Alaba International market
By Emeka Alex Duru
I confess that I initially bought into the explanation by officials of Lagos state on the reasons for demolition of some structures in the popular Alaba International Market. The Government had on Sunday, June 18, commenced pulling down 17 buildings it tagged distressed at the market.
The General Manager of Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), Gbolahan Oki, who spoke on the exercise two days earlier, claimed that the affected buildings had been marked for demolition since 2016. “The marked inscriptions from LASBCA seen on different parts of the buildings that were looking physically distressed had vacation notices as far back as 2016, 2020, 2022, and several others issued to this year, 2023,” the State added in a post on its website.
Taken from the ugly spectacles and shanties that pass for shops and stalls in the markets in the state, the explanation by the state, sounded convincing. Some of the structures in the markets are not fit for human habitation, truth be told. Others are in locations that hinder movement and often block water channels, making the entire environment perennially flooded. The situation is not peculiar to Alaba. Other markets as Oshodi, Agege, Mushin, Idumota, Abule-Egba, Iaya-Ipaja, equally have defective structures. Genuine efforts at correcting the anomalies, are therefore bound to earn endorsements from sincere minds. It was on that basis that I was sold to the reasons offered by the state government for bringing down the buildings in the market.
But there seem to be untidy dimensions to the demolition, as presented by the President-General of the Alaba International Amalgamated Association, Mbonu Geoffrey. He alleged that some buildings that were not initially marked for demolition and had no signs of defects, were destroyed during the exercise. He further argued that the market leaders were not carried along, and the traders not given enough time to evacuate their wares. “The leaders of the market were never carried along neither were the property owners given enough time to evacuate their goods and this led to the unmitigated loss of wares and properties. The demolition has brought hardship and loss of livelihood”, Mbonu lamented. This is inhuman, from whatever angled it is looked at, if so.
More pathetic, is the allegation that the state government had concluded plans to take the market from the traders and hand it over to some Chinese investors to establish a multipurpose market. This is at the level of insinuation, though. But it would be costly to wish it away. We are in a system where government hardly comes clean on its intentions. It rather allows or deliberately promotes rumours ahead of its actions. More so, the carriage and utterances of some key functionaries of the government and their foot soldiers before and after the February and March general elections, give the Igbo reasons to feel that they may no longer be wanted in the state, after all.
In this part of the world, the maxim that the witch cried in the night and the child died in the day, is not one to be dismissed with a wave of the hand. It is rather ominous and comes with serious implications and inherent lessons. The demolition exercise is coming on the heels of recent loaded expression by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, that was seen to be directed at the Igbo.
Obasa said lawmakers would go to any length in protecting the state indigenes even if it meant reversing existing laws in the state. “Lagos is a Yoruba land as against the assertions of some people that it is a no man’s land”, he fumed. That is where the suspicion of hidden agenda comes in. The ownership of Lagos has never been in contention by the Igbo. The so-called “no-man’s land” allegation is rather an instrument of blackmail readily employed by Igbo phobic zealots in the state, especially at election periods to rouse sentiments against the people. It is invoked any time there are plots to put the Igbo in bad light in the state, a typical case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
Such was the situation in the February 25 presidential election and March 18 governorship poll when All Progressives Congress (APC) henchmen in the state, unleashed their attack dogs on the Igbo and their businesses, for daring to take part in the electoral process. Their sin was that Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), who from the outset, announced that he was running on the basis of his competence and capacity, not as an Igbo or Christian, was their kinsman. The LP governorship candidate in the state, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (GRV), was also seen as problem for the Igbo because his mother and wife, were Igbo. Hell was therefore let loose on the people.
Even after the elections, the animosity did not abate. Three days after the March 18 election, Bayo Onanuga, the director of media and publicity of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council, kept prancing about, mocking the Igbo that they may not have had the worst, until they stopped interfering in Lagos politics.
He said, “Let 2023 be the last time of Igbo interference in Lagos politics. Let there be no repeat in 2027. Lagos is like Anambra, Imo, any Nigerian state. It is not No Man’s Land, not Federal Capital Territory. It is Yoruba land. Mind your business”. The import of that shameless outburst, incidentally, by a senior member of the media, seems to be falling through.
If you tie the vehemence of the Lagos Speaker, the loose utterances of Onanuga and other unsavory developments in the state, lately, to the curious Alaba Market demolition, you can understand the concern of the Igbo in the entire thing. These may not be mere coincidences. Former education minister, Oby Ezekwesili, is thus, right in asking the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to provide evidence that the demolition at Alaba International Market is not politically targeted at Igbo people. I agree with her. That is the minimum the governor owes the people, if only to assuage their fears and assure them that the growing anti-Igbo sentiments in the state are not aimed at their programmed annihilation.
Sanwo-Olu needs to act fast and clear the air on the matter. Some irredeemable bigots in the state are already sniggering that “the demolition serves the traders right”. But that is a lie. It is not the way to go. Injustice does not serve anyone right. The Igbo in Lagos are not economic migrants but critical stakeholders who make tangible contributions to the development of the state. They deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect. Besides, the laws of the land give every citizen the right to reside in any part of the country. Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), says that every Nigerian shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in the country. Alaba International Market, Lagos shall not be an exception, especially as the traders are not known to have flouted the laws of the state.
DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos