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Space for Change, a non-governmental organisation, has asked Rochas Okorocha, Imo state governor, to halt the demolition of structures in Eke-Ukwu market, Owerri, the state capital.

In a statement by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, its executive director, the group said the governor gave the directive against a court order in favour of the traders.

Okorocha had issued an evacuation order to the traders advising them to relocate to a new site to make way for development at the market site.

But the natives were said to have resisted the order.

However, the market was demolished in the middle of the night.

A protest staged by the traders to resist the demolition went violent, leading to the deaths of three people, including a 10-year-old boy.

According to the group, Okorocha asked the traders to buy new shops at a new site.

“Spaces for Change strongly condemns the sudden invasion of the market on Saturday morning and the extreme use of force that characterised the demolition exercise, leading to loss of human lives, injury and riots in parts of the city,” the statement read.

“Ekeukwu Owerri market is also the traditional and ancestral market of the Owerri people, established long before Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

“Recently, Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha, announced plans to relocate the market to a new site, which is presently under construction.

“In radio and television announcements, the state government ordered traders to start buying up the news shops in the new site.

“Interviews with local traders reveal that the shops are prohibitive, and sold at costs they cannot afford. Not only that, the market is still under construction, lacking adequate infrastructure and the needed conducive environment for robust commercial operations.

“Since May 2015, an unceasing string of demolition exercises has raged through the State in the name of urban renewal. From Wetheral to Douglas Road, to Ikenegbu, to Aladinma, to Orji Road, to Amakohia, to Akwakuma, and many other locations, agony and massive human suffering trail these inhumane exercises.

“The majority of the demolition exercises occurred in defiance of court orders as well as pending litigation before the court of law. In September 2016, Eke-Ukwu Market traders approached the court for justice.”

The group called on the state government to stop all evictions and compensate those whose property were destroyed.

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