Despite the negative impact of the activities of people operating under bridges across the state, which forced the government to at different times, issue the occupants a quit notice directing them to vacate the spaces, the directives have been repeatedly flouted. In view of this, there are fears that the new eviction order by both the federal and state governments might not be obeyed.
The new directives are fallouts of the damage from the recent fire outbreak that under the Apongbon section of the Eko bridge in Lagos state. While the worth of the damage is yet to be ascertained, because aside from the traders losing huge sums in terms of the goods and property that got destroyed, a section of the bridge also caved in, forcing government to cordon off a section of the bridge.
Lamenting the loss and in a bid to prevent a recurrence of the incident, the federal and state governments gave traders and others trading and working under bridges across the state for either economic or personal activities seven days to vacate.
The Director of Highways, Bridges and Designs at the Ministry of Works and Housing, Engr Oluropo Oyetade, who represented the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, during the inspection of the damage caused by the fire, 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 Lagos State government. He 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 Eko Bridge were told to leave the spot within 48 hours.
The Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Central Business Districts, Mr. Gbenga Oyerinde, who issued the order on behalf of the state government, said: “The issue of fire outbreak under the Eko Bridge may become endemic if adequate steps are not taken to forestall future occurrence due to negligence and non-adherence to safety protocols by traders, leaders of the market associations and CDAs after several engagements on the need to take issues of safety seriously.”
Oyerinde decried the illegal activities of traders who stored items beneath the bridge and engaged in other business transactions, warning that anyone caught flouting the directive to stay clear of underneath the bridge would be arrested and prosecuted.
But by April 24, 2022, one month after the directives by both the federal and state governments, the illegal occupants were still in sight disobeying the orders, with no consequences so far for defying government instructions. Rather Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu while returning from an inspection tour on that day had to issue another three-day ultimatum to traders and others still under the bridge to vacate or risk demolition of the space.
Sanwo-Olu, who frowned at the unlawful return of the traders under Apongbon section of Eko Bridge, said the enforcement team would be deployed to the bridge after the three days ultimatum elapsed.
And just last Monday, Fashola had to issue another ultimatum to traders and illegal occupants to vacate all bridges across the state within the next 30 days. The minister threatened that those who failed to vacate risk forceful eviction, lamenting that illegal activities of mechanics and traders have impacted negatively on the bridges.
There are several flyovers in Lagos State. While the Federal Government constructed some of them, the state government built others. Some of the bridges in the state are: Third Mainland Bridge, Eko Bridge, Carter Bridge, Stadium Bridge, Ojuelegba Bridge, Jibowu Bridge, Alakija Bridge, Iyana-Iba Bridge, Shitta Bridge, Airport Link Bridge, Masha Bridge and Marine Beach Bridge.
The Guardian visited some of the locations where these bridges were sited.
From Alaka to Apongbon where the bridge terminates, there are several occupants under the bridge inhabiting different sections. The busiest sections are the Ijora-Olopa, Costain and Apongbon areas. While the majority of the illegal occupiers at the Apongbon section have been partially displaced, those in Ijora-Olopa and Costain were carrying on with their businesses.
Those who use under the bridge for economic activities included traders, mechanics and recyclers, while some others use the place for accommodation purposes. About 80 percent of the traders at the Ijora-Olopa section of the bridge are frozen food sellers.
The illegal occupants under the bridge are principally traders and they are mostly at the Idumota end of the bridge. At the Iddo end of the bridge, vehicles are parked under the bridge while the U-turn section of the bridge had been turned to stores and warehouses.
Marine Beach Bridge
Those occupying under this bridge are mostly articulated vehicles from Ijora 7up to Boundary. Though the traders and food sellers had been displaced severally, they are gradually regrouping as they now occupy minimal sections of the bridge.
Iganmu/National Theatre Bridge
There are makeshift buildings that serve as homes to the many recyclers and petty traders operating under the bridge. The recyclers are often engaged in activities that could endanger the bridge, as they usually burn disused items as part of extracting metals, copper and iron from derelict items.
Under the bridge are petty traders and those who use it as parking lot, including tricycle operators who have converted a section to a garage.
Airport Link Flyover
Mechanics and those engaging in block moulding as well as selling of sand and concrete stone are the major occupants under this bridge.
This is occupied by mechanics, urchins and block moulding operators. There is also a section under the bridge that has been converted to parking lot by operators of the buses deployed for the First Mile transport project of the state government.
Traders and commercial bus drivers operate under the bridge. A section is also occupied by touts.
However, it seems those who are to be evicted are not going to leave without a fight going by what happened during the week. This is because dozens of traders from Apongbon market, operating under the Eko Bridge protested to the Lagos State House of Assembly, appealing to the Federal and Lagos State governments to shelve plans of displacing and demolishing their shops.
The traders said that displacing them from their new site would further put them in a difficult condition after goods worth millions of naira were destroyed during the fire disaster that gutted over 500 shops sited under the bridge.
They lamented that any decision to displace them from their new location at the bridge loop, could further cut their source of income and put them in additional debt, which they may not be able offset easily.
The traders, who assembled for the peaceful protest, said that after the fire incident at the market, it has been difficult for them to continue their trade effectively as they do not have any other alternative place than their present location.
They lamented that after they had evacuated the market, they had to move to a loop nearby to continue their business in order to cater for their family but were also driven away by some law enforcement personnel.
Appealing to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, they requested that they should be allowed to remain in their new location, continue trading and source funds for their daily needs.
The traders appealed to both governments particularly the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, that they should be allowed to continue their businesses without any hitches.
During the protest, one of the protesters, Iyabo Deborah, said that the Iyaloja General, Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, gave her approval for their protest. According to her, the law and enforcement personnel who chased them from under the bridge, where they were managing, had threatened to return next week Monday to evacuate them from where they are.
A resident, Adisa Bakare, said there is no reason government should allow some of the activities going on under bridges across the state. He doubted if government would carry out its order, especially as this is a political season
“And it just shows how things have degenerated with governance. This is not the first time that illegal occupants of under bridges in Lagos would be evicted but after some months or at most a year, they will gradually return with nobody calling them to other.
“When there is any accident or disaster, we lament about the damages done and how it is negatively affecting government. Is it not even funny that government gave directives that have been disobeyed. Why were the directives not implemented? This all shows how unserious our government is. This repeated order may not be fully carried out. They will go and show off for just one week and things will go on in those places until another disaster happens.”
According to Bakare, the state government has directed mini buses not to be operating and driving on the BRT lane between Mile 2 and Orile, but this has continued despite officers of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) being fully stationed on the corridor.
“We do not have a serious government in place. Laws are disobeyed and there are no consequences while those sent to stop illegal operations aid the residents in perpetrating the acts.”
Mrs Monsurat Adebisi is one of the traders operating under the Eko Bridge at Ijora-Olopa section of the flyover. She pleaded with government to come to the aid of the traders by providing an alternative place for them to carry out their daily trade. She also pleaded for more time.
According to her, many of them are petty traders whose capital is not enough to rent a shop, which is why they stay under bridges. She maintained that if the operators under the bridges are evicted, not less than a thousand breadwinners would be affected and their dependents.
Another resident, Joy Bassey, said government needs to be decisive in putting an end to the crisis, noting that it is not the first time that illegal occupants would be asked to leave but what often happens is that the order is either not obeyed or partially implemented by law enforcement agents.
The Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Engineer Olukayode Popoola, has promised that the new order by the minister would be implemented when the 30-day ultimatum elapses. On why the earlier 7-day ultimatum issued in March was not implemented, he claimed it was because the state taskforce to be engaged to enforce the order were busy and had other assignments to attend to.