NIGERIA; Burnt Oko-Baba Market: Victims kick against relocation

Victims of Oko Baba watching haplessly as fire destroys their abodeRESIDENTS and traders of Oko-Baba, Ebute Metta area of Lagos State have urged the state government to design a ‘Master Plan’ for the area instead of relocating them to Timber village, in Ikorodu Local Government Area of the state.

This came as Oko-Baba Internally Displaced People, IDPs, abandoned the Agbowa Relief Camp, in Ikorodu suburb over alleged poor living conditions. There are about 450 IDPs including 98 children in the camp.

Three weeks ago, fire gutted the Oko-Baba Sawmill, destroying equipment worth millions of naira and rendered about 1000 people homeless.

Speaking during an inspection tour of ongoing projects at the proposed relocation site for Oko-Baba Saw millers, Governor Babatunde Fashola said: “It is going to be a clearly articulated timber village that is a whole industry on its own with offices, trailer park and other ancillary services like welding, carpentry and woodwork. What is further interesting about the Timber Village is the housing estate that is being constructed where people can live with modern housing facilities away from the unsightly and unacceptable conditions that now exist.

“We made an agreement with them; I signed on behalf of government a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with them. This is the future that we want for them. We are delivering on our promise and there is going to be a community of about 3000 houses here with the first 400 already done.”

However, contrary to earlier claims by the General Manager of Lagos State Emergency Management Authority, LASEMA, Dr Femi Oke-Osanyintolu that IDPs were daily storming the camp, when Megacityspotlight visited the camp last weekend, it was virtually deserted as there were few people around. Though, about 450 IDPs are said to be accommodated only few people were seen around.

Osanyintolu had earlier claimed that the IDPs would also be taught vocational skills by the state’s Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation and emergency stakeholders such as UNICEF, LASAMBUS, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, none of these officials was on camp when Vanguard visited.

Also, there was no transportation provided.  LASEMA boss had claimed: “We have also provided transportation needs for them at the camp. By 6 am bus takes some of them to Mile 12 while in the evening precisely, by 6. 30 pm, they are returned to the camp. That is for those who intend to go out of the place.”

During his visit to the camp recently to assess state of the victims, he said that everything needed to mitigate the effect of the loss of properties on the victims had been provided in the camp in accordance with the governor’s directives, adding that efforts were also ongoing by the state‘s Ministry of Education to take charge of the education needs of the displaced children in the camp.

We’ve no means of livelihood – Victims
One of the IDPs at Agbowa, Mrs. Folashade Ojeshipe, commended the state government for its gesture, saying: “We were well fed here but we need help for clothing and we need some pocket money because we have no means of livelihood. And also the government should remember its promise to keep us here for only three months. I lost my house and the stall to the inferno   but most importantly, they are yet to take care of the schooling of our children, they just keep on roaming about. We need Fashola’s immediate intervention on this. “

Another IDP, a graduate of Yaba College of Technology, Mr. Olamutu Olatunji, an Artist, appealed passionately to Fashola for financial assistance as he had lost all he owned to the fire. “I have been redundant by not working. I want Governor Fashola to assist me financially. I do monument on structures, all my materials got burnt in the inferno. In fact I lost everything I owned to the inferno.”

Why we’re against relocation
However, some of the victims that aandoned Agbowa and dn’t want to be relocated to Ikorodu contended that Oko-Baba has for decades been their home and their main source of livelihood, hence, relocation would make them lose their heritage.

They added that it would cost the government less to design a master plan for the area that would include residential, offices and sawmill than to commence new construction.

Mrs. Ayoka Salako, one of the residents, said, “I want to rebuild my house. I don’t want to leave this place, even to Agbowa relief camp.”

According to Salako, a septuagenarian, “this was where I gave birth to my six children. I have nowhere to go. I have lived here for long. Where does he (governor) want me to relocate to? This is my heritage. I am not ready to leave this place. I am ready to rebuild my structure.  What we want from the government is to design the area in a way that the residents would live separately from the saw millers,” adding “I felt relieved when I heard that the governor would be visiting the scene. And when he came, I expected him to sympathize with us; disburse some funds to the victims to rebuild our structures and proffer solution on how to end fire disaster in the area. Instead he ordered that we should be relocated.”

Mr. Fola Muhammed, a trader, said:  “The relocation plan by the state government cannot be possible. I am the one managing my father’s business since his demise. And my father started the business here before my birth. I am not ready to relocate my father’s business. If I relocate the business away from here to wherever the government planned to build its new timber village, what will happen to the avalanche of customers I have? So I am not ready to lose any of my customers. This is the hub of plank market business in the country.”

Mrs. Funmilayo Gbadamosi said that she had experienced life at both Agbowa and Oko-Baba, “but I prefer to live in the latter.”

Gbadamosi, a petty trader explained “I was among the victims who went to the resettlement camp at Agbowa. But I had to leave because the camp isn’t conducive for habitation especially for me. Several others have also abandoned the camp for the city. While at the camp I was idle. And when I decided to leave the camp to my office, I couldn’t cope with the cost of transportation considering the type of business I operate.”

Mr. Abiodun Adewole, whose office was razed, commended Fashola for the relocation of the victims to Agbowa relief camp, saying “It shows that the governor understand leadership.”

Adewole however said “what would be the fate of the victims after three months when they would be required to leave the camp. Will there be any provision after they leave the camp?”

Conditions for relocation to Timber Village
Adewole noted that the traders and the residents could not be relocated until adequate facilities that would aid their resettlement were provided at the new timber village, saying “until then, the government shouldn’t think of relocation.”

He stated that the place must be closer to a lagoon, as this would aid the movement of logs into the market. “A fire station and schools must be provided for the traders and the residents. There must also be recreation centres for the workers; an independent power project (IPP) must be provided to supply electricity at the centre. The reason for this is the business relies on power supply for its survival. Also, the new village must be designed to accommodate the avalanche of workers who rely on the market for their daily survival. ”

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