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Okobaba sawmillers urge speedy completion of Ikorodu new site

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Okobaba sawmill in Ebute Metta, Lagos<br />

The palpable fear that earlier engulfed a community of more than 30,000 sawmillers at Okobaba, on the shores of the Lagos Mainland, may have evaporated, following overwhelming signs of the government commitment in relocating the operators to a new site in Ikorodu.

But the worry of the sawmillers, grappling with the lull in market and insecurity of wares, is that the contractors handling the construction have been slowing down the project and appealed to authorities to prevail on them to intensify efforts on the completion.

The Guardian investigations revealed that about 204 workshops has been built with 204 offices, structure for artillery services completed, water and electricity supply has been connected to the area, there has been provision for meeting hall, conveniences as well as canteen. The boom, which is a storage facility for berthing woods from the sea, is about 80per cent completed while the remaining/major work is the access road.

The Oko baba Sawmillers relocation has been an issue yet unresolved since 2007 when the Lagos Mainland Sawmillers association signed a memorandum for resettlement in Agbowa, Ikorodu with the then government of Babatunde Fashola.

The matter raised a lot of controversies as some stakeholders who claimed to be members of the timber dealers association, had through their counsel, prayed the court to declare that Lagos State Government has no authority over any land situate and being within the 100 metres of all declared navigable inland waterways, such as the Lagos Lagoon, which is under the jurisdiction of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
 
But the Lagos State Government in a preliminary objection asked the court to dismiss the suit. Ruling on the preliminary objection, trial judge, Justice Justice Anka, reviewed all laws covering the subject matter and held that by virtue of the Land (Title Vesting) Decree and the National Inland Waterways Authority Act, the Federal Government has been vested with exclusive power and authority over all land within 100 metres of a declared navigable waterway, including the Okoboba Foreshore in Ebute-Metta.
 
The court held that the case of the timber dealers was not one of title to land but rather the administration of land within the inland waterways.
 
Dismissing the preliminary objection, the court held that since there was no evidence before it to challenge the case of the timber dealers that they were empowered in their location by NIWA, only the Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction to entertain the case of the plaintiffs. In the substantive suit, the timber dealers in the suit, are challenging their forceful eviction by the Lagos State Government, to be relocated to an abandoned and uncompleted location in far away Ijede area of Ikorodu. They are contending that they were being excluded from all negotiations and arrangements in a matter in which their interests were involved.

The President, Lagos Mainland Sawmillers Association, Alhaji Ganiyu Onikeku told The Guardian that the project appears to be too slow especially the road construction been handled by contractors. He said government should hasten up the contractor to complete the project so that our members who are all ready and willing to move could relocate immediately.

“What I feel is that the priorities of the government are many. The project is one of their priorities and they are doing their best but we need them to double up effort to make sure that the project is completed. We have seen it that it just remains few things to be done. We have been meeting with the ministry and we seeing what they are doing”.

The association hopes that if efforts are intensified at the site, the wood trader could resettle at the new location within the remaining few months of the year.

“We visit the site often and we are telling the government that it is very important for us to use the place. We call somewhere in the area boom which is an area for storage facility where we get our woods when they come through the water that part hasn’t been completed. The government did well by giving the road to a contractor but the construction is slow. I don’t know what is wrong with the contractor because what we heard is that government has paid the company handling the road construction Without the road, our products won’t be effectively transported and we can’t transfer heavy-duty loads from the sea without good road”.

“We are very happy with the quality of facility been put in place and we realised that it cost a lot for government to do such huge project and we are happy and appreciate them”. If the place is completed now, it will take us two or three months to arrange ourselves, put the necessary things in place and then begin to work”.

Onikeku appealed to the government to give them good advertisement on their products and programmes by the time they eventually relocate to the new site.
“People have been coming to Oko baba because they don’t have a choice, we sell the best wood products to the extent that clients come from Abuja, Ondo, Ogun, Edo, Delta among other. Bu we will require that the government should support us in the new location”, he stated.

Speaking on the project, Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State ministry of Physical Planning, Bukky Nwonnah told the Guardian that government was doing everything possible to ensure that the new site get completed on time.

“The government is putting in place all necessary thing in the place to make the environment conducive for the sawmillers by the time they would move in. We are working seriously toward the completion of the project”, she said.


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