By Hilary Eke
You no longer need to remove your shoes in order to get into Ariaria International market Aba. Nor do you need to wear rain boot to pass the feeder road that leads into the market. You do not have to be afraid of hoodlums, thieves and kidnappers harassing you as you come into the business premises of Ariaria market. Those who visited Ariaria International market before January 2012 would not recognize it now if not for the geographical location of the place. A lot of things have changed. The place is transformed and wearing a new look. Soon there will be ripples of economic explosion in Abia state and in Nigeria because a new market administration has got the will to transform the Aba market into the category of international market befitting its name and the intentions of its founding fathers.
Ariaria International market is reputed to be one of the largest markets in the West Coast of Africa and is comparable to and shares the same status with the ever bustling Onitsha International market. Known for their ingenuity, artisans who dot the entire landscape of the market have been able to invent products that compare with and even surpass the quality usually touted by foreign manufacturers.
Ariaria deals on high quality industrial, household, electronics, consumer, and agro-allied products. They deal on fabrics, readymade clothes, utilities, accessories, to mention but a few. Activities in Ariaria are now so well organized that those who transact business spend less time on their visit to the market. You will find in Ariaria several banks to facilitate the entire buying and selling process. The compliance with the cashless banking policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria will baffle any curious observer.
The Ariaria international market, like a new bride adorned to meet her groom on her wedding day, is wearing a new look. Our correspondent who visited the market tells the story of a radical transformation in less than one year, brought about by the ingenuity and goodwill of a leader who has the interest of the people at heart. The market is once again bubbling with serious economic activities. The story is no longer the same old horrific story as new transformational plans have been put in place to ensure maximum output in terms of commerce, trade, investment and security. As the veteran importer would say; “Ariaria International Market is now secure, neat and always cheap.”
Of course the era of lawlessness is over and the new administration under the progressive and dynamic chairmanship of Chief Francis Ezeduru, has presented an agenda to wash the market of the debris from the murky waters of poor sanitation, ruins, torments, insecurity, illegal street trading and unfriendly environment.
The hitherto abandoned access roads leading into the market will soon be completed as there is gradual rehabilitation and construction going on. The Chairman for Special Committee for Rehabilitation and Management of Ariaria International Market and the Chairman of Ariaria International Market Traders’ Association (AIMATA), Chief Francis Ezeduru told Nigerian OrientNews the success story of the international market.
The former AIMATA, he revealed, was under Aba North Local Government but the move to rehabilitate the market came as an initiative of the Abia State government’s transformation agenda under Chief T. A. Orji. “The market has been taken over by Abia state government, so we are working under the state government. As a matter of fact there is a lot of improvement. Formerly for over 20 years nobody has opened the drainages in Ariaria international Market, nobody has worked the roads. The roads had been terribly bad, to the extent that customers found it difficult to do business in Ariaria. When I took over the mantle of leadership on the 22nd of January 2012, we opened the drainages that had not been opened in the last 20 years,” Chief Ezeduru submitted.
The truth in the Chairman’s speech was corroborated evidently by the opened drainages leading to Ukwu-Mango from the Expressway. The seven roads that were impassable have now been awarded and all of them will soon be completed. Speaking to Nigerian OrientNews, Chief Chidi Agbawo, who is a member of administration and management committee of Ariaria International market, and also the Special Assistant to the AIMATA Chairman on Planning and Strategy said there are plans on ground to reshape the popular Ariaria International Market, “we have so many plans, for instance the seven roads in the market are at stone-phase nearing asphalting. At least we have asphalted one of them, from Enyimba to ANPP road. Another one would be asphalted by next week. Gradually we will asphalt all the seven roads in Ariaria Market.”
Respondents also bore witness to the fact that the road that used to be over flooded when it rains are no longer flooded this rainy season. Nigerian OrientNews gathered that the reconstruction of roads and opening up of drainages are a huge relief for people doing business at Ariaria. One of the respondents who deals on shoe materials, Josiah Ezego confirmed that there is improvement on movement of goods and people into the market: “One road has been constructed. There are some interior ones that need to be constructed to improve movement of goods and people. So far, the movement in the market is improved, but more needs to be done. If all these roads are constructed the patronage of customers will be tremendous.”
Another respondent, a trader who rather was camera shy and pleading anonymity, revealed that funding for the roads under construction came from traders. He also mentioned other roads that require urgent attention including Umuode, Nwaibe, Omuma, Ohanko, all lead to Faulks Road one of the major entrances to the Ariaria International Market. He said, “we were levied N3000 early this year, that should be January, and later they taxed us another N3, 500 each for the construction of the roads. We made these payments to Oceanic Bank. If you look at the entrance to each shop you will see the teller posted on the door way to avoid embarrassment from the task force of this administration. We have a large population in this market, then check out how much should have been realized?” he asked.
