There was pandemonium in Abakaliki on Wednesday as traders at the Abakpa main market clashed with revenue officials.
One person was allegedly killed in the melee; although the police said no death occurred.
Incensed by the reported death, which PREMIUM TIMES is yet to confirm, the traders rioted and were on the verge of vandalising shops of some the market leaders allegedly working with the government when the police intervened to disperse them.
A source at the market narrated that trouble started when the Special Adviser to Governor David Umahi on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Martin Okwuegbu, and the Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Emegha, led some youth to collect levies from some traders in the market.
The youth are reportedly members of Ekubaraoha Youth Assembly (EYA).
The source alleged that the ‘revenue collectors’ were using the collection as cover to close down the shops of some traders who took the state government to court over the leadership dispute in the market.
According to him, the traders had gone to court to challenge the removal of the market leaders before the expiration of their tenure and imposition of a new intérim leadership on them by the state government.
“They came to the market and were taken to the shops of the traders that took them to court and they started closing their shops accusing them of not paying IGR,” the source, a trader, said.
“One of the sons of one of the traders entered into an altercation with them and in the process, a fight broke out.
“As they were beating him, he fell on the ground forcefully and hit his head on the ground and lost consciousness,” he added.
It was gathered that the traders immediately mobilised and attacked revenue collectors. Many were badly bruised while others escaped.
Not done, the traders began rioting. They went to the shop of one of the leaders believed to be working with the government and attempted to vandalise it when police arrived and chased them away.
The police tear-gassed the protesters and arrested some of them.
Our reporter on a visit to the market saw police officers brutally assaulting passersby and whisking them into their car.
When contacted, the police spokesperson, Loveth Odah, denied that anyone was killed in the incident.
She confirmed that one person sustained an injury on the head and was rushed to the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki for treatment.
Mark Onu, the leader of Ekubaraoha Youth Assembly and Mr Umahi’s Special Assistant on Youth Mobilisation denied involvement in the incident.
“I am not aware of that, I wasn’t there. You can go and ask the SA on Markets what happened,” he said.
He also said that no government official has the right to deploy his members for any purpose without informing him.
The Commissioner for Internal Security, Stanley Emegha, also denied that anyone was killed.
He noted that he, in the company of the Special Assistant on IGR, Martins Okwuegbu, went to the market to seal some shops.
According to him, five shops were sealed for various reasons ranging from refusal to pay IGR to the shops being used for criminal activities in the market.
Mr Okwuegbu on his part said about seven shops were sealed for not paying their taxes.
He denied knowledge of any fracas or death adding that the exercise was peaceful.
“We sealed the shops and left peacefully. I am just hearing from you that someone died. Nothing like that happened while we were there,” he said.
Mr Okwuegbu denied that the exercise was used to victimise some traders opposed to the government’s action on the market leadership.
“We served them notice to pay three times before going to seal their shops. If anyone says he or she has paid let them come and present their records and we will immediately open the shops,” he said.
The Special Adviser to Ebonyi Governor on Market Development, Karian Emeka, Ofoke also denied that anyone died.
He said that the former chairman of the market was removed for embezzlement of government revenue he collected from the traders.
“We as the government went there to enforce the evaders of tax and levies. We locked up their shops and left. Later we heard there was trouble and we sent security agents to ensure there is no breakdown of law and order in the market and that’s all I know. I don’t even envisaged that somebody died. I was there in the morning and I left without resistance”
“There is no leadership crisis in the market because the said chairman was suspended for financial misappropriation; where somebody embezzled money you don’t have to protect him especially this period we are fighting corruption. So, there is nothing like leadership crisis in the market,” he said.