The demolition is wrong, argues Ayodele Okunfolami
Christmas wasn’t merry for owners of shops and traders at 23 road Market. Before the dawn of Saturday, December 12, 2020, bulldozers were already bringing down structures in that market to the ground. Unaware of the development, traders scurried to secure their wares only to be scared off the scene by policemen shooting into the air affirming the suspicions that it was a state-backed move.
Enquiries from some Amuwo Odofin Local Government officials on reasons why the market was felled saw them stammering from the market being a store of weapons to a den of hoodlums and prostitution. When further probes exposed the dim-witted explanations their combined IQs could produce, they resorted to the usual get-out-of-jail “it was orders from above” detaching themselves as usual from an invisible government they are supposed to be part of. They now iced their sour cake with “an ultramodern market” would be built in its place.
Now there are two main markets in Festac. The status of the first, Agboju (2nd Gate) Market has been in contention since Festac’s existence. However, because the market is not in the original plan for Festac, 23 road Market was constructed by the government. Unfortunately, being a major bus stop that connects Agboju suburb, the market forces that brought Agboju Market into existence, still prevails. When one now adds the competition for market spaces because of an exploding population, Agboju Market has survived all attempts by the authorities to have it relocated.
So while traders at Agboju Market trade with uncertainty of where next to pitch their tents, 23 road Market, which has now been flattened, was supposed to be the legally government approved market. In order words, the government chose to leave the ‘illegitimate’ Agboju Market and bulldozed the legal market. The government now wonders why nobody takes their COVID-19, environmental and traffic laws serious because they have in more ways than one proven it is better to be wrong.
First, it is a failure of government that illegal structures stand for long from foundation to decking to habitation with authorities turning a blind eye only lamely and occasionally “X” it with red paint. Secondly, they immorally continued collecting taxes and levies in the name of revenue from those traders without hinting them formally that their stalls would be brought down soon.
By the way, what is this culture of demolishing structures, that more often than not are reasons, that are not in tandem with the personal temperament of the executives? The other day, I watched as one of the South-South governors dressed in military fatigue was taunting that any house found to be granting sanctuary to kidnappers and other criminals in his state would be demolished. That is how his colleagues who have no history of making decent profit from real estate bring down what they term shrines, baby factories or other criminal abodes. Even if those buildings are crime quarters, is bringing them down justified? Are there no better economic and legitimate ways to fight the vice and bring the criminals to book?
That is why the archaic Land Use Act that puts undue ownership of land in the hands of governors should be repealed. Today, practically every recreational park, green zone, tourist attractions and other ecosystems have all been sold to private hands turning our cities to concrete jungles. And if any part of Nigeria has suffered this reckless sale and conversion of hallowed spaces, it is Festac.
Besides suffocating the livelihoods of hundreds that do business there and throwing the thousands more that depend on them into poverty, Festac now has been turned into an urban mess. Left with no choice, traders now erect their tents on pedestrian walkways. From sale of cars to fabrics to household items to children wares to barbeques to hair dressing, everything is on the pavements. This has killed the beauty of Festac and makes motoring view difficult and strolling unpleasurable. And this is not just a Festac phenomenon, go to Oyingbo and see the clutter the “’ultramodern terminal” has turned that place into.
Another thing that those responsible for bringing down the market need to explain is how they didn’t see the potholes along the stretch of that same 23 road and practically every other road in Festac. Whichever way they brought in their excavators, the roads are bad and almost in disuse. If they entered through 3rd gate, 7th avenue is no more motorable. When exiting, traffic builds up because of the deep potholes at the junction that connects 2nd avenue and 1st avenue. Somehow, it is only the demolition of lockup shops at 23 road Market without any ounce of compassion that requires swift attention whereas 11 road and other petty repairs they claim they are working on is in race with Lagos-Badagry Expressway on which will finish last.
Lagosians have seen enough ultramodern structures and are in no way impressed. “Ultramodern” is just another way of rewarding some oligarchs by seizing what is supposed to be a collective patrimony. The ultramodern Tejuosho market is yet to be optimized because it has been prized beyond the reach of traders and that is very likely to repeat itself in Festac.
Another question to ask is why it is only ultramodern markets, ultramodern stadiums, ultramodern terminals, ultramodern airports, ultramodern this-or-thats that our leaders keep ticking as dividends of democracy? When will they start building ultramodern schools with matching ultramodern libraries and science laboratories? When will governance be benchmarked by ultramodern hospitals with proportionate ultramodern equipment and surgical theatres? It is ultramodern citizens that would build ultramodern cities.
How will Nigeria attract foreign investments when the businesses of locals are insecure because of rash government actions like the demolition of that market?
Many things bedevil Lagos markets. From siting to structure to security to safety to sanitation to space as the frequent fire outbreaks in markets have shown but flattening them only compounds the problem. What the government should be looking at is proper town planning that situates our markets appropriately, ensuring there are security and firefighting posts; fixing the infrastructural deficits that sees almost all our markets without toilets and running water; and regular environmental inspections to guarantee hygiene and quality of products.
Also, the price of owning shops, like every other property in Lagos, is stratospherically high. Moving forward, cheap but durable materials should be used to build modest markets instead of turning all our markets into Western-styled malls. Then if Trader Moni, Market Moni and other cash transfer schemes could reach traders, there should be a mortgage plan for traders to be able to own ordinary and cheap stalls.
So what happens to those that have suddenly lost their shops soullessly? We are most likely to hear that they would be compensated. However, such monetary recompenses not only come with several unassailable hurdles for the supposed beneficiaries but they just veiled corruption subheadings.
What I advise is that Lagos State Government should look more institutionally about markets and the merchants. Just as drivers are licensed, traders too should not only have permits to sell but licensed to sell their proposed products at approved locations. More importantly, traders and markets in general should all be insured so that when unforeseen circumstances like the market destruction or market inferno occurs, it would be the insurance companies and lawyers that will settle it and not government taking out unbudgeted funds to compensate.
Okunfolami wrote from Festac, Lagos