Demolition of Festac market left three dead, many anguished

The demolished market. PHOTO: GBENGA SALAU

• As Council Chair, Buraimoh, Aide Play Hide And Seek
• Traders, LG Management Gave Contradictory Positions

Before now, residents of Festac Town walked and drove to the section of 23 Road housing the Oyinlola Market to shop. But that luxury of shopping in the neighbourhood has been lost, even if temporary, as the market has been demolished with over 80 per cent of the traders displaced. Those left displayed their wares by the roadside and in their cars.

On the day the market was pulled down, many of the traders cried and wailed as the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) caterpillar moved into the market to demolish shops and other buildings within the market. By the time the market was leveled days after, three traders had died according to shop-owners and traders. They died from the shock of seeing their shops being razed down.

The first woman that died, findings revealed she came to see what was going on in the market after she was informed on phone that her shops were about being destroyed. On arriving at the scene, she slumped and attempts to revive her did not yield any fruit.

For many of the traders, as the caterpillar rammed and pulled down structures within the market, it was like a dream, because they never expected that government would treat them with disdain and where they daily earn a means of livelihood would be demolished so soon. This was because though the government had told them the market would be rebuilt; they never expected the process would be so quick, especially as there has only been a major meeting between government and the traders, who were the occupants and owners of the shops.

So, days after the market was demolished, many of the traders remain devastated. When The Guardian visited the scene six days after the demolition started, a caterpillar was still on site along with a truck moving out the ruins. Though a large section of the market had been shattered, some buildings were still standing.

One of the displaced traders, Mrs Chinonso Nwawuba, wondered why government was so heartless in forcefully ejecting them from the market with the demolition. She stated that government did not consider that many if not all of them were still grappling with the crises of the lockdown and EndSARs protest.

“No alternative place to move us to and no consideration and negotiations with those who own the shops on their fate after the rebuilding of the market,” Nwawuba noted.

The Oyinlola Market apex leader, Mrs. Stella Taiwo Cookey said the manner the government went about the demolition was inhuman and clearly showed it was insensitive to the plight of the traders.

According to her, the Local Government Chairman, Mr Valentine Buraimoh invited her about three months ago to inform her that the government intends to rebuild the market. She claimed she demanded that the planned rebuilding should be communicated to her in writing, which was complied with by the chairman. She added that about a month ago, she was invited to a meeting and she went with her executive council members where the issue was raised again and the meeting ended in a stalemate.

Cookey said that was the only and major meeting held about the rebuilding of the market. She said afterward the local government chairman never invited her and the executive to discuss the issue again December 12 when a caterpillar rolled into the market to demolish it.

“There was no prior notice of a letter announcing when the demolition would be done or coming to mark the buildings with the market in preparation for demolition.

“Some of the traders were not around when the caterpillar moved in, so they could not move their goods away. Hoodlums and touts had a free day stealing traders’ goods. Some traders had gone to re-stock only to come back or be told that their market is being demolished.”

She said that the traders opposed the rebuilding because the reasons government gave were not tenable. She said government claimed the market building was weak; aside a section of the market is being occupied by hoodlums, which get flooded with rainwater and spillover from 402 Road drainage.

The market leader said they disagreed with the government that the building was weak. Also, that hoodlums occupy a small section of the market should not be the reason for rebuilding of the entire market, where over 5000 traders operate daily.

She further said despite government claim of the weakness of the market buildings; it took more than four days before the whole buildings could be brought down.

She maintained that government was insensitive as many of the traders had their life-long investment in the market, yet government did not help in initially building the market. She claimed the market was not built by government, though the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) provided the land to the then traders at Festac Second Gate, who were displaced because their market got burnt. She said it was as a result of the fire incident that they were relocated to 23 Road, where land was provided and the traders were told to build.

Cookey described the market as the only official, purpose-built, model market in the local government, tracing the market’s history from the 90s when members of the Festac Market Women Association were displaced at the 2nd Gate Market, Agboju and how, as a lasting solution, the FHA allocated the land, revealing that the structures were built by individuals based on council specification and supervision.

She said the local government did not put this into consideration, rather it demolished with no agreement and concrete discussions with the shop owners and the way forward after the demolition exercise.

According to her, even after demolition, government has not deemed it fit to discuss with the traders or their leaders despite the death of three persons.

Attempt to get the Amuwo-Odofin Local Government to speak to some of the concerns raised by the traders after the market was demolished were not successful. He did not pick his calls for three days. On the fourth day, someone who claimed to be the Chairman picked claiming the chairman was in a meeting. After informing the aide on the reason for the call, he said all the questions to be asked have been answered in the statement issued by the local government. When told that there were fresh concerns outside the ones responded to in the statement issued, he said it was not possible.

He asked that the reporter speak to the Chief Press Secretary to the LG Chairman, who said the statement was not with him but another colleague. After several calls, he sent a soft copy.

The CPS that simply gave his name as Adejumo did not pick his calls afterward, since the statement did not answer some of the concerns raised by the traders. Questions were, therefore, sent to his whatsapp platform and, he replied: “ You asked for the position of the local government. I have given you the position of the local government. I am not in the position to debunk what the traders said or didn’t say. I am sure the statement I sent to you says all there is to be said by the government. Thank you.”

In the statement titled ‘True position of Oyinlola Olorunda Market, the local government management said sequel to the peace and security meeting of September 2020, a complaint was brought to the meeting that Olorunda Oyinlola Market was posing insecurity threat to the community, so a committee was set up to investigate the complaint.

“The committee went on a visitation to the said market and discovered the following: the market is in shanties, defective sewage system, bad drainage system, indiscriminate dumping of refuse waste, structurally defective blocks or shops, hoodlums hide outs, illicit drugs peddling and unauthorized conversion of market to residential Quarters

“After thorough investigation by the committee which lasted four weeks, it was resolved that Oyinlola Olorunda market does not meet the environmental and physical standard of being a market in a mega city like Lagos State.

“In view of the above, a meeting was scheduled with the market Executive including Iya Oloja, Baba Oloja and community members to deliberate about the state of the market and the need for it to be reconstructed.

“However, after the deliberation, the market Executive were at logger head with the committee and emphasised that the LG does not have the right to demolish and reconstruct the market since the market was originally allocated to them by Ojo Local Government in the past.

“However, according to 4th schedule of 1990 constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria particularly states : establishment, maintenance and regulation of a market as the function of the LG coupled with the offer of release of allocation of the permanent sites for the resettlement of traders in Festac Town dated: 20-08-1984 where the then military government of Lagos State and military administration of Federal Association of Federal Housing Authority confirmed the approval of land to the then Badagry LG to develop a market for displaced traders .

“The position of the Local Government on this is that no responsible or serious minded government will give an allocation of land of market to an individual to construct / develop a market. What Ojo LG gave them then was allocation of space having said all these the market leaders agree with the committee that the market in question does not conform with the standard regulated market in Lagos State which lack basic market amenities.

“Meanwhile, the council consults Lagos State material testing lab to conduct Nondestructive integrity test on the block structure, and the result which can be supplied when needed that the structure cannot stand the test of time, and as such it’s long due for demolition.

“The committee called an emergency meeting again with the Executive and leaders to inform them of the result of the test conducted and were asked to vacate with immediate effect.

“On these notes, the Council assured all stakeholders involved to exercise patience as the project for construction will be completed within short period and the previous allottes shall be considered first.”

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