•Automobile workers petition Ambode, want perpetrators punished
By Bimbola Oyesola
In the past few months, frustration, agony and despondency have been their companions. Since their means of livelihood in Lagos were forcefully taken away from them late last year, these automobile workers have been bemoaning their sad fate.
For the aggrieved technicians who are members of the Nigeria Automobile Technicians’ Association (NATA), all has not been well since two mechanic villages located at Coker, Alaba and Babs Animashaun Street, Surulere, Lagos, were demolished.
The mechanic village on Babs Animashaun Street, Surulere was demolished on November 29, last year while that of Coker, Alaba was pulled down on December 27.
But the artisans are not convinced that the demolition was legally done. According to them, there were glaring acts of illegality in the process. They have therefore cried out to the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, to intervene and correct the injustice meted out to them by some officials of the state government, whom the technicians believe unlawfully initiated the demolition.
The automobile workers recently staged a peaceful protest to express their grievances. During the protest, they urged Governor Ambode to, as a matter of urgency, investigate the demolition of their workshops and punish the masterminds.
Chairman of NATA in Lagos, Chief Jacob Fayeun, at the protest organised in partnership with Informal Workers’ Organisations of Nigeria (FIWON), said some officers from the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with a certain official from the Ministry of Transportation, carried out the demolition without any prior notice to the artisans.
Fayeun said a director in the Ministry of Environment came with armed military personnel to destroy the Babs Animashaun mechanic workshop on November 29, adding that the director, in collaboration with an engineer from the Ministry of Transportation, also spearheaded the demolition of the Coker mechanic village on December 27 last year, two days after Christmas.
“Since the demolitions occurred, NATA has petitioned the relevant authorities to seek redress. We have also visited the Ministry of Environment where we were informed that the exercise was illegal,” he said.
The NATA chairman said the mechanic villages were allocated to the workers in 1980 with proofs of payment and a condition that the villages could only be relocated if the state government had plans to use the sites for national development. He said even at that, the condition stipulated that before such a demolition could be effected, the artisans would have been moved to another location provided by the state government.
Fayeun lamented that the automobile workers had now been deprived of their daily bread after the mechanic villages were demolished illegally by some officials of Lagos State Ministries of Environment and Transport, allegedly under the inducement of private developers.
He recalled the genesis of the problem: “In 2012, some building materials seller registered under the name STI Building Nigeria Limited started mounting pressure on us to quit the site so as to enable them expand their business.
“The same traders relentlessly worked through a certain director at the Ministry of Transport who on different occasions issued all manners of contradictory directives for us to vacate the site.”
He regretted that the workers and their clients had suffered colossal losses running into several millions of naira, asserting that the demolition took them unawares.
“The equipment of our members, including vehicles of their clients under repair worth over N120 million, got destroyed during the demolition and since then, the workers have been rendered destitute,” he said.
The automobile workers have vowed that they would not relocate from the area, neither would they abandon the mechanic workshops since it was not the state government that was taking it over as agreed. They urged Governor Ambode to caution government officials who the workers said had been coming around to molest their members and disturb the operations of the association.
Chief Fayeun, the NATA chairman explained further that the acclaimed villages were under high-tension cables where buildings could not be erected.
The association urged the governor to issue an executive order restraining the Ministry of Environment and officials in the Ministry of Transport from further harassing its members.
Fayeun wondered why some developers, who suddenly believed that the vast lands now belonged to them after 37 years, would displace members of the association.
He added: “Even if it comes to a situation that we have to be displaced, there was an agreement that we would be given a new place, but this is not the case here. We have official documents allocating the villages to our members after due payment of all necessary fees, and till now we’ve been faithful to all our obligations. That is why we’re still shocked that the villages were destroyed.”
Mr. Gbenga Komolafe, General Secretary of FIWON charged the state government to see NATA members as partners in progress. In his words, 80 per cent of Nigeria’s population was made up of informal workers.
Komolafe said that government should not allow mechanic villages to be destroyed, but should remodel them as done by some state governments to attract more revenue for the people and the economy.
Mr Akinwale Taofeek, one of the NATA members, said the workers would not allow any group or individual besides the state government to dislodge them from the sites.
“We cannot even collect compensation from anyone. When the ministry allocated the mechanic village at Babs Animashaun to us, it was bushy and swampy. Over the years we have spent millions refilling and remodelling it.
“It will be an injustice for an individual to take over the place because he or she knows a director from the ministry. We are appealing to the government to look into this oppression and injustice,” Taofeek said.
All efforts to speak with the Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Saka Fafunmi proved abortive. He neither picked his calls nor acknowledged text messages sent to his line.
Also, Mr Mukaila Sanusi, Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Environment could not be reached by the reporter.