NIGERIA: Controversy dogs Computer Village relocation

Aerial view of Africa’s largest IT market, the Computer Village, in Ikeja, Lagos.Over three years after the pre-qualifying bidding exercise embarked upon by the Lagos State government for the relocation of the popular Computer Village to de-congest Ikeja, and ensure urban renewal, some operators and residents in the area, which houses  thousands of technology companies, are agitating and questioning government sincerity about the project.

The cry of the people has come to the point where attention  is attracted to the issue  to ascertain why the exercise is  foot-dragging. The residents stressed the urgent need for the pre-qualified companies to be allowed to do the actual bidding for the project to kick-off, if government is committed to enhancing economic growth and development for the benefits of the masses, even as they laud government’s effort to make Katangowa a global market to reckon with.

While some residents of Ikeja complained about the rowdiness and un-organised manner in which various activities go on in the place, many operators of technology companies said that they were worried about the manner in which touts infiltrated the market with fake products, thereby giving genuine dealers a bad image.

Some residents, who spoke with our correspondent when Sunday Vanguard visited the place, said, “We were happy when the pre-qualifying bidding was done, hoping that the actual bidding will take place for the project to start. At present, we are suspicious about the attitude of government in handling this project.

Over three years after the pre-qualifying bidding was done, nothing is happening.  It is quite obvious that there may be personal and underlying interests in government to either frustrate the exercise or twist the previous pre-qualifying exercise to suit their selfish desires.”

A dealer  in the Computer Mega City axis of the market, Mr. Charles (surname withheld), spoke in the same vein. He said, “The initiative by government to rebuild the Computer Village and rehabilitate Katangowa market, which is in a dilapidating state, with refuse dumped at every corner of the market, is laudable, but there seems to be strong underlying interest that is hindering the commencement of the project. Why should personal interest override infrastructure  development, even to the detriment of the masses, which government has a duty to protect? This is the major reason our economy is  backward.”

He continued, “We are aware that the pre-qualified bidders who went through due process are eager to bid and commence the project, but the delay from government is causing the project a  set back. We are watching and must monitor this project to a logical conclusion. If government and those in the ministry are sincere, let them come out and give the masses a specific time-table, on how soon, the project will start.

They should let the residents of Ikeja know what is holding this project after the pre-qualification bidding exercise was done successfully. The un-necessary delay in this exercise explains incessant failures of public private partnership initiatives in Nigeria , with adverse consequences on economic development.

If Lagos State government is working on this project, what time-table does government have for the pre-qualified companies to bid for the project to commence? Why should the interest of few individuals in the corridors of power override public  interest, thereby hindering economic growth and development?”

When contacted, the Secretary General, Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), Mr. Nwafor- Ezelue Patrick, an umbrella body of operators in the Computer Village , said, “We are ready to move. The prequalification exercise was about choosing an efficient company that has the financial capacity and engineering experience to handle the project.

We have no problem about that, but we want to be carried along and must be fully involved in the whole process because we are the dealers involved. We do not want to leave everything for government to do. We are  talking with government and it is imperative to reach agreement on a win-win situation, so that when the project is finally executed, the place can be fully utilised for the intended purpose.”

He added: “We believe that the project may commence soon since our negotiation with government is  on-going. We are also calling on the  State government to carry out a comprehensive environmental impact  assessment on the new site to determine the road network, electricity supply and accessibility to our dealers and other people coming there for auxiliary businesses associated with our products.

“Originally, it was CAPDAN’s plan to move out of the Computer Village because we realised that the place is too small for the number of operators. We wrote to the state government and we were encouraged to look for a suitable land to relocate.

We searched for land but could not get a conducive place within the city, since the business thrives well in the city, due to the type of products we are dealing with. Of all the options, we preferred Katangowa, along Lagos-Abeokuta Express-Way, because of the size and location of the market. It was during that process that we had some issues within the association, which almost divided us. There were internal problems but had been settled. So, we are still negotiating with government on the Katangowa project.”

During Sunday Vanguard’s visit, it was observed that the Computer Village  was filled to capacity with different technology companies. The place is divided into segments such as the Computer Metro Mart, Computer Mega City among other areas.

While some people operate inside their shops and companies, others operate entirely on the streets without any company to be identified with. The place looks compacted with little or no space for people coming into the market for patronage.

There were also KAI  Brigade officials on ground. On the duty of the KAI  Brigade in the market, the CAPDAN Secretary General said, “KAI was brought in to check illegal businesses and all kinds of refuse accruing from street traders within the place. We had cases where some of the people you see on the streets sold fake phones to our customers at expensive prices. We do not want this kind of thing to continue because it is giving credible dealers a bad image.

Some of those people you see on the streets holding phones are not dealers. They do not have shops or registered companies. They come in here everyday to cause problems for us.” Located within Ikeja  district, the Computer Village , which houses thousands of technology companies and phone shops, covers a large expanse of land, measuring from Awolowo-Way through Simbiat Abiola Road  Road to the Airport  Road.

This is the first part of the story. Investigation into the issue will continue and must be exhaustive, as the authority in the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development has been contacted.

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