By Saby Elemba, Owerri
…as Uzodinma says action based on security intel
The burning of the popular Eke Ututu International Modern Market in Imo State has been projected to worsen hardship for traders and residents in the area whose livelihood depends on their daily earnings from sales and services in and around the market.
Shops and stalls in the market located in Orsu Ihitte-ukwa, Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State, were burnt down by a combined team of Nigerian security agencies, destroying goods worth millions of naira and bringing business activities at the popular market to a halt.
Residents of Orsu Local Government Area have been living in fear in recent times amid reports of insecurity and a heavy presence of soldiers in the area. This situation has adversely affected lives and livelihood in the area.
The burning of the market, according to some observers of developments in the state who spoke to Business A.M. on condition of anonymity, would not only worsen the existing burden on residents but could hike the rate of crimes and other social vices in the area.
But Hope Uzodinma, Imo State governor, has justified the destruction of the market, saying security agencies discovered that bandits and other criminal elements used the place as a haven for the production of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday at Government House, Owerri, the governor said security report revealed that Eke Ututu was turned into a hiding place for bandits and kidnappers who not only compelled the traders to pay taxes to them before they could open their shops for business, but also used the market to manufacture IEDs with which they operated within and outside the area.
Narrating what transpired, he said that in August, soldiers on duty around Orsu, Awo Idemili area lost an Army Major to illegal and locally manufactured explosives.
“Only last Saturday, the Joint Security Forces who arrested one of the bandits took him to where they operate from to go and visit where the local explosives are manufactured. It turned out to be at Eke Ututu market where four shops were stocked with fertilizers, ammonia sulphate and other electrical gadgets used in manufacturing explosives were packed,” Uzodinma said.
“Unfortunately, the Army Captain that led the operation to the market is now lying critically at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Federal Medical Centre Owerri as a result of attack he sustained in the operation,” he said.
The governor said it was on this basis that the soldiers were able to recover all the weapons and the fertilizers meant for the manufacture of local IEDs and in the process burnt down the shops, which is consistent with military policies.
“The good news, however, is that they were careful and so tactical that no life was lost. They were only able to destroy the shops where they met these items and came back,” he said.
Uzodimma said that “government is in a position to deal with any collateral damage that may go with the security agencies’ operations as it concerns the destruction of shops and historical significance of Eke Ututu Market, but lives lost can never be recovered”.
“When Eke Ututu is destroyed to give Imo people peace, Imo government can rebuild the market and if in the process properties and items are lost, government can work out compensation, but government has the responsibility to fight crime,” he said.
He stated that despite needless politicisation of the issue by opposition political parties, his government would stop at nothing in the fight against terrorism, banditry and kidnapping in the state and that it would be pursued to a conclusive end.
“This is not politics, it is about the security of lives and property of our people. And anybody who wants to play politics with this should be ready to face history that will judge all of us,” the governor said.
He called on all Imo indigenes – leaders, men, women, youths, both those resident in the state and those visiting – who have information that can lead to where bandits are hiding or operating within the state to avail the government of such information in the interest of all.