Demolition Of Oshodi Market: Perspective For The Poor


Bosah Chinedu

On Sunday January 4 2009, the demolition squad descended on the popular Oshodi market bulldozing everything including goods and properties. This is a period when many traders were just resuming for the new year with the attendant responsibilities that go with the New Year particularly children’s education. 

The demolition that was meted to Oshodi is not new as several other parts of Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country had witnessed similar exercise.  Two days later, Iba market was equally demolished. Oshodi market used to be very rough considering the fact that hundreds of thousand of people contest for all available space. In fact it takes only the strong to survive a place like Oshodi, Lagos Island etc., as one would have to learn the art of manoeuvring, pushing, elbowing before you can successfully move up and down. If it was difficult for people, then you can imagine the hell motorists go through. Another usual scene is the huge army of Area Boys who carry out both legitimate and illegitimate activities.

I have read some articles in the media on the demolition and all of them without exception have analysed the situation in an awkward manner. A large section of the media is carried away. To them, this is the best option under the present situation.  Some have praised the action the Fashola on two bases: the demolition has freed the very chaotic traffic situation and has gotten rid of Area Boys at Oshodi.

Lawal Ogienagbon of the Nations Newspaper has this to say in his article published on Thursday January 8 2009: “But should the people of Lagos continue to live with the Oshodi madness? Governor Babatunde Fashola provided the answer on Sunday.” What was the answer? He continued, “Determined to restore sanity at Oshodi, Fashola ordered the demolition of illegal structures at the bus stop and the adjoining area linking Ilupeju. Since Sunday Oshodi has been a beautiful and adorable sight to behold.”

In Vanguard of January 5 2009, the Chairman of the Task Force, Mr. Bayo Suleiman, a Superintendent of Police, said the exercise was meant to curb the crime rate in the area, particularly at night and this is to ensure law and order in the state and in furtherance of the on-going beautification of the state. It is also to allow for a free flow of traffic,” he said.

Such reason was not different from what Babatunde Fashola gave. In an interview granted to Guardian and published on Saturday Jan 10 2009 his reasons are: for security of lives and property, and for free flow of traffic.

If demolition of Oshodi can curb crime rate, the killing of armed robbers (capital punishment) in the 1970s/80s, which was meant to serve as a deterrent to others would have done wonders. When the military promulgated the law, some people shouted crucify them (armed robbers)! Rather than for armed robbery to reduce, it skyrocketed in rate of poverty and misery.

Honestly, the demolition signifies a government that is not interested in resolving the problems confronting the people. For anyone not to be myopic, he or she needs to analyse how the problems of yesteryears emanated and the continual degeneracy to this moment. That is the only way one can come out with an honest balance sheet of the situation. Yes, I want Oshodi and other places in the country to be free from street urchins and for traffic to flow very well. But it is going to be living in a fool’s paradise to think that when you demolish Oshodi market, it automatically eradicates Area Boys at Oshodi. At best you reduce Area Boyism and increase armed robbery or there is a reduction of Area boys at Oshodi and you increase it elsewhere. Have the so called street urchins been reformed or rehabilitated? Have they changed from area boys to professional doctors, engineers etc.? The simple answer is NO. They are still street boys who would continue to be street boys and no amount of fiat can stop it. This is so because natures abhor vacuum, besides the fact that the very material precondition that has made street boys is still intact.

What the governor is doing is to use fiat to resolve a state of anarchy; a case of using anarchy to resolve anarchy whose final result will be anarchy. The question those who think that the demolition has achieved so much should be asking themselves is that how did we get to this state of anarchy? How come we have predominantly become a petty trading economy where virtually everything that is traded is imported? So we have far more peasants than working class and middle class put together. A peasant economy is a backward economy and the indices of a backward economy are poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, unemployment etc.  Who is to be blamed? Is it the people or the irresponsible ruling class who have demonstrated their incapacity to industrialize and organize the economy?

