By Kelvin Obambon
No fewer than 250 petty traders at the Watt market shopping center have cried out over intimidation and extortion by agents of Calabar South Local Government Council.
Refusal by the traders to pay the sum of N750 as daily ticket and N5,000 good conduct undertaking fee led to the shut down of the shopping complex for 9 days, amid intimidation by touts recruited by the Council to enforce the lockdown.
Lamenting the development while speaking to journalists in Calabar Friday, Chairman of United Traders Association, Watt market shopping center, Mr Ike Bassey, said they were granted access to the center on Friday after each of the traders who opened for business made payment of N5,000.
Bassey, a Cross Riverian, explained that after staying home for 9 days without any other means of survival, the traders had to give in to the demands of the Council to enable them return to business and take care of their daily responsibilities.
“We are not slaves. We pay N30,000 annually for space to Calabar South Local Government Council; N500 monthly to community youth and N750 daily for ticketing”, he said.
The Chairman stated that before the increment, traders at the shopping center usually pay N450 as daily ticket, adding, “a break down of the new rate shows that
N200 is for Councillors, N200 for the community and N350 goes to the Council.”
He claimed that his life was under threat for daring to challenge the outrageous rates imposed on petty traders at the shopping center.
The Paradise News also learnt that hoodlums hired by the Council manhandled a sales girl on Friday for displaying her goods without making payment of N5,000 which is a precondition for using alotted space at the shopping center for business after the 9 days closure.
Recall that Governor Ben Ayade’s administration had initiated an executive bill abolishing all forms of taxation for low-income earners in Cross River State. This led to the establishment and subsequent inauguration of Cross River State Anti-Tax Agency in May 2020.
The Agency is to among other things ensure that commercial taxi drivers, petty traders, tricycle operators, popularly known as Keke, salons, civil servants earning below N50,000 do not pay taxes.
Describing the situation as worrisome, Mr Bassey said if steps are not taken to address the high level extortion in the market, many traders would be forced to leave the state.
It is in view of this that he appealed for the urgent interference of the state governor in the matter.