Criminal activities that once created fear in the heart of residents and passers-by around Pako refuse dump site along Ejigbo/Mushin road have suddenly vanished, giving way to new markets where brisk business means money. Charles Ajunwa writes
The path that leads to Pako was once a dreaded one. The terror of the night held sway. The mere mention of Pako refuse dump site instantly sends shock waves down the spines of Lagos residents familiar with the place. Some years back, the Pako refuse dump site along the ever busy Ejigbo/Mushin road was a black spot for robbery, rape and murder cases.
The dreaded Lagos hoodlums popularly known as ‘area boys’ and criminals who made the refuse dump site as their permanent abode and hideouts, capitalised on its closeness to the main road to unleash violent attacks on unsuspecting motorists and other road users. The criminals freely carried out their deadly attacks in the day and night periods unhindered. The victims who were usually workers and traders rushing back home from their places of work oftentime got dispossessed of valuables like money, mobile phones, wedding rings and other items on them.
There were instances when some of the victims were maimed, raped or even killed. Because of the mountainous topography of the refuse dump site littered with hundreds of make-shift houses built with old zincs and woods, and with its closeness to Oke-Afa canal and some adjoining streets, it was easy for the hoodlums and criminals to prey on their victims and escape into the thin air.
But the notoriety of Pako refuse dump site had since stopped. It has given way to a booming business of commercial trading. The Lagos State government working in synergy with the security agencies after months of beaming searchlights on the black spot, successfully smoked out the hoodlums and criminals from their hitherto feared and untouchable hideouts. Today, motorists and other road users passing through the Ejigbo/Mushin road no longer experience violent attacks from hoodlums and criminals. Also, the irritating smell and smoldering smoke from burnt items that once polluted the environment had all disappeared from the Pako refuse dump site.
THISDAY visit to the Pako refuse dump site recently, revealed that the place has indeed lost its notoriety. The place is now calm. Apart from the make-shift houses erected by squatters who are mainly truck pushers popularly called ‘Akole’, two big modern markets have spontaneously emerged on the old refuse dump site. They are the Oba Osolo Ram and Cattle Market and Osolo International Market. While the first deals on livestock, the second deals on scrap items such as aluminium, copper wire, iron, plastic, clothes, foams and others.
The striking thing about the latter is that all business activities take place within the squatter settlement where the truck pushers who are mainly from the North live with their families. The buyers of scrap item who are mainly from the East set up shops at the open market.
Chairman of Osolo International Market, Mr. Chidi Agba, told THISDAY that Oba of Isolo gave out the place to traders with no charges.
“This place used to be a refuse dump site. We came here to set up business to serve the community through the Oba of Isolo and we are very grateful for the love and care he has shown to us. Through this gesture we are able to fend for our families,” he said.
But Agba is worried that their only means of livelihood is being threatened on daily basis by the activities of Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) officials. Recounting their ordeal, Agba said, “Because KAI officials disturb truck pushers; we no longer make much profit from our business. LAWMA always disturb them. They seize their trucks and arrest them all the time. Many of the truck pushers left the business because of the harassment they are exposed to on daily basis.”
“This is not helping our business. We have tried our best to talk to government but they refused to listen to us. They insisted that all the truck pushers should stop operations. We are still hoping that government will change its mind and come to our rescue as livelihood is threatened here,” he pleaded.
However, Mr. Adu Muyiwa, an assistant public relations officer at LAWMA said truck pushers are banned and cannot be reversed. “The truckers are banned because of the public nuisance they constitute.”
Agba disclosed that since the state government stopped the burning of items at the old Pako refuse dump site, that he has used his position to ensure that the whole place is cleared of filth. “People no longer burn things here because they are hazardous to human health. Nobody throws away refuse here again and this place no longer smells. We have made arrangement with LAWMA to come and collect waste from here.
“You see, the mallams sleep here. The people that sleep here are over 2,000. Each make shift building has a generator that supplies power they use for items like television, fridges and other home appliances. There are relaxation areas like viewing centres and food canteens where people go to refresh. This place is our mini Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Ikeja and we do everything to ensure that it’s kept clean.”
Speaking on security within the place, Agba said since he was elected chairman there has been no case of theft within the market. He said that they liaise with the law enforcement agencies to ensure that security is tight around the area to keep away bad influences on their business. “In this place any person caught stealing, we hand the person over to the police. That is why there has been no tension among us here. They no longer steal or cause problem here again,” he said.
A plumber, Mr. Emmanuel Ogundipe, who frequents the market to buy materials for his business, confirmed that the place is now safe and secure for people to carry out business activities. He recalled with nostalgia how dangerous the dump site used to be in the past before it was converted to a market.
“This place used to be a refuse dump site then. it used to be a roughplace, but now everywhere is calm and peaceful. The ‘area boys’ used to stay here, snatched bags from people and ran into the rough terrain, but today, ‘areaboys’ have been sent away from here by the state government. You can see that the market is developing gradually.”
Mr. Abiodun Ansat, a welder, who also was in the market to buy welding material for his business, said that he is happy that the refuse dump site had been turned to good use. “You can see that the environment is very conducive to do business and I am happy to be here to do business. My appeal to government is that they should provide us toilets which are lacking here. We don’t want people defecate anywhere they like because by doing so the whole environment will be polluted.
On how he was able to strike a balance among the Hausas, Igbos and Yorubas that operate in the same business environment, Agba said “I let them understand that we are one Nigeria. Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, we cooperate very well. There is no problem amongst us. All of us know that we are one Nigeria.” He also said that they maintain good neighbourliness with all the landlords and residents living around the vicinity.
“We want them to build toilets for us because this place used to be a dump site. We also need a borehole here because this place is very deep to get clean water. Government should help to stop the foul smell from corpses deposited at the mortuary in Isolo General Hospital. It disturbs our business,” Agba stated.
According to Mr. Aliu Omolora, a furniture maker whose shop is at the centre of the market, the leadership of the market has improved the status of the new market within a very short time.
“What we need here is good road and government should come to our rescue because as ordinary Nigerians we don’t have the resources to embark on any road construction. If we have social amenities here this place will be more developed. We are in dire need of toilets.” He said.
Many believe that government can still do more for these ordinary Nigerians who work hard every day to eke a living. For example, connecting electricity to the place will help a lot especially on security matters. Today, the once notorious Pako refuse dump site has been turned to a business hub of sort through the resilience and entrepreneurship skills of these ordinary Nigerians.