POPULAR Computer Village market located in a community known as Otigba at the heart of Ikeja, the capital of Lagos State, is taken to be the largest Information and Communication Technology (ICT) hub in West Africa. The worth of the phone, computer and other accessories market is estimated at billions of dollars, with both local and international companies finding a home there. On a daily basis, hundreds of millions of Naira circulate within the business community. Although it was originally a residential area, thousands of residents of the state make a living there as shop owners, sales representatives, repair engineers, roadside retailers or even agents who are not officially connected to any particular shop or office but serve as middlemen between potential buyers and good owners. On a good day, the market is a beehive of commercial activities but it has also had its fair share of crisis, particularly over planned relocation by successive administrations in the state and has, till date, won.
Dominated by South-Easterners, the market appears to be engaged in what could be its toughest battle yet. The outcome of the resistance being put up against the introduction of Babaloja and Iyaloja to it by the Iyaloja-General of Lagos, Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, adopted daughter of the Lagos State strongman, Senator Bola Tinubu, may well determine the future of the market, which was located at Ogunlana Drive, Surulere, in the early 1990s and has always been under the Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN).
Friendship gone sour?
Interestingly, CAPDAN, after many years of Igbo domination, is currently under the headship of a South-Westerner president, Hammed Ojikutu, a close ally of Tinubu-Ojo and a political supporter of Senator Tinubu, the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. Though Saturday Tribune could not establish what went wrong with Ojikutu’s relationship with the Tinubus, the Iyaloja-General had knocked the market leadership for allegedly trying to perpetuate itself in office, despite the expiration of its tenure.
According to her, “I have received several calls from Monday till date about what I have to say about the protests at the Computer Village and the allegation that I want to force market leaders on traders. And what I have told the people who called me is that ‘Why didn’t people protesting approach me and ask questions about what they are not clear about instead of taking the action?’ But because they did not have the facts, that was why they did not come and the person who led the protests was the chairman of traders who still wants to cling to power even when his tenure has expired.
“He went to organise some people, people who are not even in the Computer Village, to carry placard saying I want to impose leaders on them as if the leaders we want to install are not part of the market. The constitution of our association even gives me the power to appoint leaders to take charge of any market, but because these people want to remain as leaders and that is why they are calling people to reject the new Baba Oloja and Iya Oloja.”
Saturday Tribune made repeated calls to Ojikutu for his own side of the story. Twice he picked the call without saying beyond hello, keeping the line open for minutes and switching it off without responding to the issues brought up. The last call to him at 1.03 p.m. lasted 74 seconds before he terminated the call. However, a couple of voices were heard in the background suggesting animated conversation with a female voice being the most audible. The location of Ojikutu could not be determined and what was going on around him could also not be determined.
He later said he would not be talking but promised to send the contact of the person who would speak on behalf of the agitating traders. He had yet to so do as of press time.
Tinubu-Ojo, however, insisted that she would have her way with the introduction of Mr Adeniyi Olasoji and Mrs Abisola Azeez as the Babaloja and the Iyaloja, respectively, to the market as the new leaders, adding that she had been fair to all markets in the state with the appointment of leaders by even appointing non-Yoruba to lead Tejuosho Phase 2 and Gorodo markets which can be considered majorly Yoruba.
Are computers in tomatoes’ class?
Going by the views sought on ground in the market, the action of the Iyaloja-General will not reflect the popular will of the stakeholders as claimed by her. She had claimed that contrary to the allegations against her during the traders’ protest to the state House of Assembly that she was not imposing the Babaloja and the Iyaloja from outside of the market but their emergence was a product of the decision of the majority in the market.
She also insisted that as the leader of commodity market in the state, she has direct supervisory role over the Computer Village market, arguing that computers and phones are commodities just like fabrics, tomatoes and pepper.
That is the argument that is not sitting well with the market operators, who considered it demeaning to equate the ICT hub with an atarodo joint.
A software analyst, Ugochukwu Kachi said the market could not be compared to conventional markets where perishable items are bought and sold to people.
“Computer village is not like any other market where foodstuffs and other items are sold. We will not accept the imposition because this market is an international technological hub and it should be treated as such,” he said. Ugochukwu said there were clear signs that the leadership imposition would not impact positively on consumers’ protection.
Another software developer, Mr Joseph Efosa, said such installation would disturb the 25 years of peaceful existence of the hub. Efosa added that the Computer Village was not a regular market and such installation (of the Iyaloja and the Babaloja) was not needed.
A phone seller, Mr Abiodun Olagunju, projected that the installation of market leaders would affect the cost of items in the market and lead to traders’ relocation, adding that the leadership imposition would not be of meaningful effects on technological development in the state.
A computer engineer in the market who wanted to be identified simply as Mr Rotimi said it was a general opinion among them that they didn’t want anything called babaloja or iyaloja in the market.
