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Residents Groan, As Warehouses, Tokunbo Cars Overwhelm Ijesha




AS early as 7.20am, a 40ft container-laden trailer was already making its way into Ajijedibun street, through Agunlejika street, Ijesha, Surulere, Lagos. The smallish driver struggled to wheel the huge vehicle into the street dotted by fairly used (Tokunbo), and abandoned vehicles. At the same time, children of Florida Group of Schools headed to their classrooms.

As the driver manoeuvred, miscreants (Area Boys) swooped on him, asking to be ‘settled’. They assumed the duties of traffic wardens, dishing out directives from all corners. Some, armed with wooden poles, pushed up low-lying electricity cables to allow safe passage for the trailer, and prevent electrocution. Meanwhile, a traffic build up had already ensued.

The container danced precariously on the trailer; a warning to passers-by to steer clear or be crushed. Although the motorists who had queued up grew impatient by the minute, they were the wiser to bottle up their anger and wait. Clearly, nobody wanted to die mashed by a fallen container. The trailer eventually knocked down the street gate. It was the only way it could bring its bulk to berth at a warehouse.

On Ajijedibun street alone, there are about four warehouses. The first is on the ground floor of house number 17, an uncompleted building. The second is on the ground floor of house number 28; the third is at house number 46; while the biggest of them all is at house number 37.

With the warehouses, the entire area has turned to a mart, with Tokunbo cars occupying both sides of the road. Excluding the rear gate of a commercial bank at number 44, no compound is spared. Towards the end of the street is a ‘mechanic village’, occupied by auto technicians, painters and panel beaters. All these obstruct vehicular movement torturing residents on a daily basis.

One resident, who did not want to be named, lamented: “My brother, we are tired, but we don’t complain anymore because these containers come in here escorted by fierce-looking Area Boys. All these cars on the street (pointing) are for sale. The boys charge a commission and security fee from the owners. As you can see, two cars cannot pass through the road simultaneously. The worst part is that the landlords here are not saying anything. This place is a residential area. But as you can see, it has turned to a market.”

The Guardian discovered that the situation is the same on other streets in the area. Agunlejika street, which conveys traffic from the Mile2-Oshodi expressway to Ijesha road and adjoining streets, is crammed with Tokunbo, and abandoned vehicles.

When the Lagos State government took the initiative to asphalt and provide drainage on Odolowu street, the idea was to create a route for vehicles heading towards Isolo, to connect the new Cele-Ijesha link bridge, via Ijesha market. At the time, parking of vehicles on the street was a serious offence; many such vehicles were towed away by officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), who patrolled the area regularly. But today, the story is different; the entire stretch is dotted with trucks and cars up for sale.

As with Agunlejika, all adjoining streets are not spared. From Tapa street to Okeoloruntedo, Adeboyjo, Abaniwonda close, Femi Daramola close, Sijuade street and Alade close, everywhere is littered with Tokunbo cars.

Day by day, the traders expand their territory unchallenged. Even with ‘No Parking’ signs boldly displayed, they continue to operate, constricting the width of road. Also, as a result of heavy container-laden trailers, Odolowu street had become ridden with potholes.

“Once, my car was towed away along the Mile2-Oshodi expressway because of ‘illegal parking’. Yet, you see these Tokunbo cars everywhere. Instead of facing these lawbreakers, council officials are more interested in harassing innocent citizens. On my street, when you have visitors, they can’t even find a place to park because the entire street is filled with Tokunbo vehicles. You journalists should help us talk to the Lagos State government to recue us,” said Hakeem Babalola.

For people who own shops on the street, it’s tough trying to ward off the automobile sellers. “I know how much I cough out for this shop. But at the end of the day, somebody comes around and blocks everywhere with cars. I’ve warned them several times, and I’m ready to fight anybody that parks Tokunbo cars here! This place is not a car mart,” said an elderly shop owner, who barricaded her premises with old tyres.

The pain being experienced, today, by residents in this part of Ijesha is traceable to the arrival of the first warehouse around Odolowu bus stop, directly opposite Powerline Church, Ijesha. With boom in Tokunbo car sales, almost all buildings in the area have been converted to warehouses, receiving predominantly foreign used cars. A huge Tokunbo market also stands between Ijesha and Agunlejika Bus stops.

“You don’t want to be here when they are offloading containers; they usually block the service lane. This menace started in a little way, but because nobody challenges them, it has continued to get worse. Now, they are encroaching on the road,” said Charles Efobi.

One member of the area’s residents’ association said all past efforts to curtail the excesses of the car sellers failed. “Many people in this area, especially those that own cars, are not happy with this arrangement because many houses here don’t have parking spaces; people park on the street. Now, with Tokunbo cars everywhere, they no longer have that privilege. There was a time we were deflating their tyres. We warned them to move their vehicles away. But they returned. The truth is that some of them pay the landlords, while others pay security fees to the association. So, because of the little money they make, it is difficult to stop them. Only government can fix it,” he said.

For the traders, it’s all about survival. Emma, one of the car sellers, said: “Before we offload any container here, we pay the council and we pay the Area Boys. For most of these cars on the street, we are charged security fees, and we pay. When we sell cars, they get a commission. So, it’s not as if we are taking advantage of them; they also are making money from this.”

Asked if he’s aware of the nuisance the business poses to residents, Emma answered: “My brother, these cars are not supposed to be here forever; we don’t even enjoy the fact that they stay this long. But the economy is bad; there’s no money. People are not buying them. Many of the cars I brought remain unsold.”

The assistant information officer at the Itire Ikate Local Development Area, Enemuwhe Japheth, said the council has made efforts to arrest the situation.

“This issue has been of major concern to the Executive Secretary of the council. She has been on top of the matter. At different times, we have organised a stakeholders’ meeting where we sensitised them on this issue. But, you know, dealing with such issues in Nigeria is always difficult. At our level, all we do is sensitisation; we don’t have power to use force. We will continue to do our best. But I can assure you that the Executive Secretary is already on this matter. And if they fail to comply, we may have to get the State Government involved,” he said.

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