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Monday 13 February 2017

Inside Lagos 'Ghost' Markets Where Shop Owners Pay Millions to Sell 'Nothing' (Part 1)

The entrance to the Onyingbo market
A Lagos market where shop owners actually pay a lot of a money to sell virtually nothing has been uncovered. Pin-drop silence, empty k-clamps, locked up stalls, deserted staircase; and other signs of inactivity, welcome visitors to the main complex of the Oyingbo Ultra Modern Market, Lagos, even on a sunny afternoon.
Devoid of the haggle that come with the exchange of goods in a typical market, the silence at the market is as though it is a graveyard.
“Some people call it ‘Ghost Market’, already,” Titilayo Oluwaseun, a cloth seller at the market, told PREMIUM TIMES.
But what obtains within the Oyingbo market complex is in sharp contrast with what obtains at the entrance, as well as other surrounding parts of the market.
At the entrance, traders ––including pepper sellers, butchers, fish sellers, fruit sellers–– and their customers engage in buying and selling, while the cacophony of their conversations create an ambience that is typical of the old traditional open market.
Often crowded and noisy, this section of the market plays host to men and women who argue endlessly with one another over prices of goods bought and quality of services rendered, while throwing witty banters into their conversations. Findings, however, revealed that the traders at the entrance, too, abandoned their stalls in the main complex due to low patronage.
“Some of those traders you see downstairs at the entrance, and even on the roadside, have shops and K-clamps in the complex. But they have to go downstairs because if they remain here like me, they will not make any sales. That’s why you see all stalls locked up like this,” Ms. Oluwaseun explained further.
PREMIUM TIMES findings confirmed her (Ms. Oluwaseun’s) claim as some of the traders who displayed their wares at the entrance of the complex told PREMIUM TIMES that they owned shops in the complex.
“As you can see, this is my stall but you will most likely meet this place locked up because I would always be downstairs selling. We make little or no sales here,” Michael Olu, a trader who deals in polythene bags said.
Another trader who simply identified himself as Tunde said, “My mother has a K-clamp upstairs but we cannot remain there because we will not sell anything. That’s why we are downstairs here.”
Locked stalls on the First floor
In March 2015, the Lagos State government commissioned the ultra-modern Oyingbo market complex, twenty-four years after it was demolished for reconstruction. The contract for its construction was handled by Messrs Palmyra Construction Nigeria Limited which commenced work in 2009.
With 622 open shops, 102 lockup shops and 134 toilets and sit exit gates, the four-floor massive building sits on a 544 square metre and was estimated to have been built at the cost of N1 billion.
While commissioning the market, former Lagos State governor and now Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said, “We hope that they (the traders) will all leave the roadside and come into the market, so as to free up the road for free-flow of traffic.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Fashola’s ‘hope’ is yet to materialise. More than twenty months after the market was commissioned, the stalls are still unoccupied as traders still display their wares on the roadside in the evening, and at the entrance of the complex during the day.
“At 5’o clock, traders who own stalls still move outside to sell by the roadside. That’s why few of us who remain in our shops don’t sell anything. Since December 20th, I have not sold a single pair of cloth,” Ms. Oluwaseun lamented.
“It was only on two occasions when I also joined them to display my wares at the roadside downstairs that I made little sales. Is that the way things should be, despite the huge amount we paid getting this shop.”
“For standard shop on the second and third floors, the rent is N2 million (per annum). For the first floor, it is N2.5 million. And for some of us in standard shops, we pay N3,500 every three months for maintenance,” said Ms. Oluwaseun, the only trader on the second floor when PREMIUM TIMES visited the market.
“Those who own K-clamps paid N200, 000,” she added.
Deserted K-clamps on the 2nd floor
She however told our correspondent that the rate could go higher, depending on the agent in charge.
This was confirmed by two other traders who owned stalls at the market.
The market has also been rocked by allegations of racketeering in the allocation of shops; as well as shady deals in the display of wares at the entrance of the complex and on the roadside.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that some of the market operatives also collect dues from the traders who display their wares on the roadside.
“There is a man called ‘Sempe’ who gives out ticket to these traders downstairs and I think it is illegal,” a trader who craved anonymity said.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained a copy of the ticket.
Efforts to speak with the said ‘Sempe’ were unsuccessful as he declined to talk with our correspondent.
He however directed PREMIUM TIMES to the market head, one Alhaja Sikira, who also declined to speak. A man identified as the government official designated to the market, too, refused to speak on the legality of the dues collected.
It could, therefore, not be ascertained if dues are legitimate revenue generating means of the government or if they go into private pockets.
PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that before the new market complex was constructed, the space was occupied by some fruit traders who owned small, open stalls. But the huge amount placed on rent of stalls, coupled with alleged racketeering by the agents in charge, forced many who couldn’t afford the shops to remain by the roadside.
“What we are saying is that they should also allow our fruit sellers’ union to own small spaces inside (the complex),” Tawa Kareem, a trader who sells oranges at the roadside, said.
When probed further, she revealed that the traders who display their wares at the entrance of the complex do so with the support of their trade unions. She however declined to comment on the legality or otherwise of their actions.
When PREMIUM TIMES confronted her with findings that reveal that by remaining downstairs at the entrance of the complex, the traders hinder other stall owners within the complex from making sales as customers do not bother to go upstairs, she said that could only be looked into by the government.
“Everybody here wants to sell and make money. It is the government that will put measures in place to ensure that there is sanity,” she told PREMIUM TIMES in Yoruba.
Traders at the entrance of the complex
Another fruit trader who declined to have her name in print but identified herself as “Iya Eleso” told PREMIUM TIMES that majority of them could not afford the stalls due to the high cost of rent.
“What do I sell that I would go rent a shop at that huge amount?” she quipped.
In a bid to get the Lagos State government’s account about happenings at the market, PREMIUM TIMES visited the office of the Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Ministry of Commerce and Industry at the Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja. But an official told our correspondent to go to the Lagos State Market Board, adding that the ministry does not handle such issues.
At the Lagos State Market Board at Old secretariat, GRA, Ikeja, a top official declined to speak officially, adding that the board had been dissolved.
He, however, told PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity that the government was aware of the concerns at the market, adding that there are plans to regulate the activities of the “so-called landlords” at the market.
He confirmed that the market was not constructed by the Lagos government but the government got it built through a public-private partnership deal. He also said he was aware the rent at the market was high and largely unregulated, adding that there are strong indications the government would look into it once the market board is re-constituted.
He however directed our correspondent to check at the Local Government Affairs, LGA, unit of the Lagos State Ministry of Local Government for further clarifications.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the LGA unit at the ministry of local government, officials referred our correspondent to the office of the Public Relations Officer, PRO, of the ministry.
But when PREMIUM TIMES checked again, Bisi Olufuwa, the PRO of the ministry, said she would direct the issues to her boss, the permanent secretary of the ministry.
“I am just seeing this (and you, too) for the first time and I promise to fix a session where you will meet my boss and discuss these issues,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
A week later, when PREMIUM TIMES checked again at the ministry, officials at the PRO’s office said our correspondent would be invited the next day for the interview with the Permanent Secretary.
But more than two weeks after the last visit, PREMIUM TIMES is yet to get a response or an interview appointment.

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