Illegal levies top list as female entrepreneurs present ‘charter of demands’ to Gov Wike

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– Govt pledges to intervene in market violence on traders

Women entrepreneurs and traders in Rivers State, backed by powerful activist organizations, have presented a ‘charter of demands’ to the Rivers State government topped by demand for abolition of multiple or illegal levies as well as violence by touts trying to extort levies.

The state government has however pledged to move into the markets to stop the touts from further breaking the bones of female traders and causing tears. Government also pledged to hurry the state’s lawmakers to pass the ‘Harmonised Tax Bill of 2017’ pending on the floor of the House of Assembly.

The charter which was read by the national president of the NECA Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NNEW), Modupe Oyekunle, supported by the Rivers State president, Temitayo Ojesanmi, and other top leaders, urged the state government to streamline fees payable by traders in the markets and make it clear who should collect them to avoid bands of boys invading the markets.

Groups that helped to train the women traders and female entrepreneurs under the auspices of the NNEW include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Partnership Initiative for Niger Delta (PIND).

The charter came at the end of a one-day summit by NNEW with support from USAID and PIND at the City Hall in Port Harcourt on “Promoting a Business Enabling Environment (BEE).

Various women trade groups told tales of woes in various Port Harcourt markets and how young men throw traders wares into gutters and channels, and how they beat up women and sometimes strip them. USAID said it has video evidence of testimonies of violence against female traders.

Traders said the case of Oil Mill Market was special with touts invading the markets dishing out evil and wickedness on traders. Some activists said they have been made to pay the levies for maltreated traders or even paid for destroyed goods to save the women from endless wailing. The government representative however said most of those terrorizing traders at Oil Mill Market were non-indigenes.

Now, a team of female lawyers have been put together to defend female entrepreneurs under siege. The lawyers are led by Cordelia U. Eke, the Rivers State chairperson of the of the Association of African Women Lawyer.

In a lecture, Eke said women traders must be consulted by the authorities before imposing levies to know whether or not the women could afford the payments. She said the right persons to collect the levies and the methods of payment must be made clear to the female traders instead of being quick to attack defaulters.

She joined in the demand for the passing of the harmonized bill to facility ease of doing business in Rivers State. Eke lamented the failure of the state government to domesticate law on Violence Against Women.

She pointed areas women must pay attention to including allocation of stalls, appropriate fees and ensuring they would not be cancelled whenever new government comes in. She insisted on laws on such things to protect people when new administrations come in.

The Special Adviser to Governor Nyesom Wike on Civil Society Relations, B.C.N Thom-Otuya, assured of immediate government intervention in Oil Mill Market and Rumuokoro Market where complaints were loudest. He said the government would meet the Mobile Police commanders and the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) on complaints that Mopol men carry items and throw into the cabal.

He also promised faster action on harmonized taxes bill in the Rivers State House of Assembly, but appealed to the female traders to comply with government regulations on street trading and other matters.

Carmelita Agborubere from the Ministry of Women Affairs said women also carry out violent acts against fellow women, urging them to always stand united and fight together. She said the state government gave out shops but that most women prefer to sell on the roads, thereby attracting inhuman treatment.

As solution, she wants markets to be structured so that people would know where to go and buy every item in any market in the state capital.