Illegal tenants of Lagos under bridges defy Sanwo-Olu’s Eviction

“We are using this medium to warn those trading under the bridge that we will not tolerate any form of illegal activities under this bridge and other bridges in the state. The bridges are important assets to the state and we cannot fold our arms and allow a few people to destroy them. 

“We have seen the effect which the destruction of Eko Bridge caused the entire city. We cannot afford to have these bridges shut down again because of illegal activities. We will clear all squatters from Ijora Olopa to Costain and there will be zero tolerance for market activity under the bridge.”

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu gave the above warning on July 8, at a drive-through ceremony for the reopening of a section of Eko Bridge, which was closed to vehicular movement in 2022. At the event, he gave all traders and squatters one week to vacate the place.

He directed the Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Enforcement Unit (Task Force) to clear any illegal structure found under the bridge after the ultimatum.

Surprisingly, more than a week after the pronouncement, it has hugely been ignored, as traders, artisans, and squatters are still occupying under bridges across the state, except for the Apongbon section of Eko Bridge. 

At Apongbon, some police officers and members of the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) were on the ground when The Guardian visited over the weekend. Two trucks belonging to the Police and KAI were also stationed under the bridge. Some of those displaced were seen loitering and discussing in groups.

However, from Ijora-Olopa, Otto to the Costain section of Eko Bridge, Marine Beach Bridge, Stadium Bridge, Ojuelegba Bridge, Jibowu Bridge, Alakija Bridge, Iyana-Iba Bridge, Shitta Bridge, Iganmu/National Theatre Bridge, The Guardian observed that it is still business as usual with traders, artisans and other illegal occupants still operating despite the latest eviction order from Governor Sanwo-Olu.

Shockingly, this is not the first time that the governments would demand that traders and all illegal occupants of under bridges in the state should quit. 

After the fire incident at Apongbon Market damaged a section of Eko Bridge on March 23, the federal and state governments while lamenting the loss, and in a bid to prevent a recurrence, gave traders and others trading and working under bridges across the state seven days to vacate.

The Director of Highways, Bridges, and Designs at the Ministry of Works and Housing, Oluropo Oyetade, who represented the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, during the inspection of the damage facility, threatened that anyone who failed to leave by March 31, 2022, would be apprehended and made to pay for the eviction exercise.

Fashola added that the eviction of all illegal occupants under bridges across the state would be done in collaboration with the Lagos State government. He further claimed there was ongoing discussion to eject those trading and living under bridges before the fire accident.

While those illegally operating under other bridges across the state were given seven days to vacate, those occupying the Apongbon section of the Eko Bridge were told to leave the spot within 48 hours.

Six weeks after the expiration order handed down on March 23, 2022, Fashola on May 9, 2022, issued another 30-day quit notice to all those operating under bridges across Lagos State to vacate. 

But the failure of the state and federal governments to enforce the eviction orders gave rise to another fire incident on November 4, 2022, which affected the Ijora Olopa section of the bridge.

While the sections of Eko Bridge were shut to vehicular movement, connecting and exiting Lagos Island became excruciating for many Lagos residents and visitors. 

A journey that should not take more than 20 minutes for many heading to Lagos Island, from Surulere and its environs, including Orile, Mile 2, and beyond spent took hours, especially during peak period. As a result, transporters hiked fares by over 100 per cent.

All the pains are now gone now with the opening of the bridge as connect Lagos Island through Eko Bridge has become very smooth, and in very short time, with no traffic snarls. 

A resident, Seyi Ajumobi, who works on the Island but stays at Alaba, said that commuting to work and returning home has now become a lot easier. He disclosed that he now leaves home at a few minutes past 8 am to resume at 9 am, which was not the case when the bridge was closed. 

According to him, when the bridge was closed, he usually left home between 6 am and 6:30 am to be able to resume at 9 am.
While many are excited about the reopening of the bridge, the squatters are aggrieved. 

One of the illegal occupants staying under the bridge at Iganmu, Akeem Lukman, pleaded with the government to please allow them to continue to operate there as most of them have nowhere else to go to, or money to hire proper shops.

Also, the Market Leader popularly called Iya-oja of ECOWAS Market, Apongbon, Mrs. Toke Sodipe-Dosunmu, said that in compliance with the governor’s instruction, she directed all traders squatting under the bridge at Apongbon to vacate, even before the Lagos State taskforce, and the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) teams arrived to enforce the order. 

She added that as traders they know that nobody is bigger than the government so they complied with the governor’s directive though they are appealing for compassionate mercy.

This is because the majority of the traders are women who are breadwinners, and whose husbands are either dead or jobless. So, they have to take care of themselves and their children. This is why the governor should please, help us. Many do not have other means of livelihood and their families would be endangered. And there are consequences for the society if they do not have the means to earn income.”

Sodipe-Dosunmu revealed that a trader lost goods worth over N50m to the fire accident, while many others who suffered varied amounts of losses to the inferno.

“It is why we were not happy too about the incident, but we have learnt our lessons. Sanwo-Olu should please show mercy by allowing us to return to under the bridge with rules and regulations set by the state government on how we must trade under the bridge, which we are ready to abide by.” 

When the Chairman, of Lagos State Taskforce, Shola Jejeloye, was asked to name the challenges that have prevented him from carrying out the state government’s directives, he said the agency had no issues, but was just taking its time. 

“We have our operational plans. After that order was given, we have been to Oshodi, and last Friday, we were at Agege. So, we are taking it a day at a time, and will be in other places. It is enforcement, which is not public-friendly; our officers are prone to attack, but we are complying with the order of the governor.”

✍️ Gbenga Salau