Before the Lagos State Government rolled out bulldozers to sanitize the expansive and boisterous Oshodi market, it was a haven for pickpockets and notorious for all forms of social vices.

Vehicular traffic on the Agege Motor Road and Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, two major links to the market, was always a nightmare for motorists and pedestrians alike.

But the Babatunde Fashola administration moved swiftly and destroyed all the illegal kiosks, stalls and sheds that had constituted an eyesore in the area.

After the demolition, Oshodi market has now transformed from the once lawless community to a peaceful atmosphere, aided by series of developmental projects like construction of new pedestrian bridges, painting of walls under the bridge and installation of street lights.

Displaced traders were not left in the cold as construction of modern markets were undertaken by developers. During the period, a multi-million naira shopping complex, the Nigerian Army Shopping Arena was commissioned at the Mammy Market of the Army Cantonment in Oshodi .

The transformation of Oshodi was not just a function of physical development, as there were security squads put in place to maintain law and order, especially to checkmate the excesses of miscreants, also known as area boys.

Officials of Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, were often seen walking around the busy market. A Black Maria vehicle is permanently stationed near the overhead bridge to ferry any environmental offender to custody.

Along the ever-busy Agege motor road are white Toyota vans with armed police officers on surveillance of the long stretch of the road.

At every junction and bus top within the market are officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) on duty. All these men have helped to restore sanity to Oshodi market.

Oshodi market has not only been sanitised but it is now a safe and clean environment. The roads and streets of the market are swept regularly every morning by the officials of Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA).

The market now has one of the best ultra-modern shopping arenas in the state that attracts upper class traders to the market.

Although the transformation has relatively slowed down business but it has also eliminated the army of beggars, touts and pickpockets from the market.

The hitherto abandoned pedestrian bridges have been rehabilitated and put into use. They have literally become sources of income for beggars who sweep them to earn alms.

At night, the beauty of the market overwhelms everyone. Streets and under-bridge lights illuminate the entire landscape. The only old feature that seems not to have changed is noise.

The market’s serenity is fouled by all manner of noise from vehicle horns, conductors, as well as from loud speakers which are now widely used by commercial bus drivers to invite passengers. Cassette and CD vendors also contribute to the noise pollution.

Recalling the shock on the faces of traders, buyers and passersby when officials of the state government arrived the market with bulldozers, assisted by armed policemen in 2009, one of the shop owners said: “It was like a movie when the bulldozers came crushing everything to ground zero. And immediately, we all realised that it was serious business. In hours, the shanties and illegal structures in the ‘Old Oshodi’ were reduced to a rubble, leaving thousands of traders in tears.

“In the early hours of the day after the demolition, traders walked round the market, crying and picking what was left of their wares while the area boys were busy looting, getting what they could because they were embarking on a new journey of life.”

Comparing the old Oshodi with the new, one would appreciate the old Oshodi as an ideal case of the ingenuity of the Nigerian masses. It was also a melting point of a sort presenting a vivid picture of Nigeria’s multi-ethnic composition.

The old Oshodi simply revealed the complexity of the nation’s socio-economic fabric, especially the informal sector, that caters for the rich, the poor, local and expatriate, able and disabled, young and old. It is a community with unlimited influx of people from different cultures.

Notwithstanding the sorrow and tears that characterised the bulldozers’ raid, most residents of Lagos now cite Oshodi as an example of a model market that befits Lagos as a mega city.

A passerby, Akin Adepoju, who grew up in Oshodi, said he is always amazed when he gets to Oshodi and sees the many security officials, including armed policemen and officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), effecting arrest of hawkers on the roadside or people dropping refuse on the ground.

A trader, Ikemefuna Orioha, said Oshodi will always be the commercial centre where traders try to outsmart one another.

“Oshodi Market is one commercial hub in the city of Lagos where this happens.

“A non-Nigerian visitor will marvel at its level of energy and state of utter chaos embedded in a tight confluence of human and vehicular traffic,” he said.

A trader, Rasaki Babalola, commended Governor Fashola for transforming the market from a garbage and lawless area to an orderly one.

Bayo Afolabi, whose left hand was amputated at the wrist and who now sweeps and begs on the Oshodi pedestrian bridge, said he is one of the beneficiaries of the transformation.

He explained that the transformation gave him the opportunity to earn a living on the bridge.

“The crowd wey dey for Oshodi too much that time. Na so all these pick pockets go dey cut people bag, dey steal their money and their phones. That time if you dey for bus, hold your purse up like this and the area boys go snatch am and run away.

“Dem go change their clothes and come back. Some of those boys still dey. I dey see dem everyday. Dem still dey collect people money but it is not like before,” he said in pidgeon English.

 

—Jamiu Yisa