By ONOZURE DANIA
Peace is yet to return to Aguiyi- Ironsi International Trade Centre, a popular market in the Ladipo area of Lagos State presently being rocked by leadership tussle between the market association president, Mr Jonathan Okoli and owners of the complex, Paramo Ventures, even after repeated calls that both parties abide by the memorandum of understanding signed by them.
Rising from a closed door meeting, traders and other business operators who are still smarting over the recent closure of the market by the state government due to the lingering crisis called on both parties to abide by the M.O.U and ensure that peace reigned in the market.
Speaking with Vanguard Metro, VM, Mr Okoli, a leader of one of the warring factions and the President of the Aguiyi- Ironsi Auto-parts Traders Association, appealed to government to call a certain Commissioner of Police (name withheld) and the Chairman of Mushin Local Government Council, Mr. Babatunde Adepitan, to order for allegedly fuelling the face-off in the market.
Mr. Okoli also alleged that these individuals instigated the Lagos State Ministry of Environment to close the market for more than three months under the guise of environmental violations, adding that it took the intervention of the court and the state House of Assembly to have the market reopened, a development, he said did not go down well with the said individuals. He said since the market was reopened, traders there had been attacked and injured by thugs who usually invade the place.
Mr. Okoli also explained that the crisis has continued to rage because “these supposed owners of the market complex” are allegedly scheming to consolidate their control and take-over bid of the market from the traders who built the shops in it.
According to him: “In 2006, we had a transaction with the late C.E.O, of Paramo Development Ventures, Mr. Hassan Olajoku, who owned the complex where our market is located. He owned the land and we own some of the structures in the complex.
In fact, some of the buildings he had in the complex were later sold to some traders in the market. But since his death, his children and wife have been trying to take over the market from us forgetting that there was an agreement legalising our stay and also that 98 percent of the buildings in the complex were built by us.
“But because of the association’s tough stance against these people, they decided to dismantle it and set up their own. They started by trying to remove me as president of the market association. They raised some groups of individuals who are opposed to my style of leadership to challenge me and cause upheaval in the market, but they could not succeed because I had the support of all the traders in the market.
But the female Commissioner of Police did not relent; she used her connections in the Police Force to intimidate and harass me. I was arrested severally by different police formations and whenever I was arrested, these people would storm the market with thugs, sack the members of the association and install their own. They will also change prices of all the levies we collect in the market to achieve their aim”.
Okoli reiterated that some individuals, sponsored by one Ajibade, her sons and the local government chairman, are the ones causing the crisis in the market, adding that on May 5 last year, a move was made to cow him into handing over leadership of the market to the said Ajibade but the traders stoutly opposed the move, arguing that Ajibade was not a trader and a member of the traders association.
Okoli, added that this objection by the traders led to many of them being herded into a Black Maria, with several others severely beaten by cutlass, knives and axes-bearing thugs. He said that the task force chairman of the market, Ifeanyi Ogugwo; his younger brothers, Monday and Emeka Eze, are still receiving treatment in the hospital, though thankful to God that they were not killed during the attack.
The attacks, according to him, did not stop there. “On November 5 last year, they came and invaded the market and took away some officials of the union, more than 14 of them, including myself. The next day, they invaded the market again, destroying our union office, the building housing my shop and carted away my goods and documents because they knew that whatever they do, the police will not arrest them as a commissioner of police is backing them,” he alleged.
One of the traders at Ladipo Market, Mushin, Ofoka Nnaji, who was attacked by suspected thugs allegedly hired by a faction of the traders’ union at the market, claimed that the men who attacked him inside the market cut him on the head and other parts of his body with cutlasses, adding that “they cut off one of my fingers and took it away”.
When VM contacted Mr Adepitan for his reaction to the allegations levied against him by the traders, he simply said that Mr Okoli should be made tell what the constitution says about markets and the local government, adding that when he (Mr. Okoli) was finished with telling lies, the truth would emerge.