…Contractor says, ‘they had 18 months to relocate’
Traders at the popular Ile-Epo Foodstuff Market in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State are counting their losses after the market was demolished for reconstruction by the state government.
Though the traders were reportedly served an 18-month notice before the demolition, the April 25 exercise still remains a day of torment for many of the traders.
Even now, some are yet to come to terms with the early-morning exercise. They described it as insensitivity on the part of government and other partners behind the project.
Daily Sun gathered that, as early as 6am, bulldozers were already at work, pulling down structures. There was commotion across the market. The traders ran as fast as they could to save their goods from being destroyed by the bulldozers that spared no shop.
Some owners of the shops who lived far from the market dashed down to the scene to secure their goods, not only from the mercy of the bulldozers but also from hooligans and miscreants who were loitering within the market to feast on the situation. Unfortunately, some traders were unlucky, as they could not evacuate all their goods quickly enough.
When the reporter visited the scene on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway by 11am on the said day, hundreds of shops had been completely brought down. Goods, especially foodstuff, littered the area. Thousands of traders, retailers and wholesalers were displaced.
On hand to supervise the demolition of the market were policemen attached to the environmental task force team. They were there to ensure that there was no resistance from the traders. Some miscreants who attempted stealing goods and some others spoiling for war were apprehended and detained in the Black Maria meant for that purpose.
The new structure on the site is being built through public-private partnership. According to the promoters, the construction is expected to last 12 months. On completion, the market would have a banking hall, police post, car park, a garage, where trailers from the North would offload their wares, and a fire station, among others.
Some of the traders tried to evacuate their wares. Some piled their goods on the median and road, causing a gridlock. Days after the demolition, the traders have continued to ply their trade on the median and other unauthorised places around the market.
It was gathered that the Agbado Oke-Odo LCDA was in support of the developer, Total Value Integrated Limited. Reports say the council wants the demolition done to pave way for a more organised and secure market.
To the promoters and authorities behind the reconstruction it might be a welcome idea to beautify the “mega city,” but the traders are revolting. They see the development as a means to pauperise them.
Some acknowledged the eviction notice served by government, while others denied it. Many of the traders claimed that it was a forceful eviction carried out by the administration of the Agbado/Oke Odo council. The aggrieved occupants of the market also accused the LCDA of conniving with the National Union of Road Transport Workers to rebuild the market and reserve a large space for the union.
Others who expressed shock over the demolition said the market was rebuilt not too long ago. They, therefore, queried the rationale for another reconstruction.
“The market is not collapsing, neither is any danger foreseen. There were so many lock-up shops. Some were storey-buildings, but they were all pulled down for selfish reasons. It is an act of wickedness for you to cause other people pains because of what you intend to benefit,” a trader said.
There were other traders who complained that the demolition notice issued was too short. They said they did not have enough time to look for another location to continue their businesses.
A trader who deals in body creams and soaps, Ada Uloma, accused those behind the demolition of denying her of her only means of livelihood.
She said it was difficult for her to believe the government’s promise that the erstwhile traders would be given a discount when the new shops are completed.
“At the moment, there is no space for me to continue my trade. The shopping complex opposite the market is very expensive. It is less than five per cent of the traders at Ile-Epo that can afford the shops.
“I want government to help us get another place to carry out their trading activities, pending when they complete the proposed reconstruction. Government will only create hunger for us in a bid to create a conducive environment for trading,” she said.
A trader, Ugochukwu Ebere, who deals in provision, said he had been in the market for 12 years and he invested over N10 million in his wholesale business. He lamented that everything went down the drain in a few minutes.
“I was not around when they started the demolition. When I later ran to my shop, the crowd in the market prevented my boys and I from quickly saving all my goods. In the process of moving the goods, some got destroyed. Apart from goods, there were other things that l couldn’t rescue,” he said.
But the managing director, Total Value Integrated Limited, Chris Onyekachi, said the market was an eyesore and was not fit for a mega city like Lagos. He told the reporter that the traders were given 18 months to vacate the site, adding that some obeyed but others refused to leave.
He faulted claims that his company connived with NURTW and the council to drive the traders out of the market, saying it was a rumour.
He added that, once the redevelopment of the market was complete, the traders would be given preference at discounted rates to own the new shops in the market before others.
“The contract was awarded to my company in 2016 and since then we have been doing the necessary things like getting approval from the state and local government.
“We have had several meetings with the traders in the market, with all the people concerned. If you see the state of the market, you will agree with me that people should not even remain in that market.
“I am surprised that some groups would say that I want to take over the market. We have the approval of the Iyaloja General of Lagos markets, and Babaloja of the Lagos markets. We will not allow these people to scuttle the rehabilitation of the market.
“We gave them an 18-month notice to leave the market. Many of them have packed out while some remained. We came here around 7:30am for the demolition. We have given them alternative places in the market. We are not demolishing the whole market now. We are doing it in three phases,” he said.
Some of the occupants expressed the fear that once the market is rebuilt, the former occupants would not be able to benefit from the exercise due to the high price that the developer would demand. They reminded government that the market was mainly occupied by foodstuff sellers.
Mr. Amaechi Emeka said he had three shops in the market before the demolition. He said it would take him a very long time to come out of the trauma the demolition has caused him.
“I heard of the notice but I didn’t know they were serious about it. I acquired my third shop a few months ago. I do not have other means of survival, and with the sales in this market, I feed my children and send them to school. So, how do I start all over again? Or I should return to my village empty-handed?” he said.
The reporter gathered that the decision to rebuild the market was concluded by the state government last July even before the present LCDA chairman assumed office.
It was also gathered that most of the market leaders signed the agreement to rebuild the market.