In this piece, Seriki Adinoyi chronicles how the Jos main market was built, its destruction by fire, and the efforts by succeeding governments to rebuild it
Once upon a time, the Jos Main Market was a behemoth of sorts. It was a precious jewel- far more than just a trading centre; it was also a tourist attraction. Visitors to the state and going through Jos town stopped by to take advantage of its beauty, its massive size, and its ubiquitous architecture.
The market was one among other reasons people visited Jos, the Plateau State capital. The other reasons were the unique cool weather, the beautiful hills and mountains that naturally created waterfalls; the Assop and Kura, among others. The beautiful vegetation and the wildlife parks and zoological gardens set Jos ahead of other cities in tourism. The market and the weather combined to make Jos arguably the most beautiful city in the country, if not in the West Africa.
The beautiful, ultra-modern Jos Market was located at the city centre.
The famous market was constructed by the first military administrator of the state following its creation in 1975, Police Commissioner Joseph Deshi Gomwalk. An indigenous Plateau leader, Gomwalk thought of some projects that will stand the test of time as well as stand the state out. Jos Main Market was one of them. The others were the massive state secretariat named after him, and the JD Gomwalk Building that houses the Nigerian Standard newspaper (a state-owned newspaper), and many Law offices and companies headquarters in Jos.
Gomwalk started constructing the market with conviction and maximum attention. The project however spanned beyond his four-year administration due to the complexity and vastness of the market. He handed the project over to the first civilian governor of the state, Chief Solomon Lar in 1979.
A huge sum of taxpayers’ funds and loans running into billions of naira went into the market project before its completion.
When the market was finally constructed even up till 2001, one could not find its type in any state of the federation. The market had a unique design that made it the most attractive tourist site in the state. People travelled from all over the country and beyond to catch a glimpse of it. The tourism impact of the market was such that the federal government counted it as one of its topmost tourism destinations.
The huge edifice had shop accommodation for at least 3,500 traders. The open space at the base of the market was meant to accommodate at least 2,000 shops. It was constructed with provision for banks, restaurants, police station, fire service station, post office, warehouses, car parks as well as office accommodation for market staff, among others.
There was never any commodity that could not be found in the market; whatever could be sold in a market was found in the Jos Main Market.
But alas! One day, the beautiful structure and all it played host to were reduced to mere rubble in February 2002. No thanks to a mysterious fire outbreak. The market that served as a pride of Plateau and the nation went up in flames.
It happened all of a sudden; no one was prepared for it, government and private organisations including banks that were accommodated in the structure were caught unawares. It took the state fire service two days of hectic battle to put off the fire.
When the fire finally retreated, the market became a history; the pride of the nation had fizzled into the thin air; the nation’s most beautiful market was gone. The edifice that the state laboured for many years to put together had become ashes.
The market, which served for about 16 years plus became ruined when it had not given back to the state the cost of its construction. The state was still indebted to the banks it obtained loans from to acquire the structure.
The cause of the fire disaster remains a mystery till date; while some blamed it on the aftermath of the crisis that wreaked the city the previous year in which hundreds of lives and some millions of naira worth of properties were lost, others saw it as mere accident. Nigerians who either knew or have heard about the market mourned its demise.
Traders were sent out of business, thousands of staff were out of work, and the state economy and tourism were brought down to their knees. The total loss recorded in the disaster could not be quantified. A commission of inquiry was set up by the then Joshua Dariye administration to unravel the causes of the inferno. The report of the commission was never to be seen.
Knowing how the market had given the state national and global prominence, it was expected that the state government will move quickly to reconstruct the market considering its huge economic potential to the state. Succeeding state administrations made promises of reconstructing the market, but 15 years after, no stone has been laid upon another; mere promises.
Traders have lamented endlessly. They had to resort to trading around the burnt structure undermining the risk, and as trading activities increased the people uncontrollably took over the roads. Efforts by government to control the traders failed because there was just nowhere to go.
But rather than rebuilding the burnt edifice, former Governor Jonah Jang attempted to relocate the traders to satellite markets on the outskirts of the city; the Rukuba, Katako, Dadinkowa, Bukuru, and Faringada satellite markets. But the adamant traders wouldn’t go; only skeletal services were rendered by the markets. They would rather build clusters of makeshift shops around the rubble of the burnt market.
Jang even made a proposal to demolish the remnant of the market, evacuate it and replace it with a shopping mall of modern and international standard. He was of the opinion that a market should be decentralised. But it all ended at proposal level.
A visit to the market site in Terminus Jos shows the clusters of shops erected by traders at the foot of the ruined market. Other traders who do not erect any structure take on the streets to display their wares for sale. So much so that vehicles contest usage of the roads with traders’ wares.
