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Lagos plans silicon valley from ashes of Sabo Industrial Estate

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Sabo Industrial Estate

When the Federal Government established the Sabo Industrial Estate, Yaba, Lagos State, in 1957, it was mainly to help small manufacturing companies find their footing and transit from being small factories to much bigger outfits.

As the first to be established in the country for small factory owners, it was a model industrial estate. Co-incidentally, as Lagos State recently turned 50, the industrial estate, which was purposely built by the Federal Government, but transferred to the Lagos State Government, principally to support SMEs, during their formative years, also turned 50.

Sadly, despite serving as home to many start up factories for this length of time, the facility would have to give way for an Information Communication and Technology (ICT) hub before the end of the year, if the pronouncement by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode must come to pass.

In January this year, the governor visited the facility and promised to transform it into the country is Nigeriaís Silicon Valley, a place it on the same platform with its United States counterpart.

As laudable as the initiative appears to be, many start-ups, especially those that have operated within the facility in the last 10 to 15 years, are deeply troubled by the constant threat of relocation and ejection, including the recent declaration by Ambode.

A recent visit to the facility by The Guardian, revealed that some SMEs are still operating there, even as the place is in dire need of renovation works.

Roads and drainage channels within the estate have practically collapsed, and the building, which hitherto served as the administrative block is completely dilapidated. It was last occupied by the finance unit of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 2010.

Tenants at the centre are dismayed that since the days of the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola, they have consistently lived in fear, no thanks to series of letters often emanating from the state government to that effect. This, they claimed, is negatively affecting their business, as they barely can plan on a long term basis, and financial institutions are weary of transacting business with them.

The first of such letters arrived the estate in February 2005, from the state government, through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and intimated the occupants of governmentís plan to relocate them to the Imota Industrial Park.

After several back and forth arguments on the issue, the occupants agreed to visit Imota Industrial Park. With what they saw on ground, they concluded that the place is not for SMEs like them.

They thereafter instituted a court case against the state government in order to forestall their small businesses being brought to an abrupt end by the state government.

The Imota Industrial Park, according to them, still required upgrading. This, they said is beside the fact that the location was also for all kind of activities, which makes their small factories incapable of fitting in.

In 2010, the state government saw reason with them and decided to withdraw the letter of relocation. This decision by government, was also premised on the withdrawal of the court case instituted by the occupants.

The letter titled, ìRE: Withdrawal of relocation notice,î from the ministry, dated November 11, 2010, signed by Mrs. A. Oladipupo, for the permanent secretary, was addressed to Omotayo O.S. Benson, counsel for the tenants.

It stated, ìI am directed to refer to meeting held on the 8th of October 2010 with your good self and representatives of tenants of the Yaba Industrial Estate.

Consequent upon the terms of settlement agreed upon by parties at the said meeting, please be informed that the Ministry hereby withdraws its letter of 7th February 2005 directing all tenants operating within the premises to vacate with immediate effect.

It is expected that upon receipt of this letter, your firm would file necessary papers for discontinuation of action in suit no LD/30M/05 and serve same on the ministry.

The October 8, 2010 meeting that led to the withdrawal of the relocation notice had in attendance the then permanent secretary in the ministry, Wale Raji; counsel representing tenants at the industrial park, Mr. T. Benson; tenants of Yaba Industrial Estate, and top government officials.

Director, industry, Mr R.A. Aloba; Assistant Chief State Counsel, Mrs A.M Oladipupo; Principal Industrial Officer, Mr T.O Ambali; Counsel, representing the Yaba tenants, Mr. T. Benson; tenants of Yaba Industrial Estate and Mr O Olatoyan, Mrs B. Bamgbose and Mr Runsewe all tenants of Yaba Industrial Estate.

At the meeting, Raji surprisingly underscored the need to preserve and maintain the estateís status, which he said cannot be achieved while the litigation was ongoing.

