By Habib Aruna
Ever since Lagos State Government took a bold step towards the realization of the Oshodi transformation agenda on January 5, 2016 with the demolition of the Owonifari Market within the notorious loop of Oshodi, there have been hues and cries in some quarters over the development.
While many see the development as long-overdue owing to the need to go in the way of sanity as it was unreasonable to allow a few people to continue to hold the generality of the people into ransom, some others especially the traders in the market and those agitating for them, are of a contrary opinion.
As a matter of fact some of the traders, who were not prepared to move to the alternative market provided for them by the government, which is an ultra-modern market in nearby Bolade in Oshodi, had alluded to some reasons to justify their action, which included ‘spiritual activities’ associated with the newly built Isopakodowo Market.
The traders had equally claimed that the available space in the new market could not accommodate them, while some of the traders actually said they prefer to be relocated to Arena Mall belonging to the Nigerian Army.
But while that was on-going, the State Government on Thursday came out to defend the relocation of the traders and demolition of the Owonifari Market, saying the actions were taken in the overall interest of public good, safety and security.
The government recalled that in preparing the minds of the public towards the relocation and demolition, it issued a statement where the actions were brought to the public space before they were embarked upon.
The government had, in the said statement, said it had commenced the fencing-off of the set-back on Agege Motor Road that stretches from Ilupeju end of Oshodi all the way to the PWD/Ikeja GRA end of the area. The government had further explained that the Owonifari loop would be transformed into an ultra-modern bus terminus with new bus shelters that are befitting of a structured park in a mega city.
However, not satisfied with the misrepresentation of facts and background of the relocation and demolition, the government again organized a press briefing which was jointly addressed by the State’s Ministries of Information and Strategy, The Environment, Physical Planning and Urban Development, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, and the Office of Civic Engagement, where it set the record straight.
According to Lagos State Government, the alternative market stall could conveniently accommodate over 600 shops and hundreds of kee clamps, and that government agreed to subsidize payment by giving shops at the new market at a monthly give away price of N5, 000 to the traders.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde said the traders were adequately notified before the exercise took place as required by law, and that government engaged with the leadership of the market severally before carrying out the demolition exercise on Owonifari Market.
Ayorinde said it was important for people to note that the issue of the market had been on for nothing less than ten years, adding that government had been engaging the leadership of the market to make them realize that it could no longer continue in the manner in which the market was being used.
He said unfortunately, the leadership of the market, in the last three years, refused to move despite the fact that the new market has over 600 shops apart from the kee clamps which takes the number of people that the market could conveniently accommodate to over a thousand all together.
Ayorinde said having been satisfied that government had provided a befitting alternative, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, through the Commissioner for Local Government and Community Affairs, invited the leadership of the market to the Executive Chambers and met with them on December 16, 2015, where he reiterated his plans for Oshodi and the need to move the traders to Isopakodowo which as at that time had been ready for a couple of years.
Giving a further background, the Commissioner said: “A few of them expressed certain misgivings but largely they felt that if their interest would be accommodated within the Isopakodowo Market, that they were willing and ready to move and on our part, we said that the discussion should be ongoing particularly regarding how much they would pay for each store within that market.
“After that, on Monday December 21, 2015, Governor Ambode went on a tour of that market area particularly at Isopakodowo in company with a few members of the State Exco. Again, we met with the leadership of the market where it was eventually agreed based on the proposition by the leadership that what they were willing to pay for each shop at Isopakodowo was N5, 000.
“There is nowhere in Lagos where you will agree to be paying N5, 000 per shop not to talk of the central Oshodi, but the Governor agreed with them and we said we were ready to concede after which we now formally served them with a quit notice through the office of the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development,” he said. Speaking further, Ayorinde denied allegation that many goods of the traders were destroyed in the demolition exercise, adding that such was far from the truth.
He said: “The intention of government certainly was not to destroy any goods and we did not destroy any goods because we believe that a good number of the traders, if not all, had moved because they were aware that they needed to move.
“Government, I should say, will not be blackmailed because we had done everything humanly possible and you know that the hallmark of this government has been compassion. It is a compassionate government.
“The intention was not to destroy the market or destroy properties or to make life inconvenient for them. We believe very strongly that Isopakodowo market is quite ideal; its a lot bigger store-per-store than where they had been removed now and the aim of government, as we stated earlier, is to ensure that that area of the market conforms with the type of image that we want Lagos to be, which is to return sanity to the place, to beautify the market, to construct a world class bus terminus around that place and to ensure that people who use that place on a daily basis – the commuters, traders, everybody enjoy what it means to go to a market in a mega city.
“We also believe that the exercise will largely reduce the gridlock that is associated with that area and then the criminalities that were rampant in that Oshodi. What we have done is in the interest of the generality of Lagosians,” Ayorinde said.
He added: “You will see from the reports that quite a good chunk of the traders acknowledged that they had been properly served and that they were ready to move which was why a good number of them, if not all, parked their things just before the end of last year.
“Along the line, we got intelligence report that during the holidays there were a number of criminal activities going on in the market and that the place was harbouring criminals and a number of untoward activities which of course necessitated the need to move in immediately to safeguard lives, to safeguard properties and to ensure that there was no breach of peace which was what led to the demolition.”
Ayorinde added that the demolition actually confirmed the intelligence report as a concrete bunker with arms was discovered underneath the shops.
Also speaking at the press briefing, Commissioner for the Environment, Dr. Babatunde Adejare said contrary to claims in some quarters, none of the occupants’ properties was destroyed in the demolition exercise.
He said: “On Tuesday night, we found that all the occupants have complied and moved to the new market. The only one that remained actually called us to say that he was in the East burying his late mother. For that one, we had to evacuate his properties and they are safe with us. So, nothing was destroyed in the exercise. The other shops destroyed were full of garbage so there is no iota of truth in the allegation that goods were destroyed.”
Adejare further disclosed that the relocation and demolition exercises were the first phase of the Oshodi transformation drive, adding that more adjustments would still be done to other parts of the area to make it conform to modern city-state just like anywhere in the world.
On his part, the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe, said the demolished site was not originally designed for market, adding that things went wrong along the line.
He said the fact that the previous administration could not fully actualize the transformation plan for Oshodi does not preclude the present administration from moving to do the right thing.
He assured Lagosians that the intention of the government was in the overall interest of the people, and that doing otherwise by succumbing to blackmail would not be in the interest of the generality of the people.
With the above facts and cogent reasons enumerated by the government why the demolition had to take place to secure Oshodi, which many Lagosians see as a central point to various locations, the traders would have to find other reasons why they should be allowed to remain in a place designated for other meaningful development.
For now, the government has demonstrated with this demolition its willingness to put the larger interests of the generality of the people above pecuniary interests .
- Aruna is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode