The dust is yet to settle at the Ile-Epo Foodstuff Market, almost two weeks after part of the market was reduced to rubble.
Located along the Abule-Egba/Iyana-Ipaja axis of Lagos-Abeokuta Express Road, the once bustling foodstuff market is gradually becoming a shadow of its old self, as traders and customers still struggle to come to terms with the shocking reality of the Friday, April 27, demolition.
The exercise, according to the developer, was a precursor to the remodelling of the 34-year-old market to conform with the megacity status of Lagos.
Dislodged traders of similar exercises in some major markets in the state in the past have always turned out major losers as the new markets have always been priced out of their reach. Most of the new markets have ended in the hands of highly placed individuals, family members and cronies of influential political office holders. But a former leader in the market, Alhaji Ado Shuaibu Dansudu, vowed that no effort would be spared at ensuring that the dislodged traders at Ile-Epo get the right of first refusal. Dansudu also said that stakeholders in the market would ensure that the affected traders get the new shops at subsidised rate to compensate for losses they have been made to suffer.
But there appears to be more to the exercise than meets the eye. Since the market was pulled down, traders in the market have been at daggers drawn with authorities at Agbado-Oke Odo Local Council Development Area, who they alleged were the initiators of the demolition. While the traders complained that they were given only three days’ notice to quit, the developer maintained that the traders were given 18 months’ notice.
Daily Sun gathered that some executive members of the market were arrested allegedly on trumped-up charges and are currently being detained at Ikoyi Prisons. This, it was said, was a way to weaken the traders against possible resistance and to pave way for a hitch-free demolition.
According to the lawyer to the traders, Jiti Ogunye, eight executive members of the market association were arrested, arraigned and detained over trumped-up allegations.
Ogunye blamed the management of Agbado-Oke Odo for the travails of the traders and their incarcerated executive members. He said the detained market leaders include 82-year-old Alhaji Oladipupo Olorunkemi; William Falana, 78, and Livinus Njoku, 65.
“On Friday, April 13, around 1pm, police from FCID arrested leaders of the market. And without any investigation, without any questioning, they took their phones and dragged them to Igbosere magistrate’s court around 5pm. They brought an application for order of remand and charged them with conspiracy and murder, purportedly for a crime committed in 2015. The charge was done by FCID Abuja, not Lagos State Police Command. What is the business of FCID Abuja charging murder, which is a state offence in Lagos?” he queried.
The arrest of the market leaders, according to Ogunye, reeked of foul play. He said three of the arrested leaders had earlier been charged along with eight others at the Ogba magistrate’s court on January 8, 2016, at the instance of the Agbado-Oke Odo LCDA for “conduct likely to cause a breach of peace and malicious damage of property.”
“If you charged somebody on January 8, 2016, for conduct likely to cause the breach of peace and damage to property, for offences allegedly committed in that 2016 in 2018, if you are charging the same person for murder allegedly committed in 2015, why didn’t you charge them with murder when you arrested them in 2016?
“The truth is that those who took the market by force are still the ones who spent money up to Abuja to incriminate and charge the market leaders for an offence they never committed,” Ogunye said.
However, Dansudu, a former leader of the Hausa community in the market, refuted the claim that the arrest of the market leaders was carried out in order to weaken the traders and forestall possible resistance to the demolition.
“From what I am aware of, their arrest has nothing to do with the demolition of the market. There were some issues on ground before. About three to four years ago, there was a problem between the traders and members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers over toll collection from transporters who brought goods into the market. The matter worsened to the extent that some market leaders hired thugs from Mushin to fight the road union workers. At a point, the problem became critical and the police area commander had to intervene with his men. One of the thugs fighting on the side of the market leaders during the chaos attempted to hit another with a dangerous weapon, so he was shot by a police inspector.
“The market secretary, one Mr. Falana, after the incident, had an interview with a newspaper where he identified the police inspector that shot the boy. But after some time, they forgot about Falana’s interview. They re-fabricated the story in connivance with the victim to incriminate members of the NURTW. Without recourse to the jurisdiction of the incident, they petitioned the IG and the case was referred to DIG FCID Anti-Robbery section, alleging that the boy was shot by the road union workers. The road union workers were eventually arrested, detained and released on bail while investigation into matter continued.
“But the victim later confessed to the Lagos State Chairman of the NURTW that he was paid by the market leaders to lie that he was shot by the union members. So, the leadership of the road union workers countered their petition and the market leaders were arrested, detained and also released on bail while investigation continued.
“As this was still on, another crisis erupted in the market and the market leaders invited some soldiers to the market. The soldiers came and started beating everybody. In the course of that, a man, one Esau Owonikoko, who was the contractor hired by the Agbado-Oke Odo LCDA to construct the market’s motor park, which was in poor shape at the time, was seriously injured by the soldiers. Another boy, Adara, was equally wounded and reportedly died from the injuries he sustained. The contractor later died during surgery on him to correct the injury he sustained when he was beaten by soldiers.
“So, the leadership of the road union workers, relying on the two incidents, filed a case against the market leaders and I believe that was the reason for their latest arrest,” Dansudu said.
Meanwhile, the management of Agbado-Oke Odo LCDA has denied the allegation that it initiated the demolition of the market and the report linking it to the travails of the detained market leaders.
The chief press secretary to the executive chairman of the LCDA, Edafe Oghenebrume, said the current leadership of the LCDA came onboard on July 25, 2017, while the plan to demolish the market had been in the pipeline for over 12 years.
“This local council has nothing to do with the arrest of the market leaders and the demolition of the market. The traders had issues among themselves before now. The arrest was from the federal authorities while the task force that demolished the market was from the state,” he said.
The developer and managing director, Total Value Nigeria Limited, Mr. Chris Onyekachi, said the plan to rebuild the market had been on for months, adding that a series of meetings involving representatives of the traders, authorities of Agbado-Oke Odo LCDA and the state government were held before the demolition.
Onyekachi said all parties involved agreed on the modalities for the demolition and the reconstruction of the market, which he said would be carried out in three phases.
“When completed, the existing owners will be given the right of first refusal at a discounted price. Nobody is taking the market over from them,” he said.
Onyekachi also debunked the claim that the eight detained market leaders were being held in connection with the demolition. He blamed their travails on internal wrangling among the traders.