He told Saturday Tribune: “Computer Village is not like any open market where they sell tomatoes and pepper, foodstuffs or clothes or related items but for intellectual people who know their right from left and can, therefore, not, in any way, be treated like just anyone.
“Apart from that, we have a well-organised structure on ground. That means we have an association headed by elected officers who represent our general interests when necessary before government and any other institutions for that matter. And this arrangement is as old as the village itself. The leaders also have offices or shops within the market. They know what is happening in the ICT world which the market represents. They are there for a specific period of time until a new set of leaders will emerge. And they are not being imposed. We all know them as part of us. They are not strangers. After all, we didn’t complain about them. That is why we don’t want any babaloja or iyaloja here. What do we need them for? Holders of such titles have no roles here.”
Another person who is a cell phone repairer, Ndubushi Keneth, said the entire market is a combination of many private residential buildings and not a market stall built by any government and that they pay heavy rent on every shop to the property owners.
“We also pay all forms of levies to government, especially to Ikeja Local Government Council under whose the jurisdiction the market is located and also to area boys. So, it is absurd for someone or a group of people to now think of introducing offices of babalola and iyaloja in Computer Village. What will be their roles? They want to come to be collecting awoof money from us or what? Please help us to tell them that we don’t need them,” Keneth said.
The Jankara example
However, Saturday Tribune gathered at Orisumbare Auto Spares Part Market, popularly known as Jankara Market along Ijaiye-Agbado Road in Ijaiye-Ojokoro Local Council Development Area, that though they have leaders who they all elected to run the affairs of their association for three years with any of the officers being qualified to run two terms, there are the Babaloja and the Iyaloja who jointly serve as general overseers of all the open markets under the entire Ojokoro community.
“So, we don’t have either babaloja or iyaloja here directly controlling the market. We have our own leaders who are also traders within the market. But then, we all know that there are babaloja and iyaloja in charge of all the open markets in this local development area,” one of the popular traders who did not want his name in print disclosed.
Jankara Market, which was relocated by the Lagos State government from Lagos Island due to urbanisation there about two and a half decades ago, is known for all kinds of used (otherwise called second hand) motor spare parts and an avalanche of auto technicians.
What operates at a mini open market stalls right opposite Jankara auto spare parts market with traders selling all manner of soup ingredients, vegetables and foodstuffs is a bit different. There, they refer to their leaders as the Babaloja and the Iyaloja.
But when asked if the Babaloja is in charge of men while the Iyaloja is in charge of women, the trader who volunteered information on condition of anonymity said the two of them were in charge and that such an arrangement had been a tradition in Yoruba land.
“They are the ones interfacing on our behalf when we have issues, especially with the local government people and the police who at times come to extort money from us. They also interface with the traditional institution whenever the need arises,” the trader explained.
He however pointed out, that there should be no need for two leaders in one market. “One is enough. It should be either babaloja or iyaloja. That would have been better”, he argued.
What does Shade Tinubu want?
With the decision by the market leaders to take their case against Tinubu-Ojo to the House of Assembly dominated by political allies of her adopted father, many are not hopeful of any serious intervention by the lawmakers. However, the protesters are speaking loud and clear about their desire and the inscriptions on the placards they carried on Monday to the assembly say it all.
“We say no to oppression in Computer village”, “Computer Village is a symbol of ICT in Africa, not a symbol of pepper sellers”, “We are not slaves in Computer Village” and so many others, represented the popular opinion in the market.
When Saturday Tribune visited the market, suspicion was seen walking on two legs. Once the issue was raised, people got generally cautious around the market with findings showing that the largely Igbo dominant population believed outsiders were being sent in to spy on them and gather information that could make the installation possible.
The traders also cautiously spoke about what they considered the motives of Tinubu-Ojo, which were miles apart from the reasons she cited for appointing the Iyaloja and the Babaloja. In calling for support for her appointees, she reiterated that peace must not be breached.
But traders are thinking otherwise. They believe illegal revenue and politics are at the heart of the perceived forceful takeover of the market leadership by her. According to them, the sudden move is as a result of the latest discovery that the market generates a huge sum of money and the need to expand the income-generating avenues for the Iyaloja-General.
They added that even though the market generates a huge sum of money, it is not in any way similar to the regular markets where pepper and all sorts are sold, while suggesting that other areas should be explored. Some also said that the installation would lead to the overburdening of the traders, the main reason it should be vehemently resisted.
“We know how the regular markets are being regulated by these so-called Iyalojas and Babalojas and the question you ask yourself is that, has there been development in those places? “Of course, no. All they do is to extort money from the traders and use it for their personal purpose. We don’t need them at all. We are very okay with the umbrella body of CAPDAN which has been regulating the affairs of the market without any form of intolerance or extortion.”
They added that research has shown that wherever the market heads are present, the peaceful coexistence of the place will be disturbed, saying that the Iyaloja and the Babaloja are not peacemakers but trouble fomenters. “We don’t want them. We like the way we are operating,” many traders said.
