Cattle traders of northern extraction are facing threats over an eviction notice issued to them by the Abia state government to vacate the Lokpanta Cattle Market located at Umuchieze area of Ummuneochi LGA of the state.
The traders alleged that the since the 14-day eviction notice was given to them by the Alex Otti administration, suspected agents of the state government had raided the market and destroyed their houses and shops.
Buba Abdullahi Kedemure, one of the market’s leaders who led a delegation of other traders to a meeting with a civil society group, Northern Consensus Movement (NCM), revealed this in an interview with journalists in Kaduna state.
‘Women sleep in schools‘
According to BBC Hausa, Mr Kedemure lamented that “our people are living in fear of their lives”.
“Our women and children are living in schools because our homes and shops have been demolished. We are calling on our leaders in the north to intervene,” he said.
“Nigeria is one country, where anybody has the right to reside and conduct their legitimate businesses anywhere. And since we want to peacefully do our business, we should not be harassed.
“Some of us were born in Southern Nigerian states. There are those that even their parents were born there”.
‘Tinubu must intervene’
On its part, NCM called on the federal government and leaders from Northern Nigeria to intervene in order prevent the issue from snowballing into a major ethno-religious crisis.
Auwal Abdullahi Aliyu, the leader of the group, who described the situation as unacceptable, called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to protect northerners, especially those living in South Eastern states.
“We want all security agencies involved to come and resolve this situation because when our people in the South are attacked, there is a high risk of reprisal attacks against Southerners in the North,” he said.
Mr Aliyu added that as northerners, who are known to be law-abiding and tolerant people, they will follow all lawful channels to address the problem.
“We will meet with the chairman of the Northern Governor’s Forum and Gombe state governor Inuwa Yahaya, as well as the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar on this issue.
“We will also formally inform top security officials about what is happening and the need to draw the attention of Southern governors to a situation that we view as a ploy to cause problems in the North,” he said.
Den of criminality
But responding to the allegations, the Abia state government denied attempting to evict northerners from the state, explaining that its actions were targeted at protecting its indigenous population.
The government alleged that the Lokpanta Cattle Market has become an epicenter of crime, where ransom payments are taken to criminals to secure freedom of kidnapped victims.
It added that this was the primary reason for its resolve to relocate the market.
In a news conference on Tuesday,a Special Adviser to Governor Alex Otti, McDonald Uba explained that following a raid on the cattle market three weeks ago, shanty brothels with about 160 rooms were found and destroyed while millions of naira, suspected to be proceeds of crime were recovered.
““Arrests were made while investigations are ongoing. We have penciled the market to be a daily market just like any other market in the state. You cannot attract development in a place where kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of insecurity thrive,” Mr Uba said.
“The cattle market has transformed from a harmless buying and selling of cattle into a den of rogues, criminals and kidnappers”.
‘Host community hostile to us’
However, the traders vehemently rejected the allegation of committing crimes in the market.
They argued that they have been facing threats for a long-time due to strained relationship between northerners and the indigenous population, especially with the activities of the members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a terrorist organization.
In recent times, northern traders at the Lokpanta Cattle Market have had to suspend business following alleged attacks on them, which they said, had led to the destruction of their properties and sources of livelihoods.