Controversy lingers over prayer ban in Anambra markets

Onitsha main market

The controversy over ban of prayers in Anambra markets seems to be unending as people have continued to express divergent views.

While some people agree with the reasons adduced for the action, others see it as challenges to God.

Recently, the Anambra State Amalgamated Traders Association (ASMATA) banned all daily and weekly prayers in markets across the state.

The association alleged that those who organised prayers in various markets were using it to extort money from traders.

The president-general of the association, Chief Ikechukwu Ekwegbalu, announced the ban in Onitsha while briefing chairmen and secretaries of various markets. He said general prayers in various markets should henceforth be held once a month and not daily, adding that it has been abused by organisers.

Bishop Ezeokafor of Awka Dioces

He said the ban became necessary following alleged extortion and conversion of the spiritual exercise into political jamborees.

“This move became very necessary because we have discovered that some overzealous ones abuse this practice by extorting money from market men and women regularly.

“Some turned the prayers into a somewhat political jamboree, and this is not healthy for the system.

“All market leaders are expected to meet with traders and unanimously agree on a suitable date and ensure that they observe the monthly prayers within a stipulated time, between 7am to 10am,” he stated.

Supporting the ban, the chairman, Rojenny Tourist Village in the state and one of the patrons of ASMATA , Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, said the daily prayers in Anambra markets constituted nuisance. He commended the leadership of ASMATA for banning the prayers in all markets in the state, saying it also created noise pollution and scared visitors away.

“It also scares visiting traders from the neighbourhood and across the country from coming to the commercial city of Onitsha in particular to buy or sell goods. And this is to the detriment of the economy of Anambra State.

“Daily prayers in markets are a fallacy. The best form of prayer is to work hard and be honest. To work is to pray. You are as good as praying when you are working tirelessly,’’ he said.

He said the time traders gave to prayers was better channeled to cleaning the market environment.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness. These traders don’t know this, that is why they spend much time in prayers and end up scaring away those willing to patronise their businesses.

“Market prayers on a daily or weekly basis are harming the economy of the state because a lot of people who normally come to Onitsha to do businesses have diverted to other places.

“If you budget two hours for a trip and end up spending five hours, won’t you be irritated and frustrated? Won’t you find an alternative? He asked.

But the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, The Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, kicked against the ban, describing prayer as the most important tool Christians need in asking and receiving favours from God, as well as keeping off evil manipulations.

He said prayer ban was unheard of in the country, especially in a state dominated by Christians.

“Banning prayers will further keep off those who believe in its efficacy towards receiving God’s abundant blessings and grace. A prayerful Christian remains powerful Christian,” he said.

Ezeokafor urged Governor Willie Obiano to take a critical look at the decision by the market leadership, with a view to reviewing it.

“I heard about the ban, but was not happy about it. It is not in our best interest. I appeal to Governor Willie to take a second look at the matter,” he added.

Also, Pastor Raymond Momah of the All Believers Assembly, Okpoko, described the ban as war between the children of God and the devil.

“The battle is on; and we will know who among us is serving the living God,” he declared.

A trader in Eke Awka, Mr. Obinna David, said the ban was in the interest of everybody as the prayers in the market were being grossly abused. According to him, the intention was no longer to win souls for Christ, but to make money for the organisers.

Another trader in Eke Awka market, who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday, said the ban on daily prayers in the market would make traders to be focused and give time to their businesses. He said there was nothing wrong in prayers, but the way they were going about it called for questions.

“Some people have turned the prayers into business ventures and were milking innocent people. Nobody is against prayers if it is for winning souls for God and not to cajole people,’’ he said.

Asked if the state government was behind the ban as speculated in some quarters, the Commissioner for Commerce, Trade and Wealth Creation, Dr. Christian Madubuko, said that rather than banning prayers in the markets, government directed that it should be regulated and organised with decorum.

Also, the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, in a recent statement,  said certain religious preachers conducting regular prayers in various markets in the state had created a culture of fear in customers.

He said the state government had observed that certain pastors were fond of ascribing every failure to spiritual wickedness and manipulation by family members and fellow traders, thereby creating enmity and fear in the minds of people.

According to him, traders also complained that preachers made fortunes at their expense.

He further said, “The Anambra State Government has understandably been supportive of spiritual activities in markets, which include regular prayer sessions. In the last few months, however, the regular collective and compulsory prayers have been a source of controversy because of frequency and duration.

“Until recently, markets were compulsorily closed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from morning till afternoon to enable traders pray for success. A good number of traders have been complaining that the closures were too frequent. They have also been complaining that the constant closures were depriving them of the opportunity to buy and sell, forcing customers from outside the state and other African countries to go to markets in neighbouring states.

“The traders also accused certain preachers of being the brain behind the incessant closures for purely private gains.

“What may not be acceptable is the frequency of the collective and compulsory prayer sessions. To close down markets three times every week for several hours on each occasion in order to force every trader to pray at the same time will rob the state of its competitive edge and drive businesses to other places.”

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