Another group told Saturday Tribune that the installation had a political undertone from the APC, claiming that the party wanted to control the affairs of the easterners in the state by all means in order to make them dance to their tune during elections. It added that it was tough for the ruling party in the last election to get easterners in the state to vote for it.
Divergent cultural views
Speaking on behalf of Computer Village CDA, Alhaji Olushola Coker said landlords in the area were in support of the new market leaders, saying it was normal for markets to have leaders, while wondering why some traders protested the emergence of the Babaloja and the Iyaloja. “We are in support of these new leaders and we commend Chief Folashade Tinubu-Ojo for endorsing the new market leaders to see to the affairs of the market,” he said.
Also speaking, the regent to the stool of Olu of Ikeja, Prince Isiaka Apena, said the protests over the new market leaders were uncalled-for. According to him, the new leaders are to see to the welfare of markets and urged those protesting to join the new leadership to move the market forward, while reiterating the need for traders to show respect for their hosts by ceasing the alleged claim that Ikeja belongs to no one. He called such a claim provocative and an insult to the Aworis who had lived there for over 400 years.
But a babaloja isn’t completely agreeing with the development. Saturday Tribune finding showed that the concept of babaloja and iyaloja as leaders of markets in Yorubaland is traditional and they were in the past appointed to act as representatives of community leaders in markets. They collect gifts and other things from the traders on behalf of traditional rulers and they liaise between the traditional institution and the traders.
A market leader who spoke to Saturday Tribune under condition of anonymity said the babaloja and iyaloja concept has been part of the Yoruba culture from time immemorial. The oba or baale of any particular village or town was solely responsible for the appointment of the Iyaloja. She was solely in charge of the administration of any market. At that time, there was always a market in a town or village unlike now when we have different markets and different Iyaloja. The markets were dominated by women.
He also stated that “over time, as more markets began to spring up and more men involved in trading, there was the need to have a male leader and the Babaloja concept came to the fore. The sole responsibility of appointing both babaloja and iyaloja lies with the traditional ruler.
“Until after the death of Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji, the former Iyaloja-General, the Babaloja and the Iyaloja were appointed by traditional rulers who recommended them to the local government for official installation ceremony. The Iyaloja-General was invited to attend the installation ceremony of the Babaloja and the Iyaloja but Obas and Baales appointed them.”
He added that “but now things are gradually changing as traditional rulers are losing their right to appoint the Iyaloja and the Babaloja. This is creating serious confusion in some of the markets, particularly in Lagos State. There have been instances where the candidates of the monarchs were turned down for favoured candidates.”
The market leader, while speaking on the Computer Village saga said: “This is one of the things we are saying; you cannot install the Iyaloja or the Babaloja in a place other than a market and it is the duty of the Oba to make such appointments. Apart from the fact that the Ikeja Computer Village is not a market, which Oba appointed the Iyaloja and the Babaloja?
“A market is a place acquired by the government for traders to sell but Computer Village is not a market. Just because you have a lot of trading activities there does not make it a market. Even the Lagos State government described the place as a residential area. How can anyone appoint a babaloja or an iyaloja in a residential area?
“The market already has leaders and from what I gathered, their leaders were appointed through a democratic process that does not need the intervention of the monarch or any government. The place is dominated by Igbo traders and those who are attempting to install an iyaloja or babaloja in the place should consider the security implication of the move.”
Democracy should prevail –LCCI
Reacting to the issue, the Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr Muda Yusuf, expressed the belief that the position of the majority of traders in any market should be taken into consideration before decisions are arrived at.
The LCCI would rather prefer the executive of the market to liaise with the state apparatus whenever there are statutory duties to carry out instead of installing a new form of leadership in the market.
“Whatever it is, I think they should allow the principle of democracy to prevail among any group of people. I don’t think imposition is the best way to do things. According to those guys, they already have their association anyway, and the whole idea of having an association is to protect the interest of their members and interface with government.
“If there are statutory things they need to do, the state government is there to liaise with them, the local government is there to liaise with them. So, I think as much as possible, democratic ideals should be allowed to prevail in this circumstance, too,” Yusuf stated.
We aren’t aware of petition –Assembly
Although the protesters from the market took their case to the state lawmakers, the chair of the Committee on Information, Honourable Funmilayo Tejuoso, told Saturday Tribune that she didn’t know if a petition was tabled before the assembly and would not be able to tell if any hearing was scheduled to entertain their complaints.
Social media war?
Since the news broke on Monday, the social media has been on fire with commentators, though with different monikers but believed to be mainly Igbo and Yoruba, going for the jugular of one another, while trying to make a case for their ethnic groups over the desirability or otherwise of the move.
While many of the name-calling comments are too extreme to be published, the exchange appears to be a continuation of the social media war between the duo during the campaign for votes in the 2019 elections.
With both sides to the conflict sticking to their guns, only time will tell who will blink first.