The Special Committee Chairman said that work had already commenced on the seven roads in Ariaria. In what may seem to be using our own to improve our own, Chief Ezeduru said the fund for the reconstruction of Ariaria roads came as a result of the compliance of traders and the permission of the State Government to use funds from traders to benefit the market environment. “In fact my special thanks go to the state governor Chief T. A. Orji for allowing us to use the storage fee of 2 years, the money from infrastructure, security and sanitation to build the roads. As you can see now, some of the roads are constructed with money realized from Ariaria traders.
“Ariaria is better organized now than ever… Everybody is happy because you can enter Ariaria now, within five minutes you have transacted business. Formerly there was no way to enter Ariaria. Customers were scared of coming into Ariaria, but the roads are free now. People can now walk freely; one can now buy something and go. If there is a heavy rain, the rain cannot disturb anybody anymore,” said Chief Ezeduru.
This new facelift of an international market is a huge relief to the state and federal government because of its contribution to solving the problem of unemployment. Youth who get engaged in economic activities in Ariaria hardly have time to think of crimes. Yet the government has a role to play in provision of constant electricity. The chairman decried the poor state of electricity supply in this economically viable area of Abia State, “there is no power yet in Ariaria because of the fire outbreak that occurred last time. There is no light inside Ariaria as I am talking to you now That is why you can hear the noises and perceive the air pollution from individual generating sets. We are coming up again with a new proposal to see if PHCN can help us bring light into the market.
“Ariaria is a huge relief to the government on employment issues,” said Chief Ezeduru. “In Abia State, we are self employed. Instead of waiting for government to give us job, we people start doing business on our own. We make shoes, sow shirts, trade, build and develop all sorts of small scale industries. We engage ourselves by this means and our apprentices who are learning from us. Their problem is just electricity. If I show you where they cobble shoes, you can’t believe what you will see. The shoes are even more beautiful and more durable than foreign made shoes. The shirts we sow beat international standards. But the problem is that government has to help us by bringing power. So when we produce those things ought to be cheaper compared to foreign ones,” AIMATA Chairman reiterated.
The new task force on ground has helped to free the market of illegal structures, and hawkers constituting a menace to road users in the market. The efforts of the task force have been wonderfully appreciated. One of the leaders of the group, Eugene Echefu, who also spoke to Nigerian OrientNews, bared his mind on role of the group who has been diligent in their duty. “We help to control both human and vehicular traffic on the main road and passage ways. We ensure that things are done properly and orderly. Previously there were no available parking spaces for vehicles; hawkers turned the parking spaces into mobile shops, thereby constituting some menace to customers who would want to park their vehicles in the market. But now we have driven them off the roads into unoccupied shops, so customers can park their vehicles now in the market.
“Before this time, there were not gates into the market, but now strong Iron Gate structure has been put in place. Initially there were no walkways for traders to come into the market lines and zones because people blocked them with refuse and wares, but walkways have been created. The whole place is well planned now and we expect to do more so that customers will have free access routes into the market,” Echefu revealed.
Chief Agbanwo who told our correspondent that the international market has about 60,000 shops and more than 70,000 traders also gave the assurance that Ariaria has a comparative advantage of selling any of their quality products cheaper than elsewhere. “I will advise everybody to come to Ariaria because we are simply accommodating. Ariaria sells cheaper than elsewhere. The roads in Ariaria are now motorable. You can park in any place of your choice, buy and leave without much constraints unlike before. Cooperatively and comparatively Ariaria sells as cheap as possible. Goods are very cheap here compared to any other place in Nigeria. We are asking Nigerians and foreigners to come back to do business with us, the atmosphere is free now, they can do good business here.”
Chief Ezeduru also harped on security matters, “Ariaria is quite secure. Traders here and our businesses are secure. Chinese merchants have come here to pay their dues. If there are other foreign investors, they are very free to come to Ariaria, because security in Ariaria is quite sure.”
The sanitation of the market has also improved. “You can see that Ariaria is very neat now. We have a sanitary law being implemented now. If we find ill-disposed refuse in your shop, you pay a fine of N500.00. You can see everywhere is very neat. We have so many laws on sanitation and if you are found defaulting you pay the commensurate fine.”
Chief Agbanwo disclosed that very many business opportunities exist within the Ariaria market enclave. He opined that some people who started out with little or no money have subsequently become multi millionaires because of the great opportunities available in the market.
Coming on the heels of the much needed foreign and local direct investments to grow the Nigerian economy, the singular effort of the state government to revive the almost dead Ariaria International market is very welcome.
However the, state government and the concerned authorities must make sure that the gains already made is sustained and also improved upon and bequeathed to the next generation. Absolute care must be taken to make sure that leadership tussle and infighting which had been the bane of previous attempts to revive the market does not resurface again.