Today, 70 per cent of buying and selling take place in Terminus within the vicinity of the main market. The market that was a tourist delight in Jos is now a source of nightmare to government as activities around the ruined market site now constitute an abuse of the state tourism potential. The skeleton of the burnt market stands tall and its stores serve as bunks that provide accommodation for all manner of criminals in the city; drug addicts, robbers, rapists, among others.
Obviously worried by the eyesore the ruined market has created in the very centre of the city, the current governor of the state, Mr. Simon Lalong, last year came up with renewed vigour to get back the market through public private partnership (PPP). Though slow, the effort had been commendable.
The state government in August 2016 signed a N230 million worth Memorandum of Understanding with a UK-based company; the Roughton International London Limited in collaboration with Cynergy Associates consortium to commence the first phase of redevelopment and enhancement of the burnt market.
State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mr. Ezekiel Daju who signed the MoU on behalf of the state government, said the market remains a critical project to the development of the state and its economy, urging the company to use the project to attract investors to the state.
Chairman of the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) which comprises the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Jos Main Market Authorities and Plateau Investment and Property Company (PIPC), Nde Ezekiel Gomos, said a transparent bidding process had earlier taken place in which Roughton International emerged first.
Gomos commended Lalong for his determination to re-build the famous market which he described as a onetime economic hub for not only the state but the country and West Africa.
While speaking on the MoU, Country Director, Roughton International, Engr. Joseph Ikechukwu, assured the state government that the company would carry out the exercise with diligence and meet the 12-month target stipulated in the MoU.
But rather than encouraging Lalong for attempting to do what many of his predecessors could not, his critics had taken on him, especially in the area of the huge some of N230 million “spent for doing absolutely nothing.”
The opposition said Lalong was only hiding under the reconstruction of the market to allegedly siphon state resources, querying how consultancy fee for the proposed rebuilding of a market alone could cost as high as N230 million.
Observing that one year after the gimmicks of signing the MoU, nothing has been done, they warned that, “Those who have identified the burnt Jos Main Market as a conduit to siphon scarce resources needed to salvage citizens from untold hardship, have a lot of buying to do, so the right questions may be kept from the people.”
But unperturbed Lalolng has refused to be distracted as the state government through its Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently advertised in some dailies for expression of interest from firms and consortia to design, build, operate, maintain and finance the redevelopment and enhancement of the market under Public Private Partnership (PPP).
In the advertisement, the state government observed that, “Jos Main Market was a thriving centre for trading activities as well as a source of public revenue for the state located in the heart of the city. It comprised 7.427 space estimated to accommodate a minimum of 3,500 indoor shops and a further 2,000 shops in the market open space, with further provisions for market administration offices, banks, restaurants, police station, fire service station, post office, warehouses and car parks.
“However, following a fire incident in February 2002, the market building was demolished. Since then the market has been officially closed for trade, leading to the loss of revenue and livelihoods with the sprawling of unregulated trade around the site under hazardous conditions.”
It added that the state intends to redevelop and enhance the market by entering into a PPP arrangement with competent and reputable developers. The developer must possess the necessary financial and technical competence to design, finance, operate and manage the redevelopment and enhancement of the market, the statement added, urging all bidders to make submissions on or before 11:00am on Monday 15th January 2018.
This laudable step by the governor to venture into what his predecessors could not do has won him many accolades, especially from the traders that directly suffer the pains of the destroyed market.
Alhaji Aminu Dabo, who trades on rice in wholesale in a makeshift shop around the market described the governor’s effort as commendable one, adding that his late father was occupying one of the shops before the market got burnt. He was sure that when the market is completed he won’t hesitate to apply for one or two shops.
Hajiya Afolabi, another business woman in the market simply dismissed the governor’s effort. She said successive governments had promised heaven on earth for the market, but absolutely nothing happened before the end of their tenures, and wondered if the current attempt won’t go the same way.
But Mrs. Margaret Aku, on her part believed that it was just a ploy by government to siphon the state’s resources and use it to campaign for a second term. She queried that two and half years have gone and nothing was on ground, “is it in the remaining one year that will be dominated by electioneering exercise that Lalong will have attention for the work. And how is he sure he will be re-elected for a second term; if he is not, the next government may come and abandon the project for another.”
Definitely, the project is dear to the heart of Plateau Government and people. If Lalong’s efforts yield positive results in the end, he would have succeeded in printing an indelible legacy in the minds of the people as the governor that broke the jinx to rebuild the market that all others could not.
His effort will boost the economy tremendously and create new jobs for the people; banks and warehouses will return to the market, car parks and other activities will thrive, and business and tourism activities will return.
Importantly, criminals that are harboured by the market will all be displaced and the city centre where the market is located will become safe.
The onus is now on Lalong to prove himself to the people that his effort to re-build the market is not just one of those political gimmicks by refusing to be distracted and doggedly carrying on with the work. When completed, his name will be written in gold.