Embattled traders at the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex (LITFC), along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway have criticised the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, over his silence on their frequent harassments in the complex which they said was legally negotiated with the federal government through his ministry.
The traders who spoke to THISDAY at the weekend, said if the minister had made a definite pronouncements about the exact situations on the complex, such as the existing lease agreements with various market associations, the incursion by “out siders,” who are asking for concession of the complex would not arise.
They said, while they are not against the federal government concessioning the facility, it should not include those areas which are presently covered under the lease agreement lasting 49 years and renewable for another 50 years, which they had reached with federal government through the Lagos International Trade Fair Management Board (LTFMB).
The traders recently staged a peaceful protest over alleged plans to concession the complex, including their own part, to an unnamed Lagos politician.
But during the week, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) doused the situation when it declared that the federal government does not intend to sell the LITFC, but would rather concession the facility through a competitive transaction process.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Bureau stated that the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), does not intend to sell the complex, rather the facility would be concessioned through a competitive transaction process.
“It’s for this reason that the government has procured the services of Messrs Feedback Infrastructure Services to advise on the way forward for the proposed concession.
“It is apt to inform the public that the Bureau on Friday, March 1, 2019, met with the entire traders’ associations to explain the essence of the planned concession,” a statement issued by BPE’s Head, Public Communication, Amina Tukur Othman, had stated.
But the President of the Machinery Dealers’ Association (ASPMDA), Chief Daniel Oforkansi, said the protest became expedient to draw “global and national attention,” to what he called “surreptitious moves” aimed at giving out the complex through re-concession, allegedly being spearheaded by Enelamah.
“The matter is already in court. We have sued BPE, NPC and the management board. This is a repeat of the last failed concession arrangement by the federal government.
“Recently, the representatives of the government invited us to a meeting, at a Lagos hotel, telling us that the train has left the station since and whether or not we like it, the complex will be concessioned. They said we should get on board or be left behind.
“But we are saying such action cannot be possible. We put our investments to develop the complex and we are not going to give it up to any concessionaires. We will appreciate it if the minister himself could see the investment and of over 120,000 traders earning their living from here.
“We would do everything we can to protect this place. If government is interested in concessioning, it can concession its motel and other free land at the complex,” Oforkansi said.
The pioneer President of ASPAMDA, Chief Charles Okeke, said the traders were into a two-type lease agreement with government, totalling 99 years.
According to him, the first phase of 50 years had been completed and the second phase of 49 years of lease is currently on. He urged the minister to visit the complex to see things for himself, just like his predecessors did.
“This place was a swamp and unoccupied when we came. We were running away from frequent harassments on the Idumota and Balogun on Lagos Island. We had to meet with the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry to lease this place to us and that lease still exists, ” Okeke said.
He said the land was empty and “we had to borrow money ( N600 million, then) from the banks to develop the place and we are still paying the loans.”.
Therefore, according to former ASPANDA leader, it was uncharitable for anybody to come to the complex to begin to talk of concession of place that is already under lease lasting 50 years and subject to renewal for another 50 years.
“It is not fair at all; that is the reason we want the minister to come here and see things for himself,” he said.
Also, the current chairman Chief Oforkansi , who said the place is under lease agreements and urged the Federal Government to respect the lease agreement it had with the traders.
His Balogun Business Association (BBA) counterpart, Chief Tony Obih told THISDAY that, “we do not have any problem with the Lagos State, but with the federal government.
“While we are not contesting their right to concession the complex, we want them to respect the lease agreement they had with the 13 market units in the complex.”
Obih, said the associations have a case standing in the court.
The LITFC currently hosts many major markets which include ASPAMDA, BBA Mandilas, Article, African Tyre Village and others, even as it also serves as home to some companies and banks. It is also believed to be the biggest in Africa with people coming to purchase goods from different parts of the continent.
The ASPANDA section was inaugurated by President Olusegun Obasenjo during his first-term in office, while BBA was inaugurated by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.