Sprawled on both sides of the expressway, close to the bridge at Berger Bus Stop, not far from Mile 2, in Lagos, is a large auto market, a major hub for second-hand vehicles of all kinds.
“It is the largest motor market in Africa,” Don Metche Nnadiekwe, President of the traders’ association (United Berger Motor Dealers Association) told Saturday Tribune on Wednesday.
Along the road, a few young men sat under a shade. Sometimes, they called out to passers-by and asked them if they wanted to buy a vehicle.
“This is where you can get the best second-hand cars in Lagos,” one of them said. “You can see the cars yourself. They were not used in Nigeria.”
Several groups of traders were found gathered at different parts of the market, meeting. But for the occasional laughter and raised voices, the market seemed calm and peaceful.
Nnadiekwe who, himself, was presiding over a meeting, spared a few minutes to share his thoughts: “We are suffering,” he said. “Businesses are dying. Customers cannot afford our cars anymore. Where we used to pay N450, 000 to do clearing and forwarding for a car, we now pay N 1 million.
Asked how he thought the crisis might be resolved, he said: “We have been talking about bail-outs here and there, in Nigeria today. We are going to look for a better way to reduce the cost of clearing and forwarding, otherwise things would get worse. Nigerians are suffering. People can no longer put three square meals on the table for their children. What we need is for the cost of clearing and forwarding to be reduced. My people are complaining bitterly. To solve the current problem, the government must look inwards.”
The popular auto parts market at Ladipo was rowdy and crowded when Saturday Tribune visited on Wednesday. People moved frantically in all directions, most of them dressed in dirty shirts or overalls. Many of them wore rain boots too: the ground was wet and slimy.
A first-time visitor might conclude, from the buzz about the market, that the recession was yet to find its way to the auto parts market.
“What you see here are just mechanics who have come to buy a few things,” Mr Anthony Nwazelibe, Secretary of Aguiyi Ironsi Section of the market, explained. “They are not our real customers. They are not our big customers. This place used to be busier than this. The presence of mechanics here doesn’t mean we’re doing well at all. Mechanics will always come because people will always drive; transporters must always drive because it is their business. Most private car owners have even parked their cars and stated using public buses.”
Nwazelibe was sitting in an arm chair in his well-furnished office. Occasionally, his friends and other traders would stroll in, say “Good morning,” and then spend a few minutes talking about how hard things had become.
“The number of customers we see has reduced,” he continued. “Take my own business for example. Before now, I used to sell at least one machine every day or every two days. But I have not sold anything for two weeks now. Things are expensive now, because of the dollar. That’s to be expected because our business is exchange; our business depends on the dollar.”
Let us pray
At a large square beside Nwazelibe’s office, a preacher who identified himself as Pastor Peter Success spoke to the traders about “prosperity in spite of economic recession”.
“You must endeavour to do vigil every last Friday of the month, beginning from September until December,” he said. “That is how to ensure that the devil does not succeed in carrying out the plans he has for your life this year. You must fast at least seven times every month throughout the -ember months. I have told you that before. Recession is not your portion.”
Not many of the traders appeared to be listening. But the preacher went on, nonetheless. It was a well-rounded sermon: he spoke about tips for preventing malaria as well as how to survive food poisoning; he spoke about the importance of honesty and uprightness and the need to help one another.
Ultimately, he enjoined them to support his ministry financially; he swore that they would be astonished by the magnitude of the blessings that would come their way as a result.
All the 37 sections in the market are organised under a central leadership – Ladipo Auto Central Executive Council (LACEC). The Vice President of the body, Mr Jude Nwankwo, was found in his shop at Aguiyi Ironsi Section, sitting on a high stool.
“We haven’t been selling things here,” he said. “Just look at around; see the shops; everyone is idle. I have not travelled for some months now. Even if you sell, the amount would not be enough for you to buy another. That we are still here is just by the mercy of God. If things continue this way next year, many of us would pack our things and move to our hometowns. Maybe we can start farming there.”
Nwankwo said the recession should not be spoken of as though it was a “mathematical problem,” and urged the government to equally consider the remote causes of the crisis.
“Nigeria is not the only country that is corrupt,” he said. “There is corruption everywhere. We should not make our lives all about corruption; we should allow other issues to take over the issue of corruption in the way we talk about things in this country. There should be peaceful coexistence. That is the only way the Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram would stop fighting. The government should have a good relationship with the Niger Delta. The President should handle us democratically. We should stop politics with bitterness, so that the problems we are facing now can go away.”
It would seem, in many ways, that much of what is felt by the traders is also captured by the chaos that is Ladipo. In the voices screaming and barking out orders, in the endless movements of man and machine, in the filth and the stench, in the eternal struggle for survival – Ladipo seems an apt enactment of a nation in distress.