By Evelyn Usman
Pandemonium broke out Thursday at Alaba –Rago, on the Mile –Two Badagry expressway, Lagos, after commercial motorcyclists popularly called okada, took over the ever-busy road to protest the eviction letter served to occupiers of the market to quit in two weeks.
The okada riders who apparently misunderstood the visit to be enforcement of the ban on motorcycles as directed by the Lagos State Government Tuesday set fire on the expressway and dared policemen to invade their territory. The false report on the enforcement of the ban of motorbikes spread across the state, with motorcyclists in some parts, spoiling for a showdown with the Police.
Information at Vanguard’s disposal revealed that for several months there had been ongoing negotiation between the Lagos State Government and representatives of occupiers of the Alaba Rago market, over the modernization of the market.
However, a report on activities of criminals using hibernating in the market reportedly prompted the state government’s move to give occupiers of the market a deadline to vacate the place.
Eyewitnesses said immediately the teams of policemen comprising those from the Rapid Response Squad and Task Force handed the letter to a representative of the market, commercial motorcycles blocked the highway, preventing the free flow of traffic.
They were alleged to have also brandished dangerous weapons, in preparation to match the police fire-for-fire.
Vanguard learned that policemen from the Area ‘E ‘ Command and divisions under the command, visited the scene to control the situation. On sighting the policemen, the commercial motorcyclists in their number hauled stones and other dangerous objects at the policemen.
The RRS and Task Force teams who earlier came to serve the eviction letter returned to join their colleagues. The Police overpowered the rampaging commercial motorcyclists. Most of them abandoned their motorcycles and fled to avoid possible arrest when it became obvious that they had been subdued.
Several motorbikes, some of which were used to barricade the expressway were seized by the policemen.
Some traders hurriedly closed for the day for fear of any eventuality.
One of them, Mr Biodun Okenaike, who spoke with Vanguard, said: ” We had to close our shops for the day because of the gunshots. The first time the policemen came, it was peaceful. Nobody knows what happened thereafter. We welcome this development because if security agents did the needful, this area will be sanitised. Most times, when people steal, they run into the market and that will be the end of that matter.
” Although some leaders have done their best to curb the excesses of these criminals to no avail. Most of them sleep in the market and commit atrocities at night. The only regret is that if government transforms the market, the poor will not be able to own a shop here”.
Before the chaos, The Commander RRS, CSP Olayinka Egbeyemi, and his counterpart at the Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Unit (Taskforce), CSP Sola Jejeloye met the occupants of the market in clusters to inform them of the 14-day vacation order.
The Public Affairs Officer, Lagos RRS, Femi Moliki, explained that “ the emerging security reports from the area have shown that Alaba Rago has become a den of criminals. The State Government has concluded plans to modernize the place in the shortest possible time in the best interest of the residents.
“Last week’s recovery of several guns in Alaba Rago by Ojo Police Division and the revelation by drug dealers that they regularly funnel drugs through the area to several parts of the State, are the more reasons the government needs to move swiftly to modernise the area for there to be orderliness.
“The demolition of the area is in conformity with the Government’s T.H.E.M.E.S agenda on Environment and Security. Government is bothered by the shanties and the filthy conditions of the area, hence modernising it would be in the best interest of the occupiers”.
” He, therefore, beseeched the occupiers not to read ethnic and religious motives into the exercise, noting that Lagos State was a convergence point for all Nigerians, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or tribes”
On his part, CSP Shola Jejeloye noted that many meetings had been held with all major stakeholders in the past, adding that the demolition should have taken place during Ramadan. He added that “Government was sensitive to delaying it in order for those who travelled for Ramadan to be around”.the
He however informed that after the 14-day ultimatum for the residents to temporarily relocate for the cleaning up and modernisation, the team would not listen to further excuses from the occupiers”.
As at 6pm, policemen were still on standby to forestall any breakdown of law and order.