Unity meets industry: How Igbajo people built century-old plank business in Ibadan

Sapati, Oniyanri, Inalende, Mokola are popular districts in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The listed areas are where people from Igbajo, Osun State can easily be traced if need be. Besides, timber and plank business in Ibadan is dominated by this people. From the early part of the 20th Century, when they had migrated to Ibadan, they have carved a niche for themselves in the trade which has made many millionaires of them. TUNDE BUSARI recently visited Sango Plank market and reports the entrepreneurial skill of the Igbajos.

Although Bodija timber market is the headquarters for the purchase of timber in Ibadan metropolis, the Sango market could be called a mega market in terms of size, operation and system of administration.

The history of Sango timber market is the history of Igbajo community in Ibadan since the 1920s. Igbajo is an ancient town in Osun State comprising people from different Yoruba sub-ethnic groups. The town played a vital role in the Kiriji War peace treaty, which was signed by all warring sides in 1886.

Accessing the vast market from the busy Sango-UI road won’t pose a problem to a first-time visitor, except that the road leading to market is home to traffic, thereby reducing it to a narrow path and constitutes a headache for vehicles and pedestrians. Afew metres into the road bears a clear-cut sign of the proximity of the market as carpenters and furniture makers have workshops on both sides of the road.

What awaits a visitor in the market is a distinct commercial community bounded by suburbs such as Alaro, Patako, Alemuloke, Idito, Okoro, Oke-Itunu and The Polytechnic, all under Irepodun Local CDA. It is a place, occupying about seven acres, where the lazy ones have no space to sit as old and young daily engage in one economic activity or the other.

The most conspicuous feature on arrival in the market is fervent contest for prospective buyers by shop owners. That exercise, however, is done under an absolutely friendly atmosphere and banters after buyers may have picked their choice shops to do transactions.

Nigerian Tribune gathered that a functional law exists in the market which forbids anyone from engaging in physical fight, either over customers or any matter. That law, it was further learnt, had ensured a sustainable peaceful co-existence among all traders in the market, making it attractive to buyers and other visitors.

The chairman of the executive council in charge of the market, Mr Rufus Faseyitan, expatiated on disciplinary measures in place for violation of the rule, declaring that no member of the market is immune to the law enacted a long time ago. He applauded his members for demonstrating his sense of compliance, a factor, which has impacted positively on the reputation of Sango market, among other markets in Ibadan.

“I am happy to inform you that our members in this market do respect the law because they all know its importance to our business here. Let us assume you are a customer coming here for the first time and meeting a rowdy place where people who are supposed to sell are fighting, won’t you turn your car to where you are coming from and go to other places where they sell what you are looking for? I am happy that our people understand it. Also, we realise that what we sell litters everywhere and could easily be picked to fight and inflict physical injury. We don’t want that to happen, and we insist on the-no-fight-in-the-market rule,” he said.

Because human beings and emotions are inseparable, there are a few occasions when some run against the law, Faseyitan admitted and revealed that heavy sanctions, ranging from suspension to fine and outright dismissal are in full force against culprits. According to him, the penalties have proved effective in preventing breakdown of law and order.

“We have realised that nobody wants to be sent on suspension from the market even for one day, talk more of weeks or months. So, everyone is behaving according to what the law says. And we are all happy for it. In fact, you can be suspended and still be asked to pay fine, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Theft here is dismissal, once it is established beyond reasonable doubt as lawyers say. This measure has helped us greatly in running a hitch-free market with the cooperation of members of the executive and our elders,” he said.

The strict internal measure, according to him, has aided general security of the market with the presence of security guards who daily take an eagle eye over the market after closing hour at seven in the evening of each day. He revealed that the market also enjoys full complements of regular patrol by policemen from Sango Divisional Police Headquarters.

Mr Sulaiman Adebayo, who claimed to be a regular customer to the market, being a building contractor, said his choice of Sango plank market was borne out of the peaceful conduct of business and zero-tolerance for loafers, promising he would continue to patronise the market unless the orderliness in the market is broken.

“Every contractor will not want to do business where he is afraid of being defrauded. What I have discovered here is the way they run the market with fear. There may be disappointment here and there, but you are sure of getting what you want at the end of the day. I am not running any other market down. I am only talking from my experience in this market,” he disclosed.

The flip side of the market is lack of infrastructural amenities which could have made the whole environment more conducive for transaction. For instance, there is shortage of water even though electricity supply by the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) is said to have lived up to expectations.

“We are appealing to the government to assist us in this direction. If you consider the volume of business which goes on here on a daily basis, except on Sunday when we all observe off day, you would agree with us that we need all facilities. We contribute our quota to economic growth of the state. The administration of the late Kolapo Isola realised that and came to tar the road passing through here. But since then, there is no government presence which one can point to. We need at least three boreholes, health centre and standard facilities because the work here is accident-prone,” he said.

Recalling how the people of Igbajo entered into such industry, Pa Samuel Olabode Adegoke, a nonagenarian and president general of Sango Timber Traders’ Association, in an interaction with the Nigerian Tribune stated that The business started from the era of our forefathers. An Igbajo son who had travelled to Ghana brought the trade home. His name is Combrige from Fagbon compound.

“Our first generation left Igbajo and first went to Ijebu-Ode to do this business but they were not welcomed there. They then came to Ibadan and settled down permanently. Amunigun was the first place. Later they moved to Ogunpa. From Ogunpa, they moved to Oke-Bola. I should not forget the role played by our father who was Josiah Agbe. He was from Igbajo and highly successful. In fact, he contributed the planks used to construct the Mapo Hall. He also contributed to the building of Adeoyo Hospital. We moved from Oke-Bola to this place after some issues.

“We were asked to move out of Oke-Bola to Bodija. But we said Bodija would not be conducive. Meanwhile, before we were asked to leave Oke-Bola, we had bought this land and collected all documents of ownership. That was in 1962. It was in 1970 that we moved down.”

He further added that life was indeed difficult for those who started the business. “It was a difficult time for us. We used to trek to Omi Adio, Ido and Aba Oyo. The business then was very difficult. It involved too much of stress. I can remember we used to wake in the middle of the night to search for water. We won’t return until six in the morning. Also, everything was done manually. We only got relief when machine was brought. Timber which we used weeks to cut is now done easily and on time.

“It is unity among traders here. We see ourselves as one. It is not only Igbajo people that are here. We also have our friends from Ada, Otan Ayegbaju, Iresi and Iragbiji doing business with us. We also believe in the power of prayer. Everyday, we must converge on this hall to pray between 12 and 1 in the afternoon. That closeness to God has helped us on how we conduct our business,” he said.

However, the Ekefa Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oloye Lekan Alabi has dismissed the claim that an Igbajo man donated planks used to roof the Mapo Hall.

The immediate past Agba Akin of Ibadanland until his recent elevation, maintained that “The Mapo Hall you are talking about is a colonial structure built by the British. How could an individual donate roofing material to the British? May be, the person was a supplier. He must be a contractor who only supplied the material and got paid.”



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