Suleja, the mother city that gave rise to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, continues to hold the mantle of its commercial hub of Niger State as well as other parts of the neighboring states of Kogi, Nasarawa and Kaduna. Many traders head daily to the urban markets, mostly located in the city center, to conduct their transactions in various items.
This development has brought wealth to the community with people renting out their properties or developing them from their clients on an agreement basis. It has also contributed to the employment of the abundant youth, in addition to generating revenue for the local government. However, there has been an outcry from merchants in the city in recent years who have complained that their businesses are losing a lot of patronage due to the activities of some bandits as well as various government special forces.
Traders said some identified officials as well as thugs would block roads, especially those leading from the Ibrahim Badamasi Bababngida (IBB) market, and demand from private vehicle owners who come to the market to do business. Car owners are also forced to buy stickers.
Pascal Okoli, a trader at the market, said some of the employees were working with Suleja’s advice, while others were working illegally.
“They chased a driver on their bike and forced him to stop. There are also numerous checkpoints installed around three roads that lead to Madala town, Kaduna Road or Maje along the Suleja-Mina road manned by such a task force. They kept the owner of the vehicle on the road demanding a huge amount of money and until the person paid that money he would never come back to that market again.
They would keep a vehicle owner demanding one thing or another for a long time and if the vehicle owner eventually decided to pay the tax, he would lose interest in coming back to that market any more.
“We used to have customers filling our shops, traders came from Lokoja to Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna and FCT, but you can see it for yourself; now they are nowhere to be found; everywhere is simply empty; there is no customer.
Ayuba Abdurashid, also a market trader, said it is no longer easy for market traders to transport goods they bought from places like Lagos, Aba or Onitsha to Suleja. “We are facing problems in bringing goods into Suleja market due to the activities of the task force or whatever revenue agent you have around the roads connecting to Suleja city.
“When we travel to Lagos, Aba or Onitsha, we find it difficult to find a driver to transport our goods back here. Drivers are more prepared to transport our goods to Zuba town in FCT or to Kaduna Road on the outskirts of Suleja town. This is simply due to the harassment they go through from the task force. Any driver who accepts to take our goods to Suleja will pass the burden of task force charges on us by demanding a high rate because of the harassment or numerous revenue charges he goes through here.
“Any driver who refuses to pay the fees will have their number plate removed. Sometimes they damaged something on the car or took something away. You can see that there are no visitors around, contrary to what we have received in the past. Everywhere is scarce; no business is functioning well,” he added.
Another trader interviewed, Salisu Abdullahi, said there were various tax officials, including thugs, working mostly under Suleja council.
“They extort visiting traders or persons who come with their vehicles from outside Suleja town to transact business with us. There is no officially provided parking space around the IBB Market as every space is sold out to the traders by the same local shop development board.
“But the task force was removing a visitor’s car number plate because of a charge of improper parking. Others would ask the visitor about the registration sticker on their vehicle, even though they don’t live in that area.”
Also speaking, the Chairman of Suleja Traders Association, Alhaji Yakubu Yusuf Bagobiri, said that as a result of the development, some traders have migrated to other areas such as Mararaba in Nasarawa State. “We see the visitors as a blessing for us and also for Suleja. We are always glad to see that the city is filled with visitors every day and not sparse as we are witnessing now.
“But you don’t expect to see visitors coming if they are being harassed and forced to pay unnecessary fees.
“This has caused a number of our traders to migrate to areas like Mararaba in Nasarawa State. And the most unfortunate aspect of this is that most of these so called officials are simply working illegally as they are not working on behalf of the government but for themselves.
“This development started long before the withdrawal of the oil subsidy,” Bagobiri added.
He said the Suleja council must do whatever it takes to save the situation from worsening before it is too late.
A trader, Christian Ayez, simply described some of the task force’s employees as bullies who he said could not clearly introduce themselves to people or indicate where their office was located.
“These hoodlums would stop a visitor on the road and extort money from them without giving any reason,” Ajeze added.
Everyday trust also learned that other factors scare off visiting traders, especially women, which include theft of bags and mobile phones. Some traders who spoke on the matter said the authorities should rather target such youths whose bases are well known.
Efforts to get the response of Suleja council chairman Malam Ishiyaku Bawa Naibi were unsuccessful as he was said to have been absent from the venue when Everyday trust visited his office on Wednesday and later on Thursday.
On his part, the Director General (DG) of the Niger State Transport Management Agency (NISTMA), Muhammad Auwal Datijo, refused to respond to the allegation specifically leveled against the agency.
The council promises to make Suleja business friendly
The Suleja District Council has vowed to transform the area into a business-friendly environment.
Responding to the allegations, the chairman of the council, Isiyaku Bawa Naibi, who spoke through his chief press secretary, Haruna Garba Kaninko, said the chairman held a meeting with all stakeholders, including traders, members of the transport union as well as officials of the State Road Management Agency. Niger Transport, NISTMA, where the matter was discussed.
“The officials of NISTMA who are responsible for blocking the road and hazing have been cautioned by the chairman asking them to exercise professionalism and also be vigilant and careful in their conduct.
Kaninko said the chairman also promised to liaise with the agency’s headquarters to ensure that the activities of its officers are convenient for the people.
He also distanced the local government from the activities of any thugs, adding that the council does not have any task force.
“However, following the report, a new committee was set up with the mandate to go round and stop all those who collect one or the other toll from motorcyclists and tricycle riders.
The Commandant of the Niger State Transport Management Agency NISTMA, Muhammad Auwal Datijo, said the agency has reduced the number of checkpoints spread across the Suleja zone. Personal liberty is a fundamental right guaranteed to every Nigerian citizen by the 1999 Constitution. This right applies to both civil servants and ordinary citizens. It applies even to accused persons, regardless of the alleged offence, as any restrictions on the personal liberty of accused persons may also be by law. The right to personal liberty requires that the arrest and detention of any person be in accordance with the law.