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We paid N6m to Lagos on Thursday, government demolished our shops on Sunday- Alaba traders lament
 
By: Abara Blessing Oluchi
Wed, 21 Jun 2023   ||   Nigeria,
 

On Sunday, the Lagos government commenced the demolition of several buildings at the multi-billion naira Alaba International Market — a development that left many shop owners in limbo.

When TheCable visited the market on Tuesday morning, many of the affected shop owners were moody.

“Leave here immediately.”

“I am not disposed to talk.”

“What would talking change?”

“I need to make money now — not talk.”

“You can see that everyone is in distress.”

These were comments from some affected shop owners when this reporter met them at the market.

The Lagos government said the demolished buildings “were distressed”.

Gbolahan Oki, general manager of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), last Friday, said some of the buildings had been marked with quit notice since 2016, adding that occupants usually “harass officials of the agency whenever they want to carry out their duties”.

But Calistus Ezenwa, an affected trader along the Alaba Rago/Ojo Alaba axis, with a noticeably shaky voice, said most of the traders were not aware of the notice.

“I do not know what to say. In fact, I am short of words because in this kind of situation, even if they wanted to demolish the buildings, they should have at least given us two months so that we can gather ourselves and get another shop,” Ezenwa said.

“It was just a few weeks ago that they gave us notice to park out of our shops. Now, everybody is scattered. Coming out to the market right now is just for fancy. I have no plans yet. It is not fair.”

“I was in the market seven years ago and I did not hear about it (the quit notice).”

On his part, John Nebonta, another affected shop owner, claimed the traders were served a notice on June 1.

Nebonta also noted that he had been doing business in the market since 2016 and “there was no notice of such”.

Nebonta said he was asked to pay N70,000 tax to the state government three days before the demolition

“They (LASBCA) gave us a 7-day ultimatum on June 1, 2023. After one week, the market leadership taxed each shop N70,000. I paid. We went to Alausa to report to the authorities,” Nebonta said.

“They said they would give us state government accounts to pay the fee, and that we should pay in instalments; not knowing they had an ulterior motive. So we contributed N70,000 each and we were able to raise about N6,022,942 on Thursday last week.”

Speaking further, Nebonta said there are rumours that private developers intend to use the land where the shops were demolished for a new trade complex named “New Alaba”.

“The problem started when some people came to develop that place. They even brought a catalogue to that effect. They called it the new Alaba, and the prices of shops were on the catalogue. They even came with forms for people to buy stores in the plaza to be built behind us,” he said.

Corroborating Nebonta’s claim, David Ezeanya, another trader, said the demolition exercise was to fast-track the process of constructing the new edifice.

“They are about to sell the land. The exercise was just to pass it from the old hands to new hands,” he said.

“I bought my shop and an empty land. I have not built a structure on the empty land.”

For John Emeka, the experience of having his goods and the shop demolished remains an ugly one.

“We thought it was a joke. What really affected us was the lack of information. We lacked serious information from the government,” he said.

“We did not know it would be serious. But to our surprise, they gave us a seven-day ultimatum.

“We were surprised to see that that on Sunday morning, bulldozers came and pulled down our building.”

The receipt said to have been issued by Lagos after the first instalment of N4.46 million was paid to the state account on Thursday

Another trader who simply identified himself as Moses also said some amount of money was “paid to LASBCA” on Thursday.

“So many of us own the shop and we still paid the local government this year. We can not fight the government but I am thankful I was able to pull out my goods. For now, I am just hanging around,” he said.

Speaking, Udenkwo Nnamdi, first vice-chairman, Fancy and Furniture Dealers Association, Ojo Alaba market, said his members did not bargain for a demolition.

“All these tenants are paying tenement rate; they are paying an allocation to the local government. So, if it is an illegal structure, the local government would not have been collecting such fees from us,” he said.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Mbonu Geoffrey, president-general of the Alaba International Amalgamated Association, said he is not aware of any plot by some developers to demolish the structures.

“The information reaching us is that they have fliers and the prototype of what they want to do,” Geoffrey said.

“Maybe the portion of that land was not enough to build that gigantic project, so they approached the state government to acquire more land. There are some foundations down there where the owners of the land attempted to protect their lands from the developers.

“In the notice sent to us, 2016 was not mentioned. If they gave us notice in 2016, Who did they give it to? Who did they serve it to? What stopped them from indicating that they had given us notice since 2016?

“One thing is sure, you cannot bring down my building and take over my land. There must be a process. We are watching to see if these buildings being pulled down by an agency is based on the condition of the buildings.

“So, what about the land? If there is any project that the developer has come to put in Alaba that makes them take over our land, we will know.”

Responding to TheCable’s enquiry, Tayo Asagba, public relations officer of LASBCA, reiterated that the buildings were distressed and that the shop owners had been notified since 2016.

On allegations that LASBCA received over N6 million from the business owners just before their shops were demolished, she said the money was not paid to her agency.

“The building was distressed, so we do not need to collect consolidated payments,” Asagba said.

 

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