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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

ANSG Announces Plan to Close Eke Awka Market Following Covid-19 Violations

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… Anambra State government plans to close Eke Awka market for a period of two weeks

 … Proposed market closure allegedly due to egregious violation of Covid-19 regulations

 … Government also claims Awka South LGA has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the state

 … Authorities say they are monitoring other markets in Anambra State for compliance

By Chudi Okoye

The Anambra State government has announced its plan to close Eke Awka market, the major market in the state capital, effective Monday, 15th June 2020. The government’s plan is to close down the market for a period of two weeks. According to the government, it was “constrained to close down Eke Awka [market] in the overriding public interest.”

In an initial statement attributed to the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, released to the press on Thursday, 11th June 2020, the government suggested that the proposed closure was due to observed neglect of laid-down coronavirus guidelines.

“This is as a result of non-compliance by the market traders and customers with Covid-19 protocols including wearing of protective face masks, provision of running water and soap for washing of hands, keeping of physical distancing etc.,” according to Professor Chukwulobelu.

The initial announcement by the government did not clearly explain if Eke Awka was the only culprit market in Anambra State, justifying the specific marking of the market. To clarify the situation, Awka Times reached out to senior officials of the government. The SSG, Professor Chukwulobelu, explained to Awka Times that the government’s decision was based on monitoring and detailed data collection results showing persistent violations of government Covid-19 guidelines.

The Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, also contacted by Awka Times, provided more details regarding the government’s plan. According to him, the decision to close Eke Awka market was made “following widespread violations of the protocols in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic…” He explained that “the violations are carried out by traders and buyers as well as suppliers in the market.”

Commissioner for Information, Mr. C. Don Adinuba

Commissioner Adinuba stated that the government had reopened markets in Anambra State on 4th May 2020, after five weeks of closure, on the expectation that “all stakeholders in the markets” would follow the specific protocols and guidelines laid down by the government to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“It is regrettable that these precautionary measures meant to protect the lives of millions of our people have flagrantly been violated habitually, especially in Awka Market. The result is the recent spike in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and even fatalities in our dear state. Awka South Local Government Area, where Eke Awka is located, has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases of all LGAs in the state.”

Although Eke Awka market is the only market scheduled for closure, the government stated that it is monitoring other markets for Covid-19 compliance. According to the initial statement from Professor Chukwulobelu,

“The government is also putting other market leaders and local government councils in the state on notice that… markets in the local government [would be] closed down if it is observed that such markets do not observe Covid-19 protocols.”

Mr. Adinuba, the information commissioner, also confirmed this position to Awka Times. According to him,

“The government is closely monitoring the level of compliance with the [laid-down] protocols in the battle against Covid-19 in other markets. Any market found to have a low compliance level will be shut down immediately and indefinitely.”

The government’s statement also indicated that effective Monday, 15th June 2020, a daily curfew would be enforced throughout Awka South local government area, starting from 8pm and lasting until to 6am. The curfew would remain in force “until further notice”, according to Professor Chukwulobelu. Other areas would also face a “similar curfew action”, the government warned, if rule compliance slackened.

The public health justification for the government’s decision seems unassailable, if, that is, the government’s allegation of egregious violations in Awka is substantiated. However, the economic implication of the proposed market closure, along with the hardship factor, will be severe, especially with the simultaneous curfew regime planned by the government. A combination of market closure and curfew will likely lead to an asphyxiation of Awka commercial economy.

Awka Times reached out to various community leaders in Awka to get their perspectives on the development, without much success.

All efforts to reach the Eke Awka market manager, Mr. Jude Agummadu, proved abortive.

Awka Times also contacted the government-recognized traditional ruler of Awka, Eze Uzu II Gibson Nwosu, currently away in the United States for his annual medical check-up. Nwosu, who had not heard of the proposed market closure, referred all questions to his traditional prime minister, Chief Benjamin Okoye, presumably in a position to contact relevant stakeholders. However, Chief Okoye was not able to provide a clear statement when contacted by Awka Times.

Similarly, all attempts to reach the government-recognized president-general of Awka Development Union, Engr. Tony Okechukwu, proved unsuccessful.

It is unclear if Awka community leaders could have worked out a more nuanced arrangement with the state government, instead of an outright market closure – similar to what obtains in other domains where markets are allowed to open for shorter time windows or on staggered days in the week.

It is also possible that Awka stakeholders could have opted for a more stringent enforcement of Covid-19 protocols during market operations, and might have prevented an outright market closure with all the economic implications.

Furthermore, Awka leaders might have been able to negotiate a far shorter period of market closure to minimize the impact of the measure on the municipal economy.

Without a response from community leaders, it is unclear what interventions, if any, they envisage.

The state government’s plan to close Eke Awka market comes in the wake of the recent Egwu Imoka festival, the major cultural event in the Awka, which the government had attempted without success to suspend. It will be recalled that on 10th May 2020, the Anambra State government had issued an order suspending Egwu Imoka, arguing that the event could not be allowed to hold due to the risk of Covid-19 contagion. The government had issued that order without community consultation, custodians and organizers of the event said in interviews with Awka Times. The Egwu Imoka event was held nonetheless, amid heavy security surveillance, without much regard for the state government’s Covid-19 protocols.

Since that Egwu Imoka event which wound up on 30th May, Anambra State has witnessed a surge in Covid-19 cases, rising from 12 to 53 cases as of 11th June, with nine related deaths, according to the state governor, Willie Obiano.

The government’s seemingly finicky decision to shutter the municipal market in Awka comes as a reaction to the surge.

ATM reporter, Stella Nzekwe, obtained the initial government release for this story

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