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We have converted the open drains to garbage dumps. When it rains, they are useless to do the work they are built to do.

By Francis Ewherido

Last week, I told you a strand of the story of my trip to the popular Ladipo Spare Parts Market in Lagos. I also told you about the heavy rain that caught up with me while I was there. By the time the rain subsided, everywhere was flooded. Floating on the flood were empty food packs, plastic bottles of water and drinks, among other debris that were earlier disposed of indiscriminately.

From Ladipo Market to Agege Motor Road, the story was the same, flood everywhere, with debris floating. On Agege Motor Road, one of the reasons for the flooding became apparent. The flood had started subsiding, leaving behind the debris. I saw one vulcaniser clearing the debris by the road side, where he plies his trade, and dumping them into the drains.

Down the road about 150 metres away, a hotel security man was doing the same thing. There lies the problem of Ladipo, Agege Motor Road and many parts of Lagos and the rest of Nigeria during the rainy season.  We have converted the open drains to garbage dumps. When it rains, they are useless to do the work they are built to do. I have asked this question many times before: where did we get this culture of open drains that breeds this irresponsible behaviour from? I have gone to a few places in the United Kingdom, our colonial masters, I never saw open drains.

The other thing that beats my imagination is why people decide to be so cruel to themselves. In Mushin and adjourning areas like Idi Araba and Itire (that is not to say middle class and highbrow Ikeja, Surulere, Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi are spared), any heavy rain brings sorrow. As my vehicle waded through the flooded roads in Mushin, some people were already baling water from their flooded houses.

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If you go into these houses, some do not have dustbins. They dump their garbage sometimes by the roadside or inside the open drain in front of their houses. Some people are quick to point fingers at government inefficiencies, but in some cases, the people are the problem. Where I live, trucks come to empty the bins every week, so we have no reasons to dispose our waste anyhow. And we pay for the service, but I know in some low income neighbourhoods, residents do not like paying for such services, so the refuse disposal there is either epileptic or non-existent. The roads and drains are basically their dumpsites.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Ladipo Market spare part dealers, I admire them for their ingenuity. You cannot take it away from them. Long before your vehicle comes to a halt, their expert eyes have surveyed it and they bring forth many of the parts and services you need. Many of us in business and marketing departments need to learn from their marketing skills: spotting business opportunities with an eagle eye wherever we find ourselves. Many of us gloss over opportunities in our environments and it is hurting our businesses and life generally.

The traders are also very persuasive. They talk you into buying parts you need (sometimes want), but not the reason why you came to the market. In those days, I used to spend at least twice the money I had budgeted, each time I went to Ladipo. But on this day, I only went with the money I had budgeted. Notwithstanding, I overspent, thanks to that plastic we carry about called debit card. But in all fairness to me, every item I purchased was needed. But give it to them, they are great salesmen. The traders are also very resilient: it is this resilience, in addition to their eagle eyes for opportunities and great salesmanship, which has made many of them runaway successes.

But before you go to Ladipo, like many other markets, carry out your little research to have an idea of the prices of the items you want to purchase. If not they will rip you off, but still leave you with the feeling that you are a great bargain hunter. One of them wanted to sell an item I bought recently for N300, albeit the fake one, for N2,000.

If I had not fallen victim to the fake, I could have parted with a lot more money, but I ended up buying the original for N500. I learnt my lesson long ago on how traders rip customers off. In year 2000, I needed to buy a generator. I contacted John (not his real name), the electrician nearby, to take me to Alaba International Market. He was nowhere to be found on the day we agreed to go to Alaba. The next day, he showed up.

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We went to Alaba International Market. After over four hours of hard bargaining, we got one for N96,000. I went home feeling very fulfilled and thankful that John had helped me to get a good bargain. That was until my brother, Emma, came from Delta and saw the generator. “Brother, bro wod’onana (Brother, how much did you buy this gen?)” He asked. I adjusted myself and proudly told him N96,000. “Awhawere (They cheated you),” he exploded. He bought the same type of generator for N63,000 in Onitsha the previous weekend.

Then everything began to fall into place. The initial date we were supposed to go to Alaba, when John did not show up, he had gone to Alaba to set me up. In anger we went to Alaba the next day to confront the seller, but his army of boys wanted to fight with us. We were badly outnumbered. I told Emma we should leave. I wanted to arrest John, but my parish priest told me to ignore him, which I reluctantly did.

He went further to tell me to pray for John, which I was even more reluctant to do. A few days later, John started selling wires and electrical parts, apparently from the money he made by defrauding me. He, with his collaborators, ripped me off, of over N30,000, which was plenty of money in year 2000. The exchange rate was about N35 to a US dollar. You do the arithmetic.

That was November. By December, John travelled home for Christmas. He never got back to Lagos. He died in an accident at Ore. Tele-density was low then, so his corpse was in the morgue for two weeks before his wife in Lagos and his people in the village knew what happened. When I heard, it was tough to ignore his betrayal of trust, but I did and prayed for the repose of his soul.

Another thing that hurt me was that my money went to waste, John’s new business packed up. I would have been consoled to see John grow to a successful electrical parts merchant, knowing that my money, albeit illegally taken, contributed to his success. The whole incident reminds me of the fickleness of life, the emptiness of trying to make it by all means and foolishness of pursing vengeance. If not well managed, our lives can easily become floating debris.

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