Balogun jewellery traders cry out to Ambode over extortion, harassment
By Tessy Igomu
They sat outside their shops while some stood in the streets, calling out loudly to potential customers in the scorching sun beating down on sellers and shoppers alike at the popular Balogun Market on Lagos Island.
The traders, mostly women between the ages of 25 and 60, employed every ploy to attract the attention of possible buyers among the sea of heads navigating through the maze of shops and hidden alleys running through the expansive market.
Sadly, even amid the boisterous business of buying and selling that goes on daily in this market, a great injustice is reportedly being meted out to some of the traders. These are the market women who deal in jewellery on Breadfruit Street, Behind Financial Trust House, off Balogun Street, Lagos. Crammed into little spaces with no form of ventilation, these women, it was discovered, are being forced to virtually slave daily just to pay up arbitrary charges.
The contraptions where each of the traders engage in trading activities are so small that when they sit, there is absolutely no space to rest their legs. They can only display a few of their wares, as space is a major issue.
These women, who had to hide to speak with the reporter, alleged that they are daily humiliated and threatened to assuage two individuals’ insatiable thirst for easy money.
The two persons accused by the traders of highhandedness, undue intimidation, harassment and brutal treatment are known simply as Otunba Dapo and Alhaja.
According to findings, the numbers of shops under the control of the two individuals, who have allegedly assumed ownership of that particular jewellery section, are 165. It was also discovered that aside from the yearly rental charge of N80, 000, each of the traders is also expected to pay N200, N700 and N1000 monthly for various charges.
The reporter was told that the money is usually collected by Alhaja, accompanied by tough-looking street urchins, who are always ready to beat up any recalcitrant trader. They also seize the wares of those assumed not ready to comply with their demand, it was gathered.
According to the traders, most of them occupying the 165 shops are presently at the brink of losing everything they have laboured for, if they are unable to pay a huge amount of money allegedly imposed on them by Otunba Dapo and Alhaja.
They informed that their recent woes started immediately after they renewed their tenancy agreement, which was meant to elapse in 2018, to Alhaja. The traders noted that a week after everyone had paid up, dozens of street urchins invaded the market and chased the traders out of their stalls.
They also alleged that on the orders of Otunba Dapo, the boys, who came armed with dangerous weapons, started removing the roof of all the buildings in the market without a prior notice.
According to the traders: “After removing the roofs, Otunba ordered them to lock and secure the entrances firmly with chains. For weeks, we couldn’t access our shops, as Otunba brought carpenters and started erecting another roof that appeared higher over all the stalls. Thank God it did not rain throughout that period, because we would have incurred so much loss. It took days of pleading and crying before we were allowed to move in and secure our wares.
“Before they allowed us access to our shops, we were compelled to agree that we would all pay between N150, 000 and N250, 000 respectively for both the roof and the construction of container sheds. Those of us that had already constructed lockup containers were asked to pay N150, 000, while those whom Otunba said he would construct for, and who had been sharing spaces with some other traders, were to pay N250, 000.
“By the time you calculate that amount against 165 occupants, you can imagine the amount of money involved. This is great injustice. We do business here in fear. We virtually slave to pay these two people. We want the Lagos State government to look into this injustice and save us. Governor Ambode should intervene because we’re being killed slowly.”
The traders also informed that over the years, even though the annual rent was N70, 000, they were always compelled to pay N80, 000 to Alhaja, so that she could take N10, 000, for her personal upkeep. This, they noted, was aside from other monthly levies. Some of the levies, according to the traders, were the late Alhaja Abibat Mogaji fee and the fee for the market clean-up.
Some of the traders maintained that the injustice meted out to them had gone on for years unchecked, adding that they had become totally helpless. They noted that the two individuals appeared to be above the law, have the backing of top government officials as well as command an army of street urchins always eager to unleash mayhem.
Attempts to talk to Otunba Dapo were fruitless. At a point, some traders warned against the dangers of seeking audience with him, noting that he might not tolerate any attempt to either verify claims or question his authority.
Alhaja, who refused to volunteer her real name, described the allegations as lies and mere figments of the traders’ imagination. She described the traders as enemies of progress, saying they were always inimical to good ideas. She defended her actions and those of Otunba, noting that the roof construction was meant to give the market a facelift as well as increase ventilation within the market.
“There is no trouble in this part of the market. You can see that everybody is going about their business in peace. There is no trouble here and nobody is disturbing anybody. We only told them that the market was becoming too hot and there was need to raise the roof. That was all! Are you not enjoying fresh air here?”
When Alhaja was asked if the traders were given any prior notice before the construction of the roof started, she bluntly refused to answer. When also asked about the involvement of Otunba Dapo in the market management and if she could help with his mobile number or provide proper description to his office, she practically dismissed the reporter.
“Someone has been here before from another newspaper and I told Otunba. He said he didn’t have any business with any newspaper. Go and meet the person that gave you the information about us to also give you more information,” she said with a note of finality before turning to attend to a customer.