By Meshack Idehen
First of all, It is not ideal to trade under bridges, so traders should accept Lagos State Government’s quit order in good faith
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s response to the demand of traders affected by the fire incident that occurred under the Eko Bridge on March 23 was probably the best in the circumstance.
The governor told the traders, who had been given a seven-day notice by the state government, to vacate the place and that the state government had no motivation to want to reconsider the decision in spite of the traders’ plea.
The government had earlier shut down the bridge to allow for a thorough assessment of the inferno on it.
The governor told the traders, rather bluntly that ‘’Between the last two years and now, we have had eight fire incidents on our bridges.
Each time something like this happens, it affects everyone of us and the economy. The implication is far-reaching and this will not be accepted as a norm. It costs more resources to put the damaged bridges back in shape and the activity takes more time to be completed.’’
Expectedly, the decision to evict the traders and squatters from underneath the bridge did not go down well with the traders.
The Iyaloja Romoleti Esho of Lagos Island, Alhaja Rukayat Balogun, who pleaded for more time to leave the place put the traders’ agonies in perspective: “Part of their instruction is that all containers and shops be cleared from under the bridge. But we are pleading with the government to allow us as we have no other place to go.’’
This is where the problem arises.
In matters like this, sentiments would definitely be deployed to sway the government and the Iyaloja made a good one of it: “Some of us are still in the hospital receiving treatment due to the shock of the fire, which razed property worth millions of naira.
The banks where we collected loans to trade are already on our neck, asking for their money.” She is not done yet. “Customers from African countries like Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and others usually come here to trade with us. Tell me where else does the government want to move us to on Lagos Island?
According to her, most of them had been selling under the bridge for over 40 years and meeting their families’ obligations from the proceeds. So, “The governor should allow us to continue here; we promise to be careful and law-abiding.”
What she however did not say was who allocated the place to them in the first place, or whether they have documents backing their ownership of the place. That they have been there for donkey years is not the issue.
Perhaps this is the fault of successive governments, right from the military era, because it ought to have acted to preserve the bridge, especially when it was becoming obvious that the traders’ continued occupation of such places is injurious to the wellbeing of other members of the society and is also a huge drain on scarce resources whenever an incident like that of March 23 occurs.
We can understand the traders’ plight, though. But they too should ponder what the governor said, among others, that the Eko Bridge fire was about the eighth in just two years. Now, the traders are promising that such won’t occur again. No one can guarantee that.
Do accidents or fire incidents give notice?
As a matter of fact, the government should not limit the eviction to traders at Oke Arin Market in Ebute-Ero. It should extend same to others underneath other bridges or vicinities close to such public facilities in the state.
As the governor noted, the costs to government whenever fire incidents occur are enormous. In the face of competing demands for dwindling resources, it is better to avoid disasters caused by such cost centres that have proved over time to be disasters waiting to happen. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure.
We however applaud the government’s promise to liaise with the local government chairman and Central Business District (CBD) office to find alternatives for the displaced traders. That seems the best that can be done in the circumstance.