In the last two weeks, at least 49 public primary and secondary schools in Chikun, Igabi, Kaduna north and Kaduna south local government areas have been converted to temporary neighbourhood markets in an effort to reduce congestion in major markets across the four LGA’s.
Major markets in the four LGA’s were temporary shut down and within the metropolis, roads leading to Ahmadu Bello Way and the Sheikh Gumi central market have been barricaded by security agents to ensure that one of the state’s largest and popular markets remains inaccessible to residents.
According to the state government, the plan is not only to discourage congestion in the major markets but to also ensure that contacts of any suspected case of Covid-19 found within neighbourhoods are easily detected, marked and isolated within the shortest time. Therefore, every Wednesdays and Saturdays – the two days when Kaduna State government relaxes the lockdown for residents to buy food stuffs and other essentials, traders line up to display their goods between 10am and 4pm at the various neighbourhood markets around the state.
The Managing Director of Kaduna Market Development and Management Company, Hafiz Mohammed Bayero, said a test-run had shown that it was easier to enforce the use of face masks and social distancing among traders and customers in the neighbourhood markets than the major markets.
The state government’s plan, our correspondent observed, is logical bearing in mind that public schools have huge sports fields where the traders could easily display their wares and maintain the appropriate social distancing. Bayero had said traders who have shops at the Central Market and others organised markets have been allowed few days to move necessary materials, stalls and goods to any of the designated neighbourhood markets close to their area of residence.
But on a visit to three of such neighbourhood markets, our correspondent gathered that traders have not readily embraced the state government’s initiative even as residents decry that the state government had not envisioned other challenges including hike in the prices of goods.
Isah Turaki used to sell tomatoes at Kaduna’s Central market before it was closed down. He said since the state government’s directive to shut down all major markets in the metropolis, he had relocated to the streets to sell his goods. Because tomato is an essential vegetable used in every home, Turaki said while on the streets, he never lacked customers but had been harassed and subjected to threats of arrest by security agents enforcing the lockdown. “At times, they look the other way when they see me while some times they threaten me and ask me to pack up my goods and leave,” he said.
However, since the new directive by government to transfer traders to neighbourhood markets, the tomatoes seller said he had found temporary succour at the market even though it comes with its own challenges. “The occasional hide and seek with security agents have now become a thing of the past, but there isn’t much patronage at the neighbourhood market,” he said.
Esther Ibrahim who had visited the Kurmin Mashi primary school for purchase lamented that the price of food items and other essential commodities at the neighbourhood market was high. Esther explained that traders give excuses of price hike from the supply chain but said she was not convinced and feels that the traders were exploiting residents knowing the neighbourhood markets were the only available options for residents at the moment.
“They know that we don’t have a choice but to buy our goods from the neighbourhood markets because all roads leading to the major markets have been blocked. Also, you don’t get a variety in the neighbourhood markets because only a few traders have agreed to come here and sell,” she said.
Now settled at the Unguwan Rimi neighbourhood market and displaying his tomatoes every Wednesday and Saturday, Turaki agrees with Esther on the disparity in price. “There is a huge difference in terms of patronage and price. The rise in price of goods at the market is a result of general price increase by producers and suppliers and also the fact that the customers at the neighbourhood markets are few,” he said.
Asmau Kadiri, the woman leader in Ungwan Rimi market, confirmed a “slight increase” in the prices of the goods at the neighbourhood market and explained that it was due to low patronage. “We need to increase the price of the commodities we sell,” she said adding that “We incur additional expenses in bringing the goods from the market to the schools. There is also a great disparity between the sales we make here and what we used to make in our stalls. There, we had regular customers with whom we have built trust for years but by coming here, the likelihood of losing those customers is high.”
On his part, Abdullahi Ahmad, who sells provision, said he does not feel comfortable at the neighbourhood market because his sales are often poor. “I knew from the onset that sales will not be much here because it’s scanty and you can only attract specific customers from within the neighbourhood. I make little and when my stock finishes, the profit I make is usually not enough to buy more goods,” he said.
However, at the Kawo neighbourhood market which was relatively more active, Fatima Nuhu told our correspondent that she sees rational in the state government’s directive and urged all traders and customers to be patient. “The market is just starting so with time it will pick up, the central market gets over crowded on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Encouraging the neighbourhood markets is the right thing to do, people do not have to travel far to get essentials especially since there is a ban on motorcycles and tricycles.”
The Kaduna Market Development and Management Company explained that the strict measures put in place by the state government such as closing down major markets were not meant to punish the citizens but to protect them. The Managing Director of KMDMC had explained that the state government had in the last six weeks lost N6bn in the form of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), adding that the government was not gaining anything by closing down the market but stressed that enforcing social distance and other protocols prescribed was for the prevention of COVID-19 spread.
Our correspondent however observed that as at Wednesday evening, the vegetable section of the Kaduna Central market was active with traders displaying their goods, in defiance of government’s directive to close down the main market.
“There are no customers at the neighbourhood markets,” said Iliyasu Kasim who sells tomatoes. He confided in Daily Trust that traders and customers still transact their business at the major markets every evening.