What we are witnessing is that the same people who have wrecked havoc on the people have turned around to blame the people. The chaotic nature of Oshodi and other places reflects the chaotic nature of the economy - an economy that lacked and still lacks planning. Let’s equate the demolitions in relationship with the resultant effect on the general society. Demolition of Oshodi, free flow of traffic, reduction of street urchins that operate in the area= (equals to) the increase in armed robbery, increased poverty of the traders, relocation of street urchins in other areas, increased level of fraudsters/scammers etc. In fact many of the children of the traders would not be able to return to school, an action that will increase the numbers of street urchins, armed robbery and fraudulent activities. How will they meet other responsibilities like feeding, rent etc? Have we made any progress?  I will sincerely say that we are still in the state of anarchy, it all depends on how clearly one looks at it. For those who are not directly affected, it will be easy to hail the demolition, but for those who are directly affected like the thousands of traders and their dependants, it is one the worst calamity that could befall an individual.

It used to be the stock in trade of the military with its attendant brutality to carry out such demolitions without an alternative created for the traders. Similar unjustifiable and reckless reasons were given in July 1990 when the ruthless military governor of Lagos State, Colonel Raji Rasaki demolished Maroko and rendered over 300, 000 people homeless with over 10, 000 houses demolished. What do we have now? Moroko has been allocated to the rich while many are still homeless and other slums like Ajegunle degenerated because of the influx of the displaced persons.

Fashola in the interview with the Guardian newspaper published on Saturday January 10 2009 said the exercise was carried out in the interest of the traders, as his administration would soon provide them with a conducive place to carry on with their trading. It goes to show that the Lagos State government does not care a hoot about the welfare of the people. It is recklessness to first render people unproductive and promised to get them an alternative some day that may never come.

As reported in the Vanguard of January 5 2009, one of the victims of the exercise who simply identified himself as Ifeanyi told Vanguard: “I was not in the market when they came. If I had been here, I would have been able to carry my goods to a safer place. I lost nothing less than a hundred thousand naira. The most painful aspect of it is that I borrowed the money in November to make quick sales in December, with a promise to pay back in February.” This is the sorry tale of thousands of traders and for some of them, the story is sorrier.

I will like to pass through Oshodi Market in the shortest possible time without any stress but at the same time I do not want armed robbers to visiting me at the shortest possible intervals and scammers duping me or attempting to dupe me. Ask Ruben Abati of his experience and he will give you firsthand experience and what about those who fall for these frauds, it was hell. A society that do not plan for her citizens and in most cases discourages hard work will always breed criminals. Criminals do not fall from the sky; they are a product of the unjust social order. The way a society produces goods and services is the same way it produces her human resources. So, if we have more criminals than professionals, it is because we have produced more criminals. Those who trade on the street are not comfortable with it considering hazards that come with it. They are simply forced into it by the excruciating poverty and circumstances. For anybody to now cast aspersion on them is like blaming them for being poor whereas the looting and irresponsibility of the few ruling elite have brought us to this mess is not only unfair but will be standing logic upside down. And, the same ruling elite are walking free and flouting the peoples’ wealth in public while the poor are on a daily basis humiliated, harassed and punished.  

For those who are in power like Fashola, criminals will hardly get to them at least for now because of the huge security around them, but for the mass of the poor people, middle class elements and businesses, they will have to play host to more criminals-there is no two ways about it.

The Education rights Campaign (ERC) hereby call on the Lagos state government to immediately provide an adequate alternative for the displaced traders and adequate compensation paid to those who lost their properties and money. The government should also commence rehabilitation of area boys in the state and create jobs for the army of unemployed youths and adults. We demand a holistic and systemic approach to governance under a community based planning that ensures upgrading of infrastructures for the benefit all.  Anything short of this is callousness and recklessness, which is unacceptable to the poor. The Guardian on Sunday January 11 2009 carried a caption in an article: “... Goodbye To All That Nonsense.” But in reality it is welcome to other Nonsense (robbery, prostitution, touting, scamming, begging etc.)  Those who have eyes, let them see clearly.



Bosah Chinedu

National secretary

Education rights Campaign (ERC)