Displaced traders paint a gloomy picture of life after the Oshodi market demolition

On January 6, 2016, 42 year old trader, Calistus Madueke, also known as Cal Morrison had just received some devastating news—his three shops were destroyed in the Oshodi/Owonifari market demolition. Cal who was still on holiday at the time, rushed to the scene in an attempt to salvage what was left of his goods. But being five days late, all he could find was three mismatched pairs of shoes dug from the dirt.

Credit - Devon Maylie
Credit – Devon Maylie

Cal once had about seven employees trading in his three shops where they dealt in fashion designer wears and electronics, and now, he is left with nothing. “My situation can be likened to a 500 level Law student who is asked to go back to 100 level. After owning three shops for 15 years, all I do now is stand around trying my hardest to come up with solutions to my predicament, just like everyone else in this situation”, he said. When confronted with news of the deadline given to the traders to vacate the demolished site, Cal is fully defensive. “People are told we were given adequate time but this is not true, even if the time was given, it should have been more than two to three days, the demolition exercise began in the middle of the night. Traders were home, others had traveled for the holidays”.

Credit - Devon Maylie
Credit – Devon Maylie

“Do you know how many people they have rendered homeless? Do you know how many people will become armed robbers as a result of this situation? As his voice rises, a small crowd gathers as a young man answers Cal’s last question; “Many!” In the small crowd, you could see very young men who are apprentices as a result of lacking the resources for formal education as well as the embittered middle aged men like Cal, who will be forced to start over. Together, these men symbolize a group of Nigerians who look upon the government as a structure that destroys the lives of the masses from their ivory towers.

Cal is not alone in expressing bitterness regarding this situation. Chuks. O.S, an easygoing trader in the market kept smiling at everyone regardless of current circumstances. He was around during the demolition and confirmed the time of the demolition exercise. “They started demolishing the market around 12 midnight to 1am, newspaper reports of 7am are not true. I came out around a few minutes before 5am and by then the exercise was halfway done already”. We are feeling raw about it, if we had been given the chance to get our goods, we wouldn’t be complaining. The officials were here on the 31st of December 2015 to demolish but they didn’t because we disturbed them and made sure they couldn’t carry it out, so they came back when nobody could put a stop to the process,” Chuks said.

Credit - Devon Maylie
Credit – Devon Maylie

Chuks O.S believes the demolition exercise affected only the Ibo people. He stated that of all the traders in the demolished market, Ibos made up about 90 percent of the population. He however decried claims of the government of an alternative location. “They did not provide Bolade, Oshodi for us, all I know is the other market close to us here beside the post office, is charging up to 1 million Naira for a stall, meanwhile the government says the stalls go for 5,000 Naira. How can a struggling trader afford a market stall that goes for a million Naira?

At first glance, you would think Uchenna Kingsley, one of the other traders, was from the Yoruba ethnic group. But as soon as he started speaking, it was highly evident that he hails from the Eastern part of Nigeria. He also confirms the time of demolition, saying by the acclaimed 7am, the market had already been demolished. He also confirms that an alternate location was provided but traders the location as the building is near collapse. “Over 500 shops were demolished here, so if the government is providing another location, it needs to be a place that contains everyone”, says Kingsley. “The demolition exercise affected only Ibo people because it is mainly Ibos that own shops in this location, it is rather unfortunate. Even on the day of the demolition exercise was ongoing, passersby were in a rush to salvage whatever they could from the scene, goods were everywhere.

Credit - Devon Maylie
Credit – Devon Maylie

“On one hand, traders were either asleep at home or out of Lagos state for the holidays and their properties were being damaged while onlookers decided to cart away with what they could in the confusion, he reiterated angrily. Displaced traders have to start from scratch, which is very disappointing because this was not the change we were promised prior to the emergence of this administration”, he stated.

For Cal Morrison, his earlier plans to get married and start a family this year seem rather unattainable as he is more concerned with getting back on his feet business wise. He uttered the following words with so much conviction; ‘Nothing like option B’ as I questioned him about an alternative location provided by the government. “The government has said we should move to Arena, Bolade Oshodi, but no compensation has been given to those who lost a lot during the ‘secret’ demolition. However, the demolition affected more Ibos than other ethnic groups due to the fact that Ibos constitute about 80 percent of the market while other ethnic groups constitute the other 20 percent”, Cal said.

After coming across an angry female trader who categorically asked me if talking to Ventures Africa would resuscitate the demolished site, I met another trader who was able to paint a different picture of the incident. Emmanuel Mebitone is a shy and calm trader who deals in textile materials, he confirmed the government actually gave notice to quit but the time between warning and actual demolition was very brief–the reason why people felt lax about moving their properties out of the market on time.

Credit - Devon Maylie
Credit – Devon Maylie

“The alternative given by the government is Arena, Bolade, but the Army officials who run the place are not giving it out to traders unless they intend to rent the space. Although I don’t know how much to rent from there, I can imagine it is outrageous as many displaced traders have not settled down there. The demolition exercise in my opinion did not just affect Ibos, it affected other ethnic groups but Ibos are more in number. However there is nothing we can do after all, we cannot fight the government, Emmanuel said.

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