The highly regarded Fruit Garden Market in the Garden City which services the expatriate community, top hotels, rigs, and other elite groups in the Niger Delta, was consumed in a fire disaster in the evening of September 27, 2018.
Victims of the disaster have started heave a sigh of relief. This is because those who promised help when it happened have started living up to speed, showing that political leaders could sometimes be counted upon.
Now, bank alerts have started hitting the mobile telephone handsets of traumatised traders. The name may be called Fruit Garden Market but it is actually a highly sophisticated market where canned food from Europe is sold. And it is this particular section, not the fruit section actually, that got burnt. This could explain why some traders lost as much as N15million each. The average loss was put at N2.5million.
The support is also coming along political party lines and religious lines. The first to send down help was Ken Chikere, the PDP House of Reps member from Port Harcourt, who donated 100 big umbrellas which are needed by traders to manage in the open air while awaiting the reconstruction of the market into a modern structure. This was highly appreciated, according to sources in the market.
The traders were said to have argued over sharing formula since it would not go round, until they struck to the balloting idea, after the exco members had taken theirs. Only those whose shops were burnt were listed for the balloting, it was gathered
The next is Winners Chapel located next to the fruit Garden which listed their members affected in the disaster and shared out cash support to enable them re-start their lives. Some were said to receive s much as N150,000.
The governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Tonye Cole, led a delegation including Victoria Nyeche of the Rivers State House of Assembly (now contesting for the Federal House of Reps) to the market on October 18, 2018, and offered N15million to the affected traders.
Cole was said to have urged the victims and all traders there to only look upon the APC for support and rebuilding of the market. The leaders were said to have asked the donors to share the money themselves to avoid acrimony or accusations of diversion. They then collected the names and bank accounts of the victims numbering over 200. Few days later, alerts began hitting their phones at a flat rate of N80,000 each.
The next day, according to the traders, GovNyesom Wike sent his Special Adviser on Special Projects, Dax George Kerley, to assure the traders of immediate action and bigger support. He assured that the contractors would be mobilised to site this very week.
He said the new Fruit and Vegetables Market would have four buildings (one storey each) and eight buildings (bungalow), designed to promote commercial activities.
Other facilities in the market would include: 232 Open Stalls, 72 Lock Up Shops, Toilet Blocks, car park, drainage, internal roads, a warehouse, generator, transformer, perimeter fence and a security house. The market that burnt down had 600 shops and the traders said the governor had promised an 800-shop market after reconstruction.
“Governor Wike approved the release of N400,000 compensation to each of the 213 traders operating inside the market,’ according to a press statement later issued after the visit. The governor also approved the release of N300,000 each to 200 other traders operating around the market.
The traders were given up to Wednesday, October 24, 2018, to vacate the site to allow construction work to begin and probably end in two and half months, according to promises from the government.
The traders are said to be in a fix as to where to stay and carry out the much-expected annual Christmas sale without going too far from the market. Their request to use the nearby Igboukwu Field has been rebuffed by youths who play football there.
The traders are said to appeal to the Mayor of Port Harcourt to intervene. Others have suggested that they approach the Winners Chapel to spare their car park for the three months. Yet, some groups within the traders union want to appeal to the governor to shift the construction to January 2019 to allow them carry out Christmas sales. Others cautioned never to deter the governor but allow him deliver a modern Fruit Market now that the opportunity has come and the governor is most willing and the contractor may have been mobilised to start, to avoid future regret.
Ignatius Chukwu Favour Ichemati