Traders, artisans and other shop owners are at the moment weeping and gnashing their teeth. The Lagos State government recently rolled out its bulldozers, dismantling what it described as illegal structures across the state.
To pave the way for ‘sanity,’ the state government has vowed to continue to remove all unapproved structures in the state, particularly those that have been constituting nuisance and serving as stumbling blocks to free movement of persons and vehicles in the state.
And matching its words with action, the state government quickly commissioned the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences Unit to commence the demolition after the expiration of a vacation notice on the shop owners.
Many owners of the structures who thought that government was issuing an empty threat are now counting their losses.
On March 2, the task force stormed Mile 2, Lagos, to destroy property and demolish structures believed to be worth millions of naira in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area (LGA).
During the night raid, the task force destroyed hundreds of shops, mechanic workshops, kiosks and commercial motor parks on the grounds that the structures were shanties located around government public schools in the Mile 2 axis of the Lagos-Badagry expressway.
The task force has explained that it received complaints from residents near Imoye High School and Amuwo Odofin Junior Secondary School that criminal elements had turned the places to hideouts for carrying out their nefarious activities, thereby making the environment unpleasant for living and learning.
But in an interview with Daily Sun, one of the leaders of the affected shop owners and traders at the place, Lawal Wasiu, said the demolition was still a big surprise to them. He said that the way the demolition team went about their job was inhuman. He lamented that there was no acceptable reason for the task force to carry out the demolition in the middle of the night when the shop owners were asleep in their various homes.
Wasiu, leader of the Nigerian Automobile Technicians Association (NATA) in Amuwo Odofin, said the traders and artisans have been in that location since 1993 carrying out different automobile works. Apart from people selling provisions in containers and makeshift shops, those mostly affected were panel beaters, mechanics, spray painters, vulcanisers, and electricians.
Wasiu said: “To use this mechanic village, we have our approval from the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation. We pay the ground rent every year to the state government. Formerly, we were paying N190,000 on annual basis until it was recently increased to N500,000 yearly. We pay N50,000 every month to the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA). We also pay trade permit to the council and other taxes. There are receipts for all the payments over the years. We continued all these without any problem with anybody.
“Suddenly, in the afternoon of Tuesday, February 25, members of the task force came to place a seven-day removal notice on the walls.
“We quickly went to the Ministry of Transport, which leased the space to us to lodge our complaint. Top officials at the ministry asked us to go and to return the second day. Getting there again, they told us to remain calm that they had written to the task force and the demolition would not get to us. We were legally using this place and it is carved out and called Mechanic Village.”
With assurances from the ministry, Wasiu said that his executive members went back to tell all the occupiers of the place not to panic that the notice must have been wrongly placed. But how wrong he was!
He lamented that, six days after the notice, the task force came in the night and started destroying all shops and goods, before his association’s members got to the place around 2am on the seventh day, most of their workshops, heavy equipment and other tools, except the vehicles, had turned to rubble.
“We are pleading with the state government to allow us to retain our workshops because this is our only source of livelihood. Over 500 people are working here to earn our daily bread. At the moment, we are not after our loss but to allow us continue our work in peace. The task force keeps threatening to cause us more pains, if we come close to this place.
“What we lost here is over N100 million. Generators, welding machines and physical cash were destroyed and stolen. We are not in the school’s compound or close to it; we are not causing any form of obstruction. The reason the task force came as far to this place is still not known to us,” he said.
Another shop owner at the place, Mr. Ogun Shola, described the demolition as a big blow to his colleagues.
“During campaign for election, the same government that is are now hunting us came to us to solicit our votes. We came out to vote for them. This is where we legitimately carry out businesses. Our right of stay here is documented.
“After the demolition notice was given, officials at the Ministry of Transport told us that it was not possible. According to those we met, the task force ought to have first informed them before placing such an order.
“People started calling me around 1am on the day the task force came to do the damage. My colleagues said they saw vehicles belonging to the task force entering the mechanic village. They were backed by mobile policemen while the demolition continued. It is very painful,” he lamented.
But while clearing the air, the task force chairman, Chief Superintendent of Police Olayinka Egbeyemi, who led the enforcement team, said owners and occupants of the structures and container-kiosks were given a seven-day ultimatum to vacate the entire area as well as the vicinity of the schools within the stipulated period.
He said the task force swung into action upon the expiration of the removal notice in order to ensure the prompt clean up of the environment as well as clamp down on the activities of criminally-minded persons that had become a source of disturbance to law-abiding residents of the area.
He said: “The structures were identified for harbouring criminal elements who rob unsuspecting members of the public of their valuables and also serve as an outlet for the sale of illegal hard drugs like tramadol, codeine, skunk and weed, including mixed liquor to miscreants.”
He added that owners/occupiers of the illegal business structures had turned the entire area to an eyesore with litters of refuse, used tyres, metals as well as abandoned vehicles and trucks, among others.
Egbeyemi, advised owners/occupants of illegal structures and shanties around public schools across the state to immediately remove them before the exercise gets to their various areas, insisting that anyone caught would be dealt with in accordance with the law.
In a similar development, in order to deal with the increasing traffic gridlock due to the activities of street traders and the consequent fatalities meted out by reckless drivers to traders trading on walkways and setbacks, the Lagos Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC) has warned that there would be a total clampdown on recalcitrant traders.
Corps marshal of the agency, Akinpelu Gbemisola, a retired Commissioner of Police, reiterated this recently, describing it as the governor’s directive.
“Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has directed that all the roads in the state be rid of any form of impediment for free flow of traffic as well as safety of all and sundry. Walkways are meant for pedestrians and not for trading activities so as to give room for motorists to enjoy smooth vehicular movement,’’ she said.
In a statement, the LAGESC’s Head of Public Affairs Unit Mr Adebayo Kehinde, recounted that many lives have been lost due to brake failure, as ‘hit and run’ drivers sometimes knock down hawkers, while some roads are always locked down as a result of activities of traders who display their goods on walkways and road sides for sale.