One person was killed and another injured while several shops and homes were burnt down during an alleged operation by government officials on some Hausa communities in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State.
Multiple sources told 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.
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.
Daily Trust reports 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.
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.
Our correspondent, however, could not verify if the operations at the three markets were part of the plan as the Imo State Commissioner for Information, Declan Emelumba, did not 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.
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.
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