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Oko-Baba: Traders groan as market remains shut two months after

This week makes it six weeks since the market was shut down by the state government for a variety of infractions ranging from dirtiness to loading their wares on the bridge despite warnings to desist from such act.

• We Are Not Against The Market’s Relocation, Market Leader Says

Basira Ademola is seated with her friends at the end of the Adeniji-Adele Bridge, under the bridge specifically, staring into space. She has been resuming there daily for almost 30 years and despite no activity going on currently, she feels the need to leave home daily and share moment with her friend, hoping that Lagos State Government changes its mind and re-opens the market for business.

Ademola is not the only one. There are other people in her shoes, sitting in groups, playing games or just staring into space. The place is the Oko-Baba market, the largest wood market in the country.

This week makes it six weeks since the market was shut down by the state government for a variety of infractions ranging from dirtiness to loading their wares on the bridge despite warnings to desist from such act.

As they enter into the seventh week, the traders have not stopped running from pillar to post, begging the government to re-open the market. Alhaji Taiwo Ahmed Abdul Qadri, the Task Force Chairman of Sawyers Association said they have learnt their lessons and are deeply sorry. “We know we are in the wrong and we are calling on our amiable governor to show us mercy. If you beat a child with one hand, you use the other to pet him. We have been flogged enough and we have realized the error of our ways.

“All the market heads have been meeting almost daily since the closure and we have put in place several measures that will ensure total discipline and obedience. This is not the time to point fingers or lay allegations against anyone but all of us are all suffering now, including those of us that had no hand in the matter.

“We have sent emissaries to the governor, we have written several letters, we have sent so many people to him to take pity on us and we are at our wits end. I’m sure the governor doesn’t want us to take to crime but how can we provide for our families? Already, we are incurring daily losses as our woods rot and our machines remain idle.”

The task force chairman said, “since the closure, things have been very difficult for us. Our children are at home and we are hungry. Our goods are rotting away. The worst part is that miscreants and robbers have now begun to steal our goods.”

Speaking also, the President of Ifesowapo Nigeria Timber Association, Okanmiyon Mafinuyomi, said what happened was unfortunate and the people involved did not inform the market leaders of the several warnings issued by the government until it was too late. He, however, said they have put in place, stringent measures that will ensure total sanity and cleanliness of the market.

Lawrence Obiora, the President General Sawyers and Timbers Dealers Association of Lagos, wore a sad look on his face when The Guardian approached him for an interview.

He confirmed that it wasn’t the whole market that was shut down, only the section underneath and around the bridge, saying, however, “When one finger is injured, it affects the whole body. As you can see, we are not working because apart from the fact that the light is low, there are no pullers. This is a chain of operation and we need each other to survive. This market employs and puts food on the table for millions of people everyday and this closure is affecting us badly. A lot of people are struggling and I don’t pray to lose any of our members because of hypertension and over-thinking. I want to appeal to the governor because what happened has happened. We know the steps taken is for our own good and we appreciate it but the fallout of the closure is telling on all our members, pullers, saw milers, transporters, sawyers, traders, engineers and all those who feed from this place.”

“We, therefore, appeal to the governor to look into this issue. The socio-economic fallout of the closure is huge. It has brought untold hardship to us. We support everything the government is doing to sanitise the place. We are just appealing to him look into our plight and reopen the market,” Obiora said.

A town within a town, the market is self-sufficient employing others who provide ancillary services like food dealers, hairdressers, barbers, petty traders, boot-renters and so on. All that is a thing of the past as the place is now deserted, looking like a shadow of its former self. “If you go near your shop to take anything, the police will arrest you and put you in the Black Maria,” a source said, pointing to the Black Maria parked at the end of the bridge, adding that they have bailed out several of their members who were arrested for going to open their shops.

Meanwhile, a source in the market confirmed to The Guardian that they are neither against the move to relocate the market nor are they fighting it but want the move to have a human face and provision be made for all. “We are five major bodies here. The Mainland Timber and Sawyers Association own the woods you can see floating in the water. The saw millers own the sawmills and machine that saw the wood into planks. Then you have the timber contractors, these set of people go to the forest, search for the logs, arrange them and bring them down here. Then the tow vehicle association, they use their ‘ship’ to draw the wood from Bayelsa, Ondo and other places down here. Then we have the people that pull the wood with their hands to the respective cutting depots, these are the pullers. Then we have the transporters”

“However, to our utter dismay, when we went to look at the relocation site at Agbowa, we saw that provision was made for just one body, the saw millers, and we tried to make them understand that we are not one, every body is operating in one market but are autonomous, but this has fallen on deaf ears. The truth is that all of us were not properly consulted before making the decision but we are not even angry. The place at Agbowa doesn’t have boom (where the logs are stored after discharge) and without a boom, if you discharge your logs, the water’s current will carry all the woods away. There is also no jetty to berth the logs either, the sawyers have no sales offices either and no provision was made for that, neither was land allocated for it. When we raised all these concerns to them, they told us Rome wasn’t built in a day and we agree. However there is no foundation to even start building, talk less of building Rome. Also, the place is far removed from the main town and security is a concern for us. Here, we have two police posts, health centres and other basic facilities and the new site over there does not have these things. It’s like moving to the dessert without any life line.”

“We never said we are not moving, but let basic things be provided. This is a socio-economic dislocation for many of us, transport-wise and uprooting our whole families, but we are not even complaining, let it just have a human face. We are not asking for too much,” he said. He also confirmed that the association has dragged the state to court over this decision and they are hoping the courts grant them the necessary relieve.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government have said that the closed section of the wood market will be reopened, only after the environment has been properly sanitised, cleared of wastes and all drainages have been cleared. When The Guardian spoke to the Commissioner of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe, he explained that the government sealed off the market because of poor sanitation and the threat posed by activities of the wood merchants to commuters and pedestrians plying the roads near the market.

“We have warned the wood dealers times without number to clear the blocked drainages, keep the environment clean and stop using the highway for their market activities because they have become a threat to other road users but they did not heed the call. The government has the duty to take care of the environment and that was why we took that step.”

Anifowoshe said the government did not close the market to hurt their businesses but the state government has the duty and responsibility to maintain law and order in any part of Lagos. On when the market will be reopened, the Commissioner did not give a specific date but disclosed that as soon as the drainages are cleared and evacuated, and the market sanitised, the wood dealers will be free to go back to their businesses.

“I can’t give a specific date when it would be re-opened but our intention is not to punish anyone. All we want to do ensure we maintain law and order in the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, as the government delays in its decision, the market leaders say they are considering organizing a peaceful demonstration to cry out their frustrations to Nigerians and hope the governor re-opens the market sooner rather than later.



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