When Tradition Clashed with Technology 

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Peter Uzoho writes that the recent installation of Iyalojaand Babaloja at Computer Village, an ICT hub in Ikeja, Lagos, by the President-General of Association of Commodity Market Women and Men of Nigeria, almost led to an uprising by the traders who protested the intrusion of tradition in a technological hub

Just last month, traders at the popular Computer Village, an ICT hub in Ikeja, Lagos, had staged a protest against the installation of Iyaloja, a female title meaning ‘Mother of the Market’ and Babaloja, an equivalent male title, meaning ‘Father of the Market’, who is also functionally a subordinate of the Iyaloja. The duo are traditional leadership titles found in markets in South-west Nigeria.

Computer Village on the other hand is a popular Information and Communication Technology (ICT) hub in Lagos where computer hardware and software, GSM phones, allied gadgets and accessories, as well as associated maintenance services are sold and bought.

The Protest

On that fateful Tuesday, upon hearing of such planned installation by the President-General of Association of Commodity Market Women and Men of Nigeria, Mrs. Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, the traders shut their shops and went out in their numbers for the protest, chanting solidary songs. They were seen displaying placards bearing varied inscriptions such as “we are not slaves in Computer Village’, ‘we say no to oppression in Computer Village’, ‘Computer Village is a symbol of ICT in Africa, not a symbol of pepper selling’, among others.

They took their protest to various relevant authorities in the state, including the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Modashiru Obasan and the then governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.

The aggrieved traders said they did not want Iyaloja and Babaloja in the commercial centre, saying such authority was alien to them. They also argued that they already had a union called Computer and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), with functional executive members who run the affairs of the market, and a such had no need for such traditional stool in the hub.

The angry traders also stressed that Computer Village is an international ICT hub where both local and foreign nationals do their businesses, noting that the traditional concept would only localise the hub and reduce its global status.

The traders, who shut their shops and paralysed activities at the market for hours, said those who they understood were to be appointed as Iyaloja and Babaloja were never part of them as they have no shop in the market. They vowed to resist such alleged imposition by Tinubu-Ojo, adding that the said appointees in waiting had no place in computer village as leaders.

They said installing Babaloja and Iyaloja in computer village would lead to extortion and collection of illegal levies from the traders by arear boys that would be sent to the market by the leaders. They also argued that by having Iyaloja and Babaloja, strange faces and fraudsters would begin to infiltrate the currently orderly market, thus causing trouble for the traders.

One of the traders in the market, Nnamdi Ude, who deals on computer hardware said: “We don’t want Iyaloja and Babaloja here, they are of no benefit to us. They should go to those markets where they sell food items and things like that. They know what they want to achieve. Small time now we will be having strange faces in this market. The so-called Iyaloja and Babaloja will be sitting in the comfort of their rooms and be dispatching their boys to be going around the market and be collecting illegal levies from us. We are saying no to that.

“We will have more of touts in the market harassing traders and customers. And if you have to install somebody to lead a people you need to consult them, tell them the need for that. And you need to make sure that person you want to install is a member of the people you want him or her to lead and not just go somewhere and bring someone and impose him on the people. That is not fair.

“So as far as we are concerned we don’t know those guys. They don’t own shops here, they are not business people here. Of what value are they coming to add to this market? People who don’t know anything about the business we are doing here, they know nothing about ICT, how will they be able to protect our interest? We don’t need them. They said they have installed them, we are just waiting to see what they will do here”.

Another trader in the market, Deji Olawale, who sells GSM phones, acknowledged that the Iyaloja title is a tradition in Yoruba land but that it is not applicable to all markets.

While stating that Computer Village is not just a market but an international ICT centre, he said, “let’s not bring politics into this market and allow it flourish for the growth of our economy. I agree it is our tradition. I can’t resist our tradition. But how does Iyaloja exist when we already have our union and our executives here? And sometimes, technology is bigger than culture and tradition. After all who has tradition and culture helped?

“In Computer Village, we are all brothers in business and all we want is how we will take our business to the next level. Tradition cannot help us to achieve that but with technology you can easily achieve that. This is not a place for politics, so anybody that wants to do politics should look elsewhere. As far as we are concerned Babaloja and Iyaloja do not have a place here. This place does not suit them. We have highly enlightened and well-travelled people doing business here. So we are not here for ethnic and tribe-driven power tussle, we are here for business”.

Another trader in the market, Chijioke Nwosu said: “I just saw their pictures on the banner, there has not been any official briefing from our association (CAPDAN) telling us to recognise them. Whoever did the installation did it for herself and not for us. What is their primary duty as this market is concerned. We have refused to be taken back. They want to take us back by this local stool that is alien and strange to us in this hub.

