Traders at Agbekoya Market, Apata, Ibadan South West Local Government Area of Oyo State, received the news of the impending demolition of their shops last week with shock and trepidation. The Oyo State Government had ordered the immediate demolition of all structures under the high tension cables in the area following the electrocution of some traders on Monday, June 25, 2012.
In keeping with the state government’s order, 300 illegal structures (all shops) were demolished between last Friday and Saturday. Five market women, including an expectant mother, had been electrocuted penultimate Monday when a high tension cable fell in the market along Apata-Bembow Road.
Those affected by the demolition have, however, faulted the order on the grounds that government did not consider their plight. According to them, government failed to give sufficient eviction and demolition notices. They also argued that no concrete plan was made to relocate them to another area so that the exercise would not paralyse their business activities. One of the affected traders, Alhaji Ajibade Gbadamosi, who spoke on behalf of the aggrieved traders, said, “We are not saying what the governor did was wrong; we know it was meant to save lives. But, he should have considered our plight while taking the decision. This is our only source of livelihood.
“Government officials should have given us enough time to relocate and find suitable places. We are left without any means to earn our daily bread. This is too hard for us to bear.” Another trader, Mrs. Silifat Olorunda, said the demolition had started to take a heavy toll on their means of livelihood. She noted, “The planned relocation of the market from this place is not the solution to the problem of electrocution. One can liken the government’s decision to someone using the wrong medicine for a particular ailment. The issue is that the Power Holding Company of Nigeria failed to discharge its duty appropriately.
“How do you explain a situation where government asked people to relocate from the market because some traders were electrocuted? What should have been done is to instruct PHCN to repair their facilities and replace their materials where necessary. It would make meaning that way than for the government to insist on relocating us.” A vegetable seller in the market popularly, called Iya Ibeji, lamented that the electrocution of traders was an avoidable tragedy. To her, government and its agencies and parastatals should work towards the safety and welfare of the citizens. She said, “It is sad that government and the PHCN took the welfare of the traders with levity.”
According to her, those who swore to an oath to protect life and property if voted into power should endeavour to put things right. She said there was the need to correct the wrongs in the land so that the society could move forward. The vice-chairman, Senate Committee on National Planning, Economic Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Senator Olufemi Lanlehin, described the incident as unfortunate. Lanlehin, who is representing Oyo South Senatorial District in the Senate, said in a statement issued by his media aide, Mr. Olawale Sadare, that the deaths were avoidable. The statement read in part, “It is unfortunate and disheartening to hear that some market women had to die in such circumstance. Nigeria has been faced with incessant but avoidable deaths of her citizens in recent times.
“The electrocution of some innocent citizens, including a pregnant woman, marked yet another disaster which obviously left the rest of the citizenry sad and disturbed.” One of the residents of the area, Mr. Mustapha Muritala, who claimed to have survived a similar incident two years ago, blamed the PHCN for not responding to past complaints about the cables. He said, “Even if the traders are relocated, the action would be fruitless if government fails to ensure that the right things are done. There is no doubt that the high tension wires are already due for replacement and there is no option to that.”
According to a tailor in the neighbourhood, Sikiru Ajiboye, residents of the area had earlier lodged a complaint about the state of the cables with the PHCN management. He said, “The incident could have been averted if the PHCN management had responded positively to earlier complaints. We didn’t know what to do. We had been complaining about the bad state of the cables. Apart from not meeting the standard, the cables were too old and weak. Before the cables fell on the victims, whenever we lodged a complaint, PHCN officials had always used the occasion to extort money from us.”
One of the residents of the area, Adeolu Bolarinwa, suggested that government, in collaboration with the PHCN, should consider diverting the cables that run over residential houses so as not to cause the people further pain and grief. Bolarinwa said, “Most of the houses were built a long time ago. There are many houses that are built under the high tension cables because the monitoring authorities allowed them to do so. So many people would be affected by the exercise.” Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, in response to the electrocution, had stated that the urgency of effecting the demolition order was to avert recurrence of the tragedy.
He said that trading under high tension cables constituted great danger to the traders and their customers, as well as their property. Speaking through his deputy, Chief Moses Adeyemo, during an inspection of the scene of electrocution, the governor said, “The right step must be taken in forestalling recurrence.”
He then directed the Chairman, Ibadan South-West Local Government Area, Mr. Taoheed Adeleke, to relocate the market. He also ordered the council to replace all the electric cables connecting the area to the main PHCN poles and ensure that electricity supply was restored.
Attempts by our correspondent to speak with the council authorities on the way forward failed, as the officials were unwilling to talk on the issues. Calls made to the chairman of the council were not picked and text messages sent to him were not replied.
The Commissioner, Legal Licensing and Enforcement, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, Mr. Steve Andzenge, who promised that the NERC would investigate the cause of the incident, said it was wrong and dangerous to live under high tension wires.
The Chairman, Ibadan North-West Local Government, Mr. Wasiu Olatunbosun, said that his council had inaugurated a committee to ascertain the state of electric cables in the LGA. This, he said, was to address the situation before further tragedy happens.
He said, “I can tell you that the local government authority has visited the PHCN office at Dugbe to discuss how we can collaborate and fix the problems.
“Starting from last Friday, the team from Ibadan North- West started moving round to see the areas where the electric cables are weak and due for replacement. Where necessary, we shall ensure that repair works are carried out, while replacement will be done in other areas. We want to ensure that we keep our environment safe.”
The Principal Manager, Public Affairs, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Office, Mr. Jide Oyenuga, said the PHCN had commenced investigation into the incident. Oyenuga added that necessary steps would be taken to ensure that people’s lives and property were safe.
A top government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the issue warranted urgent action as lives were at stake. He said, “What the governor had done by taking the urgent steps was to show that he is a caring leader. Already, he has directed the Ibadan South-West Local Government to provide a place for the affected traders. Government cannot fold its arms and allow people’s lives to be wasted.