Alhaji Shehu Usman is the Chairman of Mile 12 International Market, formerly Arewa Perishable Market, Lagos State. In this interview with Susan Oni, Alhaji Usman among other things commented on the economic importance of this over 40 years old popular market especially in boosting Nigerian economy and nay West-Africa sub region lamenting that the the FG border closure is however taking its toll on the market.
How important do you consider the contributions of this market to the development of Agriculture in Nigeria, not to talk of Lagos, where it is located?
Thank you very much for that question. It is not everybody that knows the value of this market. It is a market that has given opportunities to people no matter your background. This is a market that has taken a lot of people off being jobless and provides means of livelihood. This is a market that you can come without a dime and you offer what is small. For example, the immediate past Chairman, Alhaji Haruna Mohammed, used to be a labourer. When you buy goods, he helps you to take them to the bus stop, where you board a bus to your destination. For me too, I happened to be a vendor of tomatoes in this market, not even a dealer but a vendor that off load and sell perishable products. Today, I am the Chairman. Many of us were like that. I know of many women who have trained their children to university levels. Some have become lawyers, doctors, teachers and so on. So, the market has so many impacts on the people. We thank God for the knowledge and background of the market, hence the determination on our part to develop it and make it a better one.
Sir, you are selling food items, like tomatoes, pepper cucumber among others that are considered perishable, how challenging it is preserving them so as not to to get spoilt easily?
We don’t have plan for cold room but what we have plan for is to dry the tomatoes and also process them. When I came in, about five months ago, we have cleaned the market and there is no traffic anymore. We have changed the market from Arewa Perishable Market to International Market, no more shutting down the market due to violence. So many changes have been brought into the market. Part of our plan is to have processing machines that will dry the tomatoes. We are making progress and talking to experts and professionals that can buy into this vision
Of recent, I saw a lot of people using plastic baskets instead of the local usual woven baskets to carry these tomatoes, are you not concerned that this could cause chemical contamination?
Investigations show that the crates are better than the local basket in terms of hygienic and even gains. The people who are bringing tomatoes in crates, even make more money than those who use the usual local basket. This is because the usual baskets contain mud and our products easily got rotten or destroyed, besides its unhygienic. Indeed, a lot of things unseen happen to those goods. However, we have a new development of new trade. We have told our people, especially those coming from the North, to adopt this new thought. If you go to the market now, out of 100 percent, our people are gradually buying the new idea, at least we are getting about 30 percent using crates to transport their tomatoes.
On border closure, is it helping your business or not considering those who will come from neigbouring countries to purchase tomatoes and other perishable items?
Yes, we have problem with the border closure, especially neighbouring countries. This is where they buy their market. 70% of these goods go to Cotonu, Benin. Items such as onions, cucumber and others, they come here in trucks on daily basis to buy. Now, the border closure has really caused confusion. Even though, the Federal Government, has earmarked certain items that you cannot import or export them, Tomatoes are not part of it. Our foreign buyers are afraid of the Custom, Immigration. They complain of delay of their products, which will definitely affect these goods because of numbers of day, it could be delayed. All these are giving us great problem because we have a lot of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, among others to sell but without buyers. A lot of buyers used to buy and take the goods to Benin, Ghana and across Togo. And now, they have closed the border, it is really affecting us.
What are you doing with FG on this issue?
We have a good understanding with FG and various agencies. We have written letters to the government and other people that matters. They knew that tomatoes are not part of the banned items, so, we have been talking to them to allow the people to come in and buy the tomatoes and take it to their countries. They said we should give them time to look into it and they will get back to us. We have letters concerning this.
What is your reaction on the plan of the Lagos State Government to shut down this market?
It is an on-going issue, this issue has been on for a long time with the plan of the State to relocate the market. Market is a place that God creates there. It is only God that can move market. Market is like life where you may have injury, accident and so on. As I am talking to you we have a good understanding with the present government. Yes, the former governor , Ambode, planned to relocate it but this present Governor, Mr. Sanwoolu has assured us that he would not move the market. He gave us the courage and confidence and we have spent millions of naira to ensure that the market remains in Mile 12. As I am talking to you, we trusting the government to provide us with some facilities especially to build us roads inside the market. So, we are having good understanding with this present governor and we are doing everything possible to please him. The Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwoolu and even the people of the state are so much happy with the present status of Mile 12 market.
