For 25 years, a resident of Okokomaiko in Lagos knowns as Babalola Adewale has been paying a fare to use a wooden bridge constructed over a perpetually flooded section of the road leading to his house.
Mr Adewale, who is also a trader in the nearby Alaba International Market, said the bridge has since become a symbol of the state government’s neglect of communities in the area.
“The wooden bridge has been existing for more than 25 years and I don’t see it not existing for there is no other route to the market,” said Mr Adewale.
“Council government is aware of the wooden bridge and I don’t think they can proffer solutions but we will appreciate the state government if they can intervene.”
Following the damage of a canal at Franklas in Ojo in the early 1990s, some roads linking nearby communities such as Seriki, Alaba Rago, Jakara and the multi-billion Naira Alaba International Market, commonly believed to be the biggest electronic market in Africa, constantly remain flooded all year round.
The failure of the state government to fix the damaged canal or the roads linking to these communities created an opportunity for some community leaders and local government officials to make easy money, charging pedestrians between N10 and N20 naira to use the bridge.
Accustomed to the state government’s neglect, residents have resigned their fate to this reality, even as they groan about the financial burden it is placing on them.
Residents and traders said they pay an average of N50, daily, to use the bridge in the area. Pedestrians carrying goods are charged as much as N500 to use the wooden bridges.
This reporter counted more than 200 people using the wooden bridge linking Alaba Rago to the Alaba International Market within 30 minutes.
“I have been taking this wooden bridge to my house and shop every day. I pay N500 whenever I carry load. We have a government, they should build a bridge,” said Segun Afoyade, an electrician who works in the Alaba International Market.
Despite making millions of Naira from the tolls collected from users of the wooden bridge, the structure remains in a perpetual state of disrepair, creaking, decaying and existing without safety railings.
Residents also complained about the smelly flood water and debris flushed onto the road from the broken canal.
“A [proper] bridge should be constructed, the canal has made the environment dirty,” said Jamiu Yusuf, a businessman who lives in the area.
The state of the bridge has given rise to a cabal of wooden bridge owners who residents say will do everything to frustrate an attempt by the government to build a proper bridge or repair the leaking canal causing flooding in the area.
“I don’t think the fees collectors will want [the] government to construct the road, that is their means of survival,” Mr Yusuf added.
A politician in Seriki, who asked not to be named because he does not want to be seen as antagonising the local officials, claimed he and other residents in the area pleaded with the executive secretary of the Iba local council development area in 2016 to construct the road in the community but this yielded no results.
He said the commissioner for local government, Lagos State, visited the community that year and promised to build a proper road and fix the broken canal but nothing has been done since.
The politician said: “It is in the interest of the cabal for the road to remain in a state of disrepair as it has since become their cash cow.
“Indigenes in charge of collection toll fees will not be happy if the government demolishes the bridge and constructs a road. Seriki street road was halfway constructed due to the influence of politicians who don’t want to lose the backing of the people in the vicinity.
“I am sure the state government is aware there is a wooden bridge at Seriki, there is a dam leaking from Franklas street down to Sabo that has caused the swamp in Seriki Street, the problem we are facing affects everyone. We hope it will be resolved in the future,” he said.
Why we collect toll
But those responsible for collecting toll fares in the area say they are providing a service to the community and they have the backing of the local government to charge users of the bridge.
The chairman of the self-styled Journey Wooden Bridge Association, Okokomaiko chapter, Amodu Mohammed, told Campus Reporter that they could not have operated their wooden bridge without the ‘blessing’ of the local government.
He said his association gives a percentage of the money collected from pedestrians to the Ojo Local Government.
“[For] Over 20 years, the bridge has been in existence. We pay revenue to Ojo Local Government, it is registered under the Lagos State Association of Wooden Bridges attached to the Maritime Authority, headquartered in Abuja, this is a branch under Ojo Local Government Area.
“It is a narrow road leading to the Alaba International Market built by indigenes. We make renovations on the bridge depending on the weakness of the wood with the revenue generated for the benefit of the people. We generate between 15,000 (Naira) to 20,000 (Naira) on a daily basis. Local council officials often call the association on the payment of the monthly revenue,” he added.
Mr Mohammed said his association is planning to convert the wooden bridges in the area to metal bridges. He appealed for financial assistance from Ojo Local Government to bring the project to fruition.
“We want financial support and approval from the government to construct a modern metal bridge, so we can generate more revenue.”
Oseni Idowu, popularly known as Mickey, who oversees the second bridge in the area said the bridge provides employment for youth in the vicinity.
“The wooden bridge [existed] before I was born and since the government is not providing jobs, we have been here for survival and the future of our children. Moreover, we pay revenue to the local government. We pay N10,000 every month to the council.”
Contrary to the rickety state of the bridges and sordidness of the area around them, Mr Idowu said local officials regularly inspect the bridges for signs of disrepair. He said they also clean the surrounding areas of the canal.
“We generate between N7,000 to N8,000 daily, depending on how strong the plank is, it is changed three or four times in a year. There is a monthly meeting between the local government and the association on the payment of our revenue,” he said.
Ali Malami, the Chairman of the Alaba Rago Market (where the largest and busiest of the wooden bridges in the area is located) said his association was not responsible for toll collection in the area.
He said the state government has promised to repair the damaged canal and finish constructing a road in the area next year.
Mr Malami, however, accused Baba Lawal, one of the leaders in the Alaba community and the Seriki (traditional head) of Alaba Rago, Umaru Nagogo, of keeping the fares collected on the bridge for themselves.
“They have been collecting the revenue for 17 years, I was installed as the Chairman in 2016. I only get revenue from the bus stop which I remit N100,000 to the Iba L.C.D.A (Local Community Development Area) weekly, no penny is paid to me from the revenue generated from the bridge,” he noted.
However, Mr Nagogo denied collecting money from the bridge and accused Messrs Malami and Lawal of keeping the toll fares collected from the bridge.
“The council chairman promised the market that there will be road construction in the area. Alaba market road was constructed in 1996 but the canal was left with no bridge, indigenes and traders made a joint effort to build a wooden bridge.
“Indigenes collecting the fee of the wooden bridge in Alaba don’t pay remittance to the local government but other bridges in the area pay to the council. I refuse to be part of the money sharing committee at the bridge. Seriki Baba Lawal and Ali Malami boys are collecting the money from the bridge,” he divulged.
When contacted for comment, Mr Lawal declined, stating that he was busy.
Going further, the councillor representing Ward C in Okokomaiko, Ibrahim Bakare, said the bridges are not part of his responsibilities.
“I am aware there is a bridge at Seriki Street but it is my responsibility to make laws and not projects,” he said.
The Iba Local Council Supervisor for Works and Infrastructure, Haruna Muhammed, told this reporter he was busy when he visited his office.
He also added that he had no information regarding the bridge and was not ready for an interview.
Additionally, his spokesperson, Ifedayo Victoria, said she was not aware of the existence of a wooden bridge in the area.
“Is there a pako [wooden bridge] there? The road was constructed in 2016 by the state government, the council government has no information regarding the construction of the road?”
Finally, the State Commissioner for Local Government and Community Affairs, Muslim Folami, failed to respond to letters requesting for comments submitted at his office.
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