Hundreds of mechanics in Lagos marched to the Lagos State House of Assembly to protest the demolition of their workshops at the beginning of June. The automobile technicians who are members of the National Automobile Technicians Association (NATA) defied the rain as they gathered at the Allen Bus-stop, Ikeja, by 10:00 am, for the five kilometers walk to the House of Assembly.
NATA and its members have been in a running battle with several ministries and agencies of the Lagos state government over the last two years. These are the ministry of physical planning and the ministry of transport, as well as the Lagos lands bureau.
In 2019, the government acting through these bodies, demolished the Baba Animashun Mechanic village in Surulere. Mechanics, many of whom had spent several years and even more than a decade working in the village, were evicted, without any alternative location.
The impact of this was devastating. A particularly saddening case was that of Adediran Ogunmuyiwa, a member of NATA, who was affected as his workshop was seized in September 2019. He fell into depression and protracted ill health. Having no money to take care of himself in this state, he died in May 2020.
The Lagos State Land Bureau also demolished the Ifelagba Mechanic Village in 2020 after the mechanics refused to pay a levy of N57.5m, which they rightly described as arbitrary, to the transport ministry. Six mechanics workshop clusters in the Ladipo area of Mushin have also been seized to make way for a paying parking lot.
Altogether, eleven mechanic villages have been demolished by the state government over the last two years. These workshop clusters known as mechanic villages were allotted to NATA and its members in 1981 by the Lateef Jakande administration to curb the widespread presence/practice of “roadside mechanics.”
Jacob Fayeun, Chair of the Lagos NATA Council, informed that most of these locations were “in difficult marshy areas and canal setbacks.” The mechanics tasked themselves and redeveloped these places at great expense. They have since then been regularly paying leases to the government for the use of the land.
Toyin Fayinka, the special adviser on transportation to the state governor, has been fingered as a key figure behind the demolition. He is also said to benefit from repurposing the lands after eviction and demolition, such as the “park and pay” venture at Ladipo.
One of the mechanics’ demands was thus for the removal of Fayinka. He was quick to defend himself when contacted by Premium Times after the NATA demonstration. According to him, the steps he took were based on files he met when he got into office.
The lands on which the mechanics’ villages were erected, he said, belong to the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSPDC). They were only given in trust to the ministry of transport, which made them available to the mechanics.
The letters of allocation to mechanics, he added, were not for permanent possession. Therefore, payment is made yearly. But there are several important issues that he failed to address.
He neglects that members of NATA had developed these lands that were hardly suitable for use when they took possession forty years ago. He also overlooks the often-stated claim that sovereignty belongs to the people, including the mechanics, and not the government.
As many members and defenders of the few people rich who control government have done before him, he reveals the true nature of sovereignty to this class of exploiters. It is power over us to rule, oppress and exploit the poor workers, farmers, and artisans like the members of NATA.
And that is why we must fight to kick out this handful of people from power. If we, the poor masses today, who constitute the majority of the population, are in control, this kind of oppression will not be allowed.
Fayinka is one of the pieces on the draughts board of power against the mechanics in Lagos state. NATA and its members must fight him and the entire power structure of “big men” in power. It is totally indefensible that they will take food away from the mouth of hardworking mechanics who earn their living from the workshops in these mechanics’ villages they have developed.
NATA and its members and the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations (FIWON), which has played a leading role in supporting the Association, must be consistent and unrelenting in this struggle until victory. The mechanics need solidarity from the trade unions, market women and men associations, community-based associations, radical civil society organizations, and many other working people organizations and radical left as possible.
Socialist Workers and Youth League stand in solidarity with NATA and all automobile technicians in this struggle. We will speak out for you, and we will march with you. We will be beside you in this struggle until victory.
by Muda OGIDAN