“This is an international ICT hub, it is not a local market. We don’t sell pepper and onion here that will warrant someone to enthrone Iyaloja here. How will having Iyaloja affect the businessman here positively?”

Tinubu-Ojo Reacts​

Apparently worried by such protest, Tinubu-Ojo called a press conference the next day, being Wednesday, where she swiftly faulted the traders’ protest, describing it as ill-informed.

She claimed that as the leader of all commodities traders, she had the power to appoint leaders for any market, including the Computer Village. She denied imposing leaders on the traders, saying she only endorsed those chosen by stakeholders in the market.

Tinubu-Ojo equally alleged that some officials of the Computer Dealers and Allied Products Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), whose tenure she said had expired, were behind the protests. According to her, the objective of the sponsors of the protests was to perpetuate themselves in power.

Determined to stamp her authority on the issue amid the raging protest by the traders, on Thursday, a day after the press briefing, Tinubu-Ojo who is also known as the Iyaloja-General of Nigeria, went ahead and installed one Mr. Adeniyi Olasoji and Mrs. Abisola Azeez as Babaloja and Iyaloja of the market respectively.

Addressing journalists at the event, she stated that the aggrieved CAPDAN officials had visited her on issues relating to the installation of the new market leaders. She said: “I don’t have any issue with them (protesters); they have been here. They came yesterday after I addressed the press and they related their position.

“In fact, the former President of CAPDAN, Mr. AdeniyiOjikutu came this morning. We talked at length and the next thing for us is to call another meeting. I don’t have issues with them. The only thing was that they should have come here instead of carrying placards when they got the information that there was going to be installation. They should have come to have a chat with me and perhaps, we might have ironed out issues and understood each other.

“Disagreements are bound to happen. There is no way we won’t step on each other’s toes in offices, markets and so on; but the ability to manage the crisis is what matters, which is the next line of action. I have even told the Iyaloja and Babaloja I installed today that we are still going to revisit the issues with the other people at a roundtable.”

CAPDAN Briefing​

Meanwhile, in a char with this reporter, the General Secretary of CAPDAN, Mr. Jerry Mba, attributed the issue to ethnic and leadership tussle perpetrated by few persons who were not even among the traders in the market. Mba said they were only members of the OgunbiyiCommunity, which is the host of Computer Village, chosen from nowhere to come and superintend their affairs.

He said: “What has been playing out is ethnic and leadership tussle. Because our tenure is about ending, issues of not allowing one ethnic group to take over or giving them opportunity to take over the presidency of the association arose. It brought some bickering and agitation. This is the origin of the Iyaloja issues. Because of the power tussle, few group of people who are not even business operators in Computer Village muted the idea and approached the Iyaloja-General, saying our tenure has expired and we don’t want to hand over, whereas our tenure is still subsisting.

“In fact, we have a case in court; we were taken to the Federal High Court by the board of trustees. The court said all status quo should remain. So they got this idea and sold it to Iyaloja-General, which is not true. When we got to know of the plan, we took up the matter. We had to inform all authorities concerned, from the local government chairman to the police to the commissioners to the speaker to the governor. We did letters and even wrote to some associations and to intimate them on what was happening.

“Even, we organised a peaceful protest to say that Computer Village is an ICT hub. It services the West African sub-region. All the international brands of ICT products are here, foreigners are here. So Iyaloja is alien to us. You want to localise a global and international market recorgnised worldwide by the introduction of Iyaloja.

“And Iyaloja is a cultural thing. Are you bringing a sectorthat is evolving, that is growing, that is developing backwards? So we were suspicious of it because it doesn’t fit into what we are doing. We don’t sell pepper, we don’t sell tomato, we don’t sell fairly-used clothes and all that stuff here. This is an ICT market, and you know ICT drives the world now; this is a digital age.

He also said: “What is Iyaloja coming to do in a digital environment? What is she bringing on board; that has been our concern. So we are worried. Computer Village has many companies that are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, they are corporate organisations that are doing their legitimate businesses and paying their legitimate dues and levies and taxes to government.

“So are you bringing Iyaloja to start levying them again? Is she going to be involved in training our people? We organse seminars and trainings and conferences for our members from time to time; even business trainings.

“When we submitted our petitions to the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode (the then governor when the interview was conducted) and the Speaker of the House, Modashiru Obasan, they said we should go back, that they would get back to us. But suddenly, we heard that there was inauguration. Even when we got there, the woman said there was nothing she could do because the thing has been sealed.

“We are not questioning her authority. All we wanted was for her to listen to our own side and look at the rationale. You may be doing the right thing at the wrong time, at the wrong place. She said she would call us for a meeting to iron things out. So we are waiting for her”.