(This is the second and final part of the investigation. Read the first part here).
Temitope Oluwatobi displays her goods on the Yaba railway line everyday with her heart literally in her mouth. Sometimes, she spends more time being on the lookout for an oncoming train than she does attending to her customers, she said. Often, whenever a train approaches, she would hurriedly pack her provisions off the rail line, with many of her items falling on the floor in the process. She hates the fact that she trades in fear, but says she has no alternative.
“We just have to survive. If we don’t do this, we are likely going to starve to death.
After all, we cannot afford to rent shops in Tejuoso new market,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
Ms. Oluwatobi is not alone on the rail line. She is in the company of many other traders who trade on the Yaba railway line—-fish sellers, fruit sellers, second-hand clothe traders, pop corn sellers, among others. Some of the traders sold their goods at the Old Tejuoso market before it got burnt in 2007.
On December 18 2007, the old Tejuoso market was gutted by fire, with traders losing goods worth millions of naira to the inferno. Many of the traders sold edible goods and household items at cheap prices in the market.
In its reaction to the fire incident, the Lagos State government, then headed by Babatunde Fashola, promised to re-construct the market and make it a world-standard ultra-modern market. The traders, however, expressed fears about the possibility of having their stalls returned to them after the reconstruction.
On August 26, 2014, seven years after the inferno, the Lagos State government fulfilled its promise by facilitating the complete re-construction of the market through a public-private partnership deal.
With more than 4,000 shops, a police post, a fire station, a parking space and mini-power plant, the new market is a sight to behold. Other facilities at the market include a waste disposal system, elevators and ramps, a water supply system among others.
But more than two years after the market was commissioned, the fears of the old traders have been confirmed.
HIGH RENT, POOR SALES
Checks at the market revealed that due to the high cost of rent, many of the old traders could not regain their stalls while most of the shops remain locked.
“The vegetable I sell here, how much is it worth that I would go rent a shop with that huge sum?” Ebere Anyanwu, a vegetable trader along Yaba-Ojuelegba road, said.
Other traders who now display their goods at the railway line in Yaba also expressed the same sentiment, adding that the shops have been priced out of the reach of the common trader.
“Many of the traders who sold at the old market before it got burnt can never, never, never afford the price,” Abike Najeem, also a fish seller at the railway line, said.
She explained that the traders have been pushed onto the road where the officials of the Lagos State Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, as well as other government agencies often harass them at will.
“It is not even the price alone that scares you away; the politics of acquiring one even if you have your money is frustrating. The so-called landlords and shop owners just fix prices at will. The whole thing is in a mess and I don’t think government is monitoring the way
it should,” a cloth seller, Chidi Ugo, said.
PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that potential shop owners pay as high as between N600,000 and N5 million, depending on the stall and the agreement reached with the ‘landlord’.
“9sqm shop goes for N150,000; 19sqm for N317,000; 23sqm for N368,000
and 25sqm for N400,000,” Demola Teriba, an authorized facility manager at the market, told PREMIUM TIMES during a telephone conversation.
“All these prices are based on our special promo prices, though,” Mr. Teriba added.
When PREMIUM TIMES probed further, he noted that the prices are higher than that when there is no promo.
“For regular prices, 9sqm goes for N400,000; 19sqm for N600,000; 25sqm for N1 million and above depending on the decision of the landlord or shop owner,” he said.
“You know, it has been sold to some individuals and those are the people who let it out. It is our company that has been given the mandate to let it out to people.”
“It is not wholly owned by government. Government provided the land and First Bank provided the finance to developers in charge of the construction,” he explained.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the corporate headquarters of First Bank Plc for its own position, our correspondent was directed to the Tejuoso branch of the bank. At the Tejuoso branch, a customer attendant who does not want her name in print said the facility office at the market should be contacted.
Checks at the facility office at the Tejuoso Market, however, yielded little result as officials said most enquiries should be directed to the Lagos State Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Meanwhile, an office assistant who simply identified himself as Lanre gave a breakdown of the rent at the market.
“Presently, we are organising promo. So we have 9sqm and 19sqm. For 9sqm, the rent is N150,000; legal and agency fee is 15,000; agreement fee is N15,000 and you will obtain a form at the rate of N5,000, making a total of N185,000,” he said.
“For the 19sqm, the rent is N317,000; legal and agency fee is N30,000; agreement fee is N30,000 while the form too goes for N5,000. The total is N382,000.”
When asked what the price range is when there is no promo, he disclosed that it is quite higher.
“Well, it is higher than this; some may be double of the price I just gave or more depending on the landlord. The one I put at N382,000 may go as high as N2 million.”
Findings however revealed that despite the high cost of obtaining stalls at the market, many traders in the market still record poor sales.
“Sometimes, we don’t sell anything in a whole week,” Shade Omolayo, a trader who sells clothing materials, told our correspondent.
“I think it is the way the market was built and the way it is being managed too,” she added.
Another trader who identified herself as Bisi said, “My aunt owns the shop and we deal in imported shoes. Sales are poor here because people rarely come into the complex. Imagine how things would be later when it is this dry when a trade fair is going on.”
LAGOS GOVERNMENT’S REACTION
As directed by officials at the Facility unit at the Tejuoso 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, Old secretariat, GRA, Ikeja, a top official of the board declined to speak officially, noting that the market board had been dissolved.
He, however, told PREMIUM TIMES that the government was aware of the concerns at the markets, adding that there are plans to regulate the activities of the “so-called landlords” at the market.
He confirmed that the markets were not constructed by the Lagos government but got it built through a public-private partnership deal. He also said he was aware the rent at the markets was high and largely unregulated, adding that there are strong indications the government would look into it once the board is re-constituted.
The official directed our correspondent to 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 declined to speak, instead directing our reporter to the office of the Public Relations Officer, PRO, of the ministry of local government.
When the reporter 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 said.
Over two weeks after the visit, the spokesperson is yet to fix the appointment or reply to our questions.
TEJUOSO TRADERS APPEAL
Meanwhile, at the Tejuoso market, traders who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES appealed to the government to look into the issue of the high rent.
“Some of us on the roadside would prefer to stay in organised places but we cannot afford the rent in that (Tejuoso) market,” said a second-hand clothe trader who identified herself simply as ‘Edo Woman’.
“Let government just help us look into the cost (of the rent). As it is now, only the rich and elites can afford those shops,” Mr. Ugo, the cloth seller said.