I am Returning To Ladipo Auto Market To Make Peace – Okoli
Mr. Jonathan Chibuzor Okoli is the President of Aguiyi Ironsi Tarders Unit at Ladipo Auto Market located in Matori Area of Lagos State. In this interview with ANTHONY AWUNOR, he speaks on the crises rocking Ladipo Market, his ordeal with Mushin Local Government and why he has decided to return to the market, 4 years after staying away from business. Excerpts
What made you leave the market all these years?
I am the former President of Aguiyi Ironsi International Market at Ladipo, Lagos. I am going back to the market because I am a businessman. Trade is my line of business. You know in the market, there are always market associations which traders belong. After elections in 2007, I won the elections as the President of the market. I inherited a problem because there were crises, ever before I became President. The crises really affected my line of business. In 2012, there were all kinds of attacks on the traders instigated by some powerful politicians in Lagos State. They were bent on taking away the leadership from the traders’ choice. They were court actions here and there and we were spending more as everyday was trouble. After almost 6 years of crises, I had an auto accident along Shagamu-Ijebu-Ode road which kept me away from the market for about 4 years. Since 2012, I have never stepped into the market. Now there is a new leadership in the market which is the choice of the Local Government Council. They imposed the leadership in the market against the will of the traders. I am going back to the market but I am not going to challenge them. I am going back to do my business and not to contest or fight anybody. I am going to my shop. In the market, I am one of the major stakeholders; I have a plaza with many shops at the Ladipo Market.
Which efforts did the market association put in place for your well-being throughout the time you were away from the market? Were they concerned?
The traders were concerned because they know I have been of help to most of them. But all of them are afraid of their lives; you wouldn’t understand. When the powerful forces are against anything and you try to go against it, you are in trouble. Even sometimes, most of the traders don’t come close to me so that they will be free to do business in the market. Now, they have tasted another leadership for 4 years and they are complaining. They are even calling me every day, asking me to come back and rescue them. They feel for me but they cannot openly express that they are for me. Even when we went to Abuja for the Senate Committee on Police Affairs, concerning police brutality to traders; those who went with me to Abuja were messed up. They beat them mercilessly and they even sent them out of the market. I have advised them not to support me until I come back to the market. We will still be friends but let them stay and do their business.
Do you have any regret now, after fighting for the traders?
As it is now, I cannot fight for the people anymore. I used all my resources fighting for Ladipo traders which they are willing to pay me back. But the leadership said no, that they will not pay. However, I know they will pay because there are evidences. If I go to the court, I will get it back but I chose not to go to court because I want to make peace process. However, when they are doing something in the market, I will still say something but not as active as before. I will only advise. Even the new Local Government Chairman, after listening to me recently, has asked me to work with them. He wants me to go back as the leader of the market but what I want is to go there as a godfather and whenever they need advice, I give them.
What is the relationship between the traders and the government?
I feel that the state government was misled. They were misled by saying I was the cause of the crises. Why I stayed away for the 4 years is for Lagos State people to know that I am not the cause of the problem. They now know it because even after I left, the problem is still there. I inherited the problem. They only wanted to take the leadership by force. That was why I looked at it and said, let me move away from the market. Now they have gotten what they want and there is still trouble in the market. Recently, I sent my manager to the market and when he came back, he told me that the market is no, more what it used to be. Everywhere is now scattered as it is like a refugee camp. The co developers is renting out any available space to the traders. Whereas, the beauty of the market used to be the open spaces where people can park and make use of. Now, there is no way. There are giving attachment here and there and people are complaining. There is nothing we can do about it because they have the government and politicians on their sides. Even the entire Ladipo environment is jam-packed. If you drive into Ladipo now, there is no space and they collect levies for Local Government. They are making money from the market without developing the market. That is the major problem we are having