Isale Eko: Commercial Heartbeat Of Lagos

THAT Lagos, from time immemorial, had been a booming trading centre is not news. However, what many people do not know is that there are areas in the downtown Lagos that had, over the years, evolved to become its heartbeat or core as the commercial nerve centre.

In fact, a first-time visitor to Lagos who has only been to the mainland and the suburbs is likely to be wondering why the metropolis is referred to as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. This is because there is nothing to indicate the unique commercial nature of the city in the mainland, as the appearance of all the markets is virtually the same as others in cities and towns in other parts of the country.

Factories and firms in Lagos, although more in number, are not remarkably different in structure and appearance from similar ones in Kano, Port Harcourt and other cities.

But somebody that wants to know why it is aptly described as the commercial nerve centre should visit Lagos Island, starting from after the crossing of Eko Bridge into Apogbon, then take a walk down to Ebute Ero, Idumota, Nnamdi Azikiwe Street, Dosunmu Street, Idumagbo and down to Adeniji Adele Road.

Other areas include Martins Street, Broad Street, Balogun Street, Oluwole, Madilas, Tinubu Square and the adjacent areas.  Everywhere, every space in all these areas has been turned to business spots. The concentration of businesses in the place has made human and vehicular movements Herculean tasks as vehicles, load carriers, wheel barrow pushers, hawkers of assorted wares struggle and maneuvre to avail themselves of any available little chance on the road. This is the main place that made Lagos to be referred to as the commercial nerve centre.

Speaking on the densely populated place, Mr. Samuel Okeke, who owns a large pharmaceutical shop on one of the streets, said it gave birth to Alaba International Market at Ojo, a Lagos suburb and Auto Spare Parts Market also known as Aspanda at the International Trade Complex on Badagry Expressway. He disclosed that when the place was over-congested and there was no more room for expansion some of the traders relocated to Alaba and Aspanda.

He said traders started to move from Lagos Island to those areas when it was difficult to get a space to expand and offload containers brought from abroad.

According to him, despite the migration the place remains the same. Every space is a stall. All the buildings, even though a majority of them had been pulled down and rebuilt into multi-storey structures, partitioned into shops and small cubicles, yet many traders are still looking for a space to rent to do business. Those who cannot secure a place do their business on the streets.

The Guardian discovered that many markets dot the area.  To make identification easy, each of the markets is named after the major street or a landmark in the area.

Each of the markets has a leader known as Iyaloja (if a female leader) or Babaloja (if a male). All the leaders report to the Iyaloja General of Lagos Island in the person of Alhaja Iyabode Fagbemi, an 80 year-old woman.

Locating the Iyaloja general was not difficult because any trader you ask to direct you to her office would ask: “Which Iyaloja? Is it the Iyaloja of this market or the overall Iyaloja of the Island?”

And when you say the Iyaloja general, you will be directed to Oke-Arin Market. And when you get to Oke-Arin, you would be asked to go to Ebute Ero Oriyanrin Aromolati Eso Market. And at the market, the Iyaloja’s office is a nondescript metal container, which had been converted into a store wherein the elderly mama sits on a wooden bed with an old mattress. The place looks more like a resting place for the woman and a spot where disputes are resolved than an office. It also serves as a mini-ware house, where some cartons of goods are kept.

The Iyaloja, who does not speak English but only Yoruba, spoke through an interpreter who gave his name as Ismaila Agbabiaka. He is also the woman’s personal secretary.

Persuading the elderly woman to speak was not an easy task as she asked humorously for a consultation fee since The Guardian was not seeking her opinion for fun but to be published for sale. But when she was reminded that the publication would feature her photograph and thus make her known to the public at large as the Iyaloja general of the Lagos Island markets, she smiled and then gladly agreed to talk.

First, mama gave names of the markets in the area as Ebute Ero, Apogbon Wine, Oke-Arin, Idumota, Dosunmu, Idumagbo, Jankara, Balogun, Oluwole, Madilas and Sangrouse.

Collectively, the markets provide means of livelihood directly to more than six million people and indirectly to even more by way of multiplier-effect.

According to mama, landlords and developers earn high income from the place due to ever increasing rent, followed by the big time traders who own large shops. Others who derive their daily income from the place include the retailers, hawkers, transporters, load carriers and refuse collectors.

There are others like bank workers whose salaries are paid by the income realized from the markets, government revenue and daily contribution collectors from traders etc.

Mama’s interpreter stated that manufacturing firms also make money in the markets. He explained that research had proved that the markets account for the distribution of 35 per cent of companies’ products in the country. He stressed that all firms in the country ensure they have major distributors in the place for effective distribution of their products.

According to him, people come from African countries and all over Nigeria to procure goods in the markets for resale in their locality. Such goods are hauled with trucks hired at Iddo Motor Park where an average of 10 to 15 big ones are loaded daily, bound for up country and beyond.

Corroborating the interpreter, a marketer, Mr. Sule Iyodo, who sells tyres in the place, said people come from Chad, Niger, Cameroun, Republic of Benin, Ghana and other parts of the continent to patronize the market.

“All kinds of products are sold here. Clothes, hardware, rope, wine, wristwatch, clock, paint, chemical, electronics, you name it, they are available here. At Oluwole, people in need of any document or official seal can get it. There are all kinds of goods here,” said Iyodo.

A trader in Jankara, Kazeem Fatai, who sells hardware and wood treatment chemicals, confirmed that there is hardly any product that cannot be got in the place.

When asked the value of the products in the markets and about how much business is done on daily basis, Peter Igbinigie, a manager in one of the commercial banks, guestimatedly put the worth of both local and imported products in the place at about N10 trillions.

He buttressed his claim with the fact that some warehouses are filled to the very top with goods worth billions of Naira.

On daily turnover, Igbinigie said it is well over N2 trillion.

Answering a question on whether the banks assist the market operators, the Iyaloja general replied: “I am not aware of any bank loan to anybody in the market because what I often hear is that the banks always refuse to grant loan to them (market operators) because they have no collateral to secure such facility. But those with connections in the banks might have been granted loans but that is not to my knowledge.”

But one of the importers, Okeke Richard, said the banks only assist those who are into importation business.

According to him, such credit facilities are closely monitored and in most cases, bank officials take part in the selling of the imported products to ensure the recovery of the loans.

He said: “Most of the traders who succeeded in getting loans from the banks often regret doing so because at the end of the day, they ended up using all they realized from the business to repay the high interest and the principal. Government should look into the high interest rate charged by banks. Nobody is benefiting from such practice. The banks, because they could not get cheap fund to lend at low interest rate, grant loans to business people at high interest rate. The business people pass on the extra charges to the end users in the form of higher prices. The higher prices provoke demand for wage increase by workers. Government should find ways to bring down interest rate to reduce the cost of investment funds.”



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