Hundreds of traders under the auspices of various business associations at the International Trade Fair Complex, Lagos, have staged a protest against the re-concession plan of the complex by the Federal Government.
The protest rally which started in the early hours of Monday, grounded trading activities across different sections of the sprawling complex with some of the protesters carrying placards with inscriptions such as: 'BPE stay off the trading complex', 'We are in Court, why not wait for legal decisions?' and 'We say no to the re-concession that will impoverish us', among others.
The president, Auto Spare Parts and Machinery Dealers' Association (ASPMDA), Chief Daniel Oforkansi, who addressed journalists at the rally, said the protest became expedient to draw "global" and national attention to what he called "surreptitious moves" aimed at giving out the complex through re-concession, allegedly being spearheaded by the Minister of Trade and Investments, Okechukwu Onelamah.
"The matter is already in court. We have sued BPE, NPC and the management board. This is a repeat of the last failed concession arrangement by the Federal Government. Recently, the representatives of the government invited us to a meeting, at a Lagos hotel, telling us that the train has left the station since and whether or not we like it, the complex will be concessioned. They said we should get on board or be left behind.
"But we are saying such action cannot be possible. We put our investment to develop the complex and we are not going to give it up to any concessionaires. We will appreciate it if the minister himself could see the investment and plight of over 120,000 traders earning their living from here.
"We would do everything we can to protect this place. If government is interested in concessioning, it can concession it's motel and other free land of the complex," Oforkansi said.
The ASPAMDA pioneer president, Ages Okeke, said the traders were into a two-type lease agreement with government, totalling 99 years. He noted that the first phase of 50 years has been completed and the second phase of 49 years of lease is currently on. He urged the minister to visit the complex to see things for himself, just like his predecessors did.
The president, Association of Progressive Traders (APT), Eric Ilechukwu, said President Buhari must urgently intervene. He said the traders have been carrying out their trade peacefully at the complex for many years and that they have all the required documents should there be doubt in the minds of government representatives.