Alaba Rago Market… Seedy slum, thriving empire for legit, illicit trade
On the eve of the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum given to occupants of the Alaba Rago Market in Ojo Local Council of the state to vacate the facility, the Lagos State government made a remarkable volte-face.
The sudden reversal was, however, after a meeting between the Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the market leaders, as well as some community leaders.
Among other things, a legion of factors prompted the eviction notice by the government.
Originally conceptualised as a livestock market, the facility has metamorphosed into a general-purpose market and even more.
Indeed, sections of it have been converted into lock-up stalls, residential structures, brothels, a hideout for criminals, as well as a haven for stolen items.
Peeved by these activities in the market, which make it one of the existing slums in the state, the government issued an eviction notice to traders preparatory to redeveloping the facility, a decision that it thinks would be in the best interest of the traders, shoppers, and the general public.
A visit to the market by The Guardian confirmed that the state government has a reason to redevelop the market, as additional structures have been erected haphazardly.
The entire expanse of the market is marshy and festooned with filth. Even though they are still standing, most shops are dilapidated and gradually sinking. The very distressed ones stand abandoned.
The drainage network in the market is poor, shallow, and indiscriminate. Consequently, the entire place is filthy as decomposing food remains, faeces, pet bottles, cellophane paper, etc., clog the drains and cause their contents to spill into the pathways.
Sections of the market where animals are slaughtered, as well as the ones where they are kept present a different spectacle that speaks volumes of the poor sanitary condition of the market.
Imported rice is contraband in the country, but several shops clustered at the entrance of the market deal in imported rice.
Besides the grains section of the market, which is thriving heavily, another section of the market that is also very popular is the disused items/ fairly used household items.
To attend to the entertainment needs of the traders, are ad hoc movie houses (viewing centres), and hundreds of cubicles/rooms, which serve as brothels. One of the movie houses is located by Kango, the yam section of the market, while the other is by the scrap iron/metal and vehicle parts section.
To date, Kango is the most notorious section of the market because the bulk of the brothels and other “entertainment facilities” are located there. It is also there that alcoholic beverages, drugs, and banned substances are openly sold and consumed.
As both old and young binge on narcotics in this section of the market, scantily-clad women of all ages, shapes, and forms, with unevenly toned bodies openly invite male patrons to their rooms.
Still in this section of the market, are shops, cubicles, and kiosks where pharmaceutical products, including sex enhancement drugs, are sold.
In the eviction notice issued by the state government in December 2021, it said that 8, 381, 600 capsules and tablets of Tramadol, and 56, 782 bottles of codeine, among others, were seized by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in major raids of some areas in the state including, Alaba Rago Market and Satellite Town.
In its ultimatum, the state government said that after several months of negotiation between it, and representatives of the market over the proposed modernisation of the facility, the state government through a joint team of Rapid Response Squad (RRS), and Lagos Taskforce, gave occupants of the market 14 days to vacate the place.
In the statement, the joint team, which was led by the Commander, RRS, CSP Olayinka Egbeyemi, and the Chairman, Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Unit (Taskforce), CSP Sola Jejeloye, claimed that it met the occupants of the market in clusters and informed them of vacation order.
Speaking on the development then, Egbeyemi stated that emerging security reports from the area indicated that Alaba Rago has become a den of criminals, stressing that the state government has concluded plans to modernise the place in the shortest possible time, in the best interest of the residents.
He stated that the recovery of several guns in the market by the Ojo Police Division, and the revelation by drug dealers that they regularly funnel drugs through the area to several parts of the state, were some of the reasons that the government needed to swiftly modernise the area for orderliness.
Egbeyemi beseeched the occupiers not to read ethnic and religious motives into the exercise, adding that Lagos State remains a converging point for all Nigerians, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or tribe.
On his part, Jejeloye said that after consultations with all the major stakeholders, the demolition of the market should have taken place during Ramadan, but the government delayed it so that those who travelled for the religious exercise would return to base.
However, a day before the expiration of the ultimatum, the traders dragged the state government, two of its commissioners, the Inspector General of Police, the commander of RRS, and others before the Federal High Court, Lagos over the eviction notice, claiming N50m as damages from the respondents for allegedly discriminating against them as Hausa/Fulani.
In the suit instituted by Alhaji Husaiil Muhammed Lajawa, Alhaji Hamisu Mansur, Alhaji Muhammed Aminu and Pastor J.T. Assan, the plaintiffs are seeking: “A declaration that the removal notice pasted only on the applicants at the market, who are Nigerians of the Hausa/Fulani extraction on the basis of their tribe, while none was served on the Igbo and Yoruba who occupy Alaba International Market and Tanzan Market respectfully, is discriminatory and a breach of the applicant’s fundamental right as guaranteed by Section 42 of the 1999 constitution as amended.
“A declaration that the removal notice posted on the applicant’s properties at Alaba Rago Market without following due process is unlawful and a breach of the Applicant’s right to properties as guaranteed by Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“A declaration that the removal notice posted on the applicant’s property at the market who are Nigerians of the Hausa/Fulani extraction without any justifiable reason, and thereby denying the applicants of their means of livelihood and in breach of the applicants fundamental right to life as provided and guaranteed under Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
In a 22-paragraph affidavit filed in support of their motion on notice filed by their counsel, O.K. Salawu and S.A. Salaudeen, the traders are praying the court for an order of injunction, restraining the respondents from removing the applicants from their market at Alaba Rago Market, Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State without any alternative.
“An order of injunction restraining the respondent from demolishing the Alaba Rago Market where the applicants carry on their business and validly allocated to them by the respondents.”
The ethnic colouration attached to the eviction notice became strong with the intervention of some political leaders from the North including former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who met with the Hausa traders in the market, kicking against the planned eviction.
Surprisingly, after earlier claiming that there were several months of negotiation between the parties, Sanwo-Olu, in reversing the 14-day quit notice issued to the traders and other shop owners, asked that the traders and shop owners continue their legitimate businesses at the market pending when a formal agreement and development plan would be reached between both parties.
The governor rescinded the eviction notice during a meeting with Hausa leaders, including Seriki Hausa of Lagos, Aminu Dogara, his vice, as well as the Seriki Fulani of Lagos, Mohammed Bambado, who led the traders and shop owners to the meet with Sanwo-Olu at the Lagos House, Ikeja.
The Babaloja of Alaba Rago Market 1, Ali Malami, thanked the governor for listening to their plea.
He added that the governor assured the traders that the market would not be brought down on the approved date, as there would be more engagements between the government, traders and shop owners.
He distanced the traders and shop owners from the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi claiming that those behind the court action were not recognised leaders of the market.
According to him, there is no agreement yet on when, and how the redevelopment of the market would be carried out.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time that traders in the market would reject a redevelopment plan at the behest of the government. The authorities of Iba Local Council Development Area (LCDA) attempted doing that in 2018, but it was kicked against. The traders then demanded that the LCDA should allow them to continue the development of the market as they had been doing.
The immediate past Chairman of Iba LCDA, Mrs. Rahmat Rachael Oseni, who made a presentation of the 3-D plan for the Alaba Rago Market, said her predecessors started the project to give the market a facelift.
She said the time had come for the council to develop the market and solicited the cooperation of traders even as she assured that shops would be affordable to the traders in the new.
But the chairman’s presentation was not accepted by the traders, who maintained they had the money to develop the market.
When the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, was contacted on the matter, he declined to comment, stressing that the matter was in court.