Of Onitsha Traders and Zik’s Holiday

By Uche Amunike

It was the public holiday of November 18, 2019. The Anambra State Government declared it a business and work free day with the essence of commemorating the memory of the late Nnamdi Azikiwe whose birthday actually fell on the 16th. I don’t know about other states, but on that day, Anambra markets were closed down after directives came from the state government. Now, for a town like Onitsha which housed the largest market in Africa not to witness any form of business activity in an entire day, it certainly meant that the government meant business. There are about five major markets in Onitsha, the Main Market, Ochanja market, Bridge Head Market, Ose Market, Relief Market, Building Materials, New Tyre, Mgbuka, etc. They were all closed and banks were not also open to customers. Now, the typical Onitsha trader does not joke with his business. Going to the shop is like a ritual for these enterprising men. Telling them to stay home was a little asking for too much. They are people that have gotten so used to being in their shops every morning that asking them to change that routine seemed like a sort of punishment. The city of Onitsha seemed really different on that day. It is indeed strange to see men sitting in their balconies on a Monday morning and discussing with family. I found it quite interesting that on that day, the Chuba Ikpeazu Stadium and environs recorded a larger crowd than it usually did on Mondays. More people went for sporting activities, apparently to kill time instead of being idly seated at home.

Earlier, my parish had a larger crowd than was ordinarily seen in the early morning Masses. Much later during the day when I decided to drive around town to see what else was different, I noticed that so many eateries, fast food joints and drinking bars were filled with people, excitedly arguing about one thing or the other. It was obvious that shop owners of eateries and point and kill joints were the happiest on that day, as their business certainly boomed. Their show cases were filled to the brim with all sorts of delicacies: fish, meat, snail, cow leg, chicken, turkey, stockfish and the likes of them. Ordinarily, such businesses mostly thrived in the evenings because their greatest customers were these business men who mostly patronized them after the close of the day’s business. However, because of the compulsory holiday, they swarmed these eateries like bees to honey and tried to give themselves a good time while killing time. I was able to talk to some of them and I found their responses quite interesting. Let me share some of them with you all. My question to these different men was simply what they thought about declaring that day a market free day?

Their responses…

Mr Theodore Okoye
I am not happy about the holiday. How can they ask us to close our shops because of Zik’s birthday? I am a business man and I have customers that come from even outside Anambra state. How can they come all the way from their states with their money and then, find out that we are not going to sell? It is not fair. Things are really hard now and somebody will sit in the comfort of his office at the government house to command us not to open our shops. That is very unnecessary and I am not happy about it, please.

Mr Onyeka Chidubem
I am not happy about the holiday today. The state can celebrate Zik’s birthday without crippling our businesses for twenty four hours. It doesn’t make sense to me. It is uncalled for. I sell my goods to customers from far and wide and many of them do not stay in Anambra, so they do not have holidays in their states. Today, I lodged two of them in a hotel so that they will not be stranded. Tomorrow, I will go and pick them and take them to the shop for the business. How much is my gain after that business if I subtract the amount I used to keep two of them in the hotel? But I don’t have a choice because they are among my biggest customers. The holiday does not concern us, please. Obiano should always remember that.

Mr Fidelis Onokwute
I did not even hear about the holiday on time because I travelled to the village for my younger brother’s wife’s burial. Only for me to return and hear that there is no market. Why? What did Azikiwe do for us as a people that I will lock my shop for him after all the expenses I did at the burial? It is a very stupid thing to do. Look at the hunger in the land and somebody is telling his fellow man to close his shop for somebody that we have no business with. Please, I’m not in the mood for this type of discussion.

Mr James Ekeneolisa
Nne, I am not happy about the holiday. I don’t know who advised our governor to take this kind of decision. How can he close a whole Main Market because he wants to celebrate birthday for Nnamdi Azikiwe? Is he not the same person that they used his name to change the University of Awka? Did they not use his name to change the international airport in Abuja? Is it not enough? People should learn to consider a lot of things when taking certain decisions, unless they are saying that we are fools, just because we are traders. I am not happy about this holiday at all because I know how much I lost today. I am not happy about this at all.

Mr Onyeka Chukwuka
As you can see, we are here in this beer parlour discussing and trying to be happy and also kill time. Obiano has no right to close our shops today. But he is the governor, so we don’t have a choice. One day of not doing business will not kill us, so there is no problem. Tomorrow, we will open our shops and life will continue. Udo di.

Mr Clifford Onyekachi
I think Nnamdi Azikiwe our brother deserves the honour given to him by our dear governor. We have been having that argument here since morning and I told my brothers here that Ndi Igbo should learn to value their own ancestors. Nnamdi Azikiwe did so much for us in those days when leaders had the interest of their people at heart. He was the first president of this country and even that one alone is enough to give him even greater honour. Hausa people value their own Ancestors and even kill for their sake. The same goes for Yoruba people. Why not us? Our people should learn to give honour to whom honour is due and I really commend our governor for this wonderful decision that he took. Just one day of closing my shop will not make me a poor man. So, I support the holiday in honour of our great brother, Azikiwe.

Mr Paul Obumneme
I am not happy about the closing of markets in this critical period that people are facing hard times. It doesn’t make sense to me. To start with, things are hard and we are still trying to recover from paying the September school fees and preparing for Christmas expenses which everybody knows how difficult it can be. Did Azikiwe start business for me? Did Obiano start business for me? I personally started my business with nothing, so nobody has the right to play with my business. Azikiwe is the name of our university here in Anambra. Azikiwe’s face is in the Nigerian currency. Is that not enough? Look at all the beer parlours, people are drinking, spending money on drinks instead of making money in their shops. Does it make sense? I just don’t like this and I hope he won’t make it an annual holiday. Let this one be a mistake, please.

Dear readers, you heard it all. Much as I understand the need for the state government to immortalize our great Statesman, Nnamdi Azikiwe, I felt the pulse of those business men. We live in really tough times and every day, people struggle to make ends meet, just so they can put food on the table for their respective families. Crippling the economy of a state like Anambra a whole day certainly didn’t sit well with 95% of these traders. Here’s hoping that the state government will find a way to do this without shutting down business activities in subsequent years. Just my submission! May the soul of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe keep resting on! Amen!!