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Inside ‘THE COTONOU’ in Ondo

By Daniel Ebimomi

The spectacle is breathtaking. A sea of vehicles of different brands. There is virtually no brand of vehicle that you don’t find here. The vehicles range from cars to the sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and trucks. One striking feature of the sight is that there is no haphazard arrangement of vehicles.

The environment is sparkling neat and you are tempted to think you are out of Nigeria. But this is not only Nigeria but also a site along Ilesha-Owo Road in Akure, Ondo State capital. Welcome to the Akure International Auto Market. In terms of the volume of vehicles on display for sale, it compares with the Cotonou, Benin Republic Auto Market where many Nigerians find convenient to buy their vehicles.

The only difference is that whereas the Cotonou market is situated in the port, the Akure market is an ultra modern market along a busy highway, and complete with mind-boggling facilities. On one side is the banking section; you also have the police and fire stations. The site is well lit and the taps run.Toilets are everywhere and well kept. There is a spare parts section where you can buy vehicle accessories. There is a mechanics section to get people to fix faults in vehicles.

The auto mart did not just come into being. It is only a part of the urban renewal programme of the Dr. Olusegun Mimiko administration of Ondo State.

According to the Director-General of the Ondo State Direct Labour Agency, Mrs.Suara, a town planner, whose office was the brain behind the facility, the motive for building the auto market was two fold: removing the car sellers from the streets, in line with government urban renewal policy and making the plying of their trade comfortable.

She traced the genesis to the advent of the Mimiko administration when cars were sold everywhere on the streets, especially in Akure, the state capital. “The scenario was unsightly”,  the DLA boss said. Suara narrated: “We found that cars were being sold everywhere on the streets. So we sat down and looked inwardly that if you want to buy a car, you don’t just wake up and give your child money to go to the market and buy it; you plan.

“So why can’t we plan where people sell cars, especially when it will serve the interest of our urban renewal programme, and also ease the stress of the auto traders as they would now carry out their business in a conducive atmosphere while those who also want to buy will know it is the one stop place that they have to go to procure their vehicles?  “So we planned to have our first purpose built auto mart”.

Suara noted that the Cotonou auto mart is not planned. “But in our own auto mart, you see cars, well arranged in rows, offices, you see the spare parts section where you can buy the accessories, the mechanics workshop, the fire station, the police station; the banking section, the public toilets”. The DLA boss is excited that the auto mart has eradicated on-street trading of autos in Akure.

“All those cars hitherto displayed on the streets haphazardly and made our streets ugly are now within the auto mart”, she stressed.  Suara added: “Now you see people from Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Edo coming to the Akure auto market to buy cars rather than going to Lagos or Cotonou because there is no kind of cars that you don’t find there”.

The urban renewal programme of the Mimiko government does not end with the removal of the auto sellers from the streets. Traders of all sorts are also being removed from the streets to purpose-built markets across Ondo State until the last trader has been taken care of.

The markets built by the Mimiko regime are in four categories: Neighbourhood, city, regional and international. The DLA boss told the story of the Mimiko markets tagged, the Caring Heart Markets: “When this administration came on board, we found that on-street trading was predominating the communities and we wanted to ensure that the environment was beautified and attractive to investors from other places; so we decided to focus on urban renewal.

We had to rehabilitate all on-street traders. So we started by constructing markets. We took off the people along Adekunle Ajasin Road, popularly known as NEPA Road. That place before the Mimiko administration came was known for perishable goods.

“So when this administration came, we said, what can we do to take care of these people? And we saw a land that was being used as a refuse dumping site. We reclaimed the land and put it in order and we put our first Heart Caring Neighbourhood Market there. Presently, the market is about three years old and looking as new as ever, and it has accommodated all the on-street traders.

“Today, the road is free and the people are under a conducive environment. The market has 240 shops. The benchmark for the market construction was N52 million by the DLA. The project would have cost some N80million had it been contracted out. Even then, we spent N44million at the end of the day which means we further saved N8million. And we asked ourselves, why are some markets not functional?

Why are they being abandoned? Why would people leave inside the market and come to sell on the streets? So we looked at this and found that the people want to be very accessible. They want the people that want to buy to see their goods. So, professionally, we decided to introduce roads within our markets in ci rculatory manner. We ensure that all goods are accessible and that has really helped our traders.

“That was the first step we took by constructing the first neighbourhood market and that led to the DLA constructing more markets. We had Isikan Market, Afunbiowo Market, we went to Ikare and did a Regional Market; we went to Okitipupa and did another regional market, did another  in Ore and then did the international market in Igbokoda. We added Ondo International Market and Igbara-Oke Market.

“In the markets, we have facilities where people can charge their handsets, listen to the radio, we have canteens, public toilets, adequate parking spaces,  solar light 24/7, solar powered boreholes. The markets are now sustainable and functional”.

The shops are loaded but how affordable? Suara has the answer: “These shops are given to people free of charge, the traders don’t buy forms not to talk of paying for the shops, the allocation that I did in Ikare, I even went with a photographer to snap the traders passports so that I don’t put unnecessary burden on them. But in the city, to ensure the sustainability, the traders pay N25 per day for the cleaning and maintenance of the complex. That is N750 only per month for the iopen stall; for the lock up shops,it is N1,500.

“Outside the city, it is about N20. Even in the auto mart, as big as it is, it is about N35 per day per trader. So nobody can complain that the shops are not affordable. Even the people  that we give the shops to, there was the  initial  fear of not being able to pay, because they thought we were cajoling them, but the first neighbourhood market at NEPA is three years old”.

Away from markets, the Mimiko administration has also built an ultra modern motor part in Akure to consolidate the urban renewal scheme. The branch secretary of the Akure central of the NURTW, Mr. Muyiwa Ogunsuyi, described the facility as the best in this part of the world. Many users, especially the passengers, agree.

Indeed, the motor park has a waiting room that you may confuse with the ariport terminal building. Air conditioned, the waiting room has rows of seats as you have them at the airport terminal building. This is  respite for passengers who ordinarily will have to stay outside and at the mercy of the weather while waiting to board a vehicle. The waiting room has a ticketing section and offices for the NURTW officials. Suara said that whereas the motor park is the Mimiko administration’s project, it was not built by the DLA.

“In DLA, we construct directly without engaging contractors but the motor park was constructed through contract.  This administration is in a hurry to deliver the dividends of democracy. That is why the DLA came into being. We are not undermining the contractors because we have enough contracts for them. That motor park was constructed through contract”, the governor’s aide said.


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