The permanent secretary reiterated the need to have the matter settled out of court, stressing that the ministry has no intention of ejecting any tenant.

While soliciting the co-operation of parties towards ensuring an amicable resolution of the matter, he also made it clear that the status of tenants would be determined on individual basis, adding that tenants, who contravened the terms and conditions of allocation would be dealt with accordingly.

He said that the re-development would be done in phases and assured the occupants that their businesses would not be disrupted. Bamgbose, who spoke on behalf of the tenants, said the institution of the court action was to safeguard their businesses. She nevertheless pledged their support for a quick resolution of the impasse.

Counsel to the tenants, Benson, also at the meeting pointed out that his clients were not aware of governmentís plans to resettle them if they ever vacated the industrial estate.

He agreed that the suit would be withdrawn as soon as they received an official correspondence from the ministry withdrawing the said notice.

To show that government never really took its eye off the estate, barely two years and five months after the relocation order was withdrawn and the tenants withdrew the case from the court, some officers from the ministry came calling at the industrial estate again, taking pictures and videoing the entire premises.

Bamgbose disclosed that when they officials were challenged, they stopped coming to the estate during working hours, only to show up on Sundays. When they were confronted again they claimed they were from the Governorís Office, but never showed up again after that encounter.

Days after that encounter, she said, another group came calling with soil test machines. During interrogation, they claimed they were from the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, who confirmed they were from him.

As the drilling exercise was on, we gathered from the work men that the soil test was to ascertain whether the place would support/accommodate high-rise building.

She added that the revelation, ìnecessitated another meeting on December 9, 2013, between representatives of both parties since there is nowhere in the world, where high rise buildings are used for industrial purpose. It was at that meeting that the tenants were told by the permanent secretary of governmentís intention to redevelop the estate, but they would be carried along.

The permanent secretary at the meeting said that the redevelopment would be done in phases with none of the legally existing tenants and industrialists evicted.

He also explained that on completion of the redevelopment, all legal tenants would be given the option of first refusal, adding that the project would be executed with minimum inconvenience to the present occupants. It was also agreed at that meeting that a draft Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) be forwarded by the tenants to the ministry, within one week for review to be signed by both parties.

An MOU was drafted, which the tenants alleged the ministry failed to sign. Also, in January 2013, Abrafem Construction Limited, produced a proposed redevelopment plan and layout for the estate for the ministry. This provided a picture of what the new industrial estate would be like when completed.

That was the state that things were until the Fashola-led administration completed its term. But on June 3, 2016, the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Prince Rotimi Ogunleye, and some ministry officials visited the estate and the tenants were intimated of Ambodeís plan to upgrade the industrial estate.

For the tenants, Ambodeís plan to upgrade would be about the already produced redevelopment plan and layout. Six months after that episode, Governor Ambode, visited the complex in January and announced that it would be turned into the next Silicon Valley.

A member of the estateís executive council regretted that the plan to demolish/redevelop the estate since 2004 has seriously destroyed the business confidence of factory owners.

He said with Ambodeís latest pronouncement, their businesses were seriously threatened, as banks, which bankrolled their machineries and equipment and other private financial partners are frightened about the recent development.

Another member of the council said they were ready for a process of dialogue and to cooperate with the state government to improve the working environment of SMEs, and not relocation.

According to him, what they expected from the governor was for him to make the environment more conducive for them to operate, as well as, put in place a policy to help them expand, and not to drive them away.

He regretted that governmentís plans to develop the estate into an ICT hub, while they were still waiting for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, or any other agents of government to sign an existing MOU expected to redevelop the industrial estate in phases, with minimum inconvenience to the present SMEs was shocking to them.

The state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Rotimi Ogunleye, declined commenting on the matter when contacted.

He, however, agreed to speak on the issues raised, only if The Guardian presented a copy of the purported letter of agreement that the aggrieved tenants said they had with the ministry on the redevelopment of the industrial estate.



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