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Mile 12: the market Lagos would have loved to hate


A section of the new market at Ogere PHOTO: GBENGA AKINFENWA

A section of the new market at Ogere PHOTO: GBENGA AKINFENWA

It is noisy. It stinks. It is a traffic hell generator. It is a gunpowder keg of ethnic inferno. (It exploded, recently, killing about a dozen people.) But it is a cool cash cow: a vibrant money spinner, which some analysts exaggeratedly suggest, could even make the economy of not-so-endowed African countries blush. Reason, perhaps, that barely a week after it closed the popular Mile 12 market in Ketu, the Lagos State government was forced to reverse its anger.

“The re-opening was as a result of the outcome of the stakeholders’ meeting held between the market men and women, traditional leaders in the Agiliti and Maidan communities, residents and Community Development Association (CDA),” said Steve Ayorinde, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, in a statement. According to Ayorinde, the meeting had both been satisfactory and had secured the cooperation of all interested parties involved in the market’s operations.

Body language experts monitoring the motions of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode might have sworn the market was gone for good, concluding the helmsman had finally found a loophole to actualise an idea the state government had tinkered with for years: relocate the sweet nuisance. Even the traders believed this was it. But body language, like all languages, can be quite unpredictable, especially when stakes are high.

While the market was shut, an interesting drama was unfolding elsewhere. Like a wife thrown out of the house in the middle of the night by a furious husband, the traders had sought refuge with one of Lagos’ cousins, who lived next door – Ogun State. Did the neighbour attempt any games with his kinsman’s spouse?

Unable, perhaps, to resist the tempting voluptuousness of the lady, the Ogun State government began to spew promises from both sides of the mouth. At Kara market, along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, where the traders had moved in with livestock sellers, Governor Ibikunle Amosun paid them a visit, and vowed to provide a convenient space for their activities. Three days later, the traders had, all to themselves, 300 hectares of land at Ogere! There were also talks of “new market complex”, “boreholes”, “secure and healthy environment”, “modern market fitted with a fire service station”, “modern stalls”, “a police station”, and “other services”!

Twenty-four hours after the traders arrived Ogere, Lagos State announced it had re-opened Mile 12 market.

The Guardian visited Ogere market on Thursday. Though bulldozers had cleared the place, there were no physical structures yet; only makeshift stalls made from bamboo and palm fronds. But for two boreholes, yet to be put to use, other infrastructure promised by the Ogun State government had not yet materialised. Could a slow down have hit Ogun’s bid to rehabilitate the traders?

As buying and selling went on, market leaders were seen busy allocating plots to the traders. Though, the magnitude of business in the market cannot be compared to that of Mile 12, some of the traders said they are nevertheless satisfied with the new location, a place they claimed would immune them from discrimination.

The Guardian observed that the setting was organised, having motor parks and roads, keys to taming congestion and disorderliness.

One of the traders, Abdullahi Ibrahim (Small Ghaji) said work is ongoing at the site. According to him, the traders are optimistic the Ogun government would fulfill all its promises on developing the market.

Ibrahim said many of his fellow traders have returned to Mile 12. But he explained that this was only to ensure the sale of stocks they already had before the clash erupted.

“We are selling goods better than our friends that returned to Lagos. We prefer this place to Mile 12. Here, we have enough space to display our items; the vehicles bringing them have space enough to park. We don’t need to go back to Lagos because all that we need, including buyers, are trooping here daily. Many people have decided not to return because of fear that anything could still happen. There, in Mile 12, we didn’t have enough space to operate like we do here,” said Ibrahim.

Another trader, Abdullahi Sanu Kure, said: “We are happy, here, because we don’t have any limitations, and there is no discrimination against us. Lagos State government gave us a space of three months after which it would relocate us to another place. Why do we need to go back when we have alternative. Though, I made more profit in Mile 12, I know that things will definitely improve, because a lot of people are coming all the way from Lagos to buy goods from us.”

Kure said the plots of land allocated to the traders were given free. He, however, could not say what costs might accrue if Ogun State government eventually develops the market. He praised the security measures on ground, adding that some of the traders have already rented apartments at Ogere town.

As at press time, the office of the Ogun State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs. Ronke Sokefun, was not forthcoming with reactions on the Mile 12/Ogere markets issue. Her media aide refused to comment, and maintained his superior was also unavailable.

But earlier, when she visited Kara, Sokefun had stressed: “We learnt that the traders from Ketu have relocated here (Kara). While we welcome them, we need to ensure that they are orderly and systemic. They just took over, here, without recourse to government. This is not their location; this place is meant to be a cattle market. They will still be here pending when we conclude the provision of necessary infrastructure at a convenient location. Provision will be made for the security of the Yoruba people and the Hausa. They need to work together in unity. I have met with the two Serikis (local chiefs); we would ensure there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the government, to ensure we don’t have any breakdown of law and order.”

The deadly clash and wanton destruction notwithstanding, there is no indication Lagos State will re-enact any lightening speed relocation of its Mile 12 market traders, like its Ogun State counterpart. While Ogun arrived at its decision in less than two days, Lagos has had more than a decade of lamentations and considerations. Following its stakeholders’ meeting, the state is boasting it has achieved a great feat: an agreement on “relocation of the market to another suitable place, as the existing market can no longer contain the traders.”

While making the announcement, Steve Ayorinde was, of course, quick to add that Lagos is home to all and that its government will continue to make the business climate attractive to investors.

“Other major agreements at arrived with the various stakeholders include…ban on the use of commercial motorcycles in the area; peaceful co-existence among all ethnic groups in the market and environs; and removal of all shanties and illegal attachments/structures within the market area,” said Ayorinde.

The nitty-gritty of the meeting between Lagos State and the traders might never be known. Observers, however, think the haste at which the traders agreed to be ‘relocated’ is suspect. Would traders swap a most strategic and lucrative location for another, just like that?

According to the Financial Secretary of the Mile 12 Market Association, Shehu Usman, the traders, the community and the government are all on the same page on the issue of relocation, and the market executives will be meeting with the state government to discuss the relocation programme. “This (relocation),” Usman said, “will help increase the economic growth and development (of the market) and provide better infrastructure and reduce traffic congestion.”

When The Guardian visited the Mile 12 market, last week, it noted that normalcy had returned.

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