What is the latest development we should be expecting from this international market?
We want to build more shops to house our tomatoes, cucumbers and onions that have continue to increase in supply…These are open places so, we want to make sure we cover them and get them to international standard. I can assure you that just very soon, you will see a lot of new things about Mile 12 market.
Let us talk about the environment of this market, it is still very dirty.
No, I disagree with you. Tell us which part of the environment is bad. Where? Say it! Well, this is 11 0’clock and the market starts from Six o’clock in the morning. We operate 24 hours market. We have people that sweep the market on daily basis. We have good rapport with LAWMA officials, they do pack our dirt on every minute. And also work for 24 hrs to ensure they clean the market. This is a market that people come from various places and they throw plastics, papers, cans and all sorts of dirt on the ground, that is what we are facing. However, we thank God this is becoming a thing of the past.
Let us talk about facilities in the market. What efforts are you making to improve these social facilities?
It is a pity the federal government is not coming to assist traders in the market. We don’t have that finance. However, what we do is to use our connection to get loan from people to collect these goods on credit. When they sell and whatever they sell they return back the money. It is not easy because they use that money to train their children, not to squander it on parties or social ceremonies . The government really need to help us. Let them come into the market and see widows and lot of helpless people who are struggling to make ends meet. Well, we are making serious efforts to make progress as the market has come to stay.
With the state of Mile 12 market, don’t you think it is better they relocate the market considering the fact that it can longer accommodate many traders and people that daily throng the market?
Why should they relocate it and why? People are suffering and just have to manage a little place that they have. Also, this market is at the centre, it is a place where people can easily have access to. Somebody can enter from Palmgroove or Lagos Island and can easily enter BRT at the cost of N400, that is Idunmota to Mile 12 and return without a hitch. Like I said it is centrally located. This market has been in existence for over 40 years.We have several sections and what the market needs now is expansion. Our shops are not even arranged and it is not as if the market is now too small or choking. The arrangement of the market is poor, that is what we agree now. So, we are trying to adjust and ensure that it is well arrange to international standard. Hence, we are appealing to the State Government to come and assist us in the market. All the development you see here are by our efforts. No assistance from the local government, state or the federal government. We, traders, are really suffering. We just hope that this new year the government will rise up and support us.
Now, there have been a lot changes in the market unlike what it was in time past, what has been the secret?
God made this possible. The market has gone from one state to the other. When I came in, I look inwards with the executive to identify problems facing us. Firstly, I organized meetings with the people of Ajilete communities to build a mutual understanding. I told them that we are one and if there is any issue they should let us know. We also need the people of Mile 12 and everybody that matters. So, this was the first assignment I did when I came in. And I told them the only way the government will close the market is when we have issues. Afterall, we are not under the railway, powerline or roadside. This is a market that has been existing close to 40 years. Automatically, the land belongs to everybody, particularly the traders. We have Yorubas, Hausas, Ibos and all tribes doing their businesses peacefully. It is mini-Nigeria here. So, we are one and we should be living in harmony and peace. So, the leaders said this is all that we need and we settle it once and for all. During the celebration of my 100 days in office these people came to rejoice with me. If there were issues, they call me and it is quickly attended to. So, there is peace now with them and other surrounding communities. We have peace and the security is also tight with the support of the security agents.
How do you solve the problem of rain in the market because when it rains the sanitation or environment is always poor and you won’t be able to gain access into it?
May be, because you have been in the market for awhile, hence you are talking like this.You can observe when you come into the market, you see the floor are concretes. It therefore made it easy for traders to come in without the muddy state it used to be in the past. If you see people that put on boots, it is not because the floor is muddy, but may be because they want to avoid sands as much as possible.