediates to challenge three parties by helping to highlight the real issues at stake and bring all parties to common ground. This does not exclude the option of applying the Cross River Low Income Tax Exemption Act No. 3 of 2015.

Efio-Ita Nyok, a Cross River resident and elected member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators, ICMC Nigeria, writes from Calabar.

NB: The opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Efio-Ita Nyok, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization for/with which the author works.