Without any invitational gesture, Ola, as he would later introduce himself, raced to my side and whispered, “Bros, document?”
I pretended as if I didn’t hear him. He would have none of that. “Bros, no be you I dey talk to? Look my face na, na document or wetin u wan do?”
I managed a smile. Then, I said, “Well, I’m just being careful. Yes, I want ‘document’ but I want someone I can trust.”
Ola will do anything to prove his popularity and trust worthiness. “Ah, l’adugbo yi, k’osomo na (In this vicinity, there is no one who doesn’t know me),” he said, throwing his fists in the air to demonstrate his street popularity. He went on, “As you enter and I see the way you dress, I know say na document you wan do. So, make we no long things. I get correct and better document wey I fit do for you, wey be say anywhere you tender am, na ‘ote’ (authentic).”
The confidence effused by Ola, one of the numerous touts who mill around the popular Oluwole Street, Lagos Island, reminds one of the notoriety the area was once known for until the crackdown by law enforcement agents in August 2011. Indeed, Oluwole is one of the most notorious streets in Eko Idumota.
Oluwole gained its notoriety for being Nigeria’s most patronised spot for document forgery or fakery. Although, the nefarious activities of the forgers and their business canvassers appeared to have simmered after the 2011 crackdown, yet the likes of Ola and a number of other recalcitrant forgers still manage to go on, albeit with some cautiousness.
“Bros, tell me the type of document you wan do – university certificate is 10k; Visa, depending on the country, but if you want Southy (South Africa)25k; UK, US and Canada 40k; Drivers License 10k; anything, just tell me, I go get am for you. I go hand you over to my Oga. He go do am for you sharp, sharp,” he said in Pidgin English as he was using his hand to shield me from other canvassers on the road while also leading me to the direction of his ‘office’.
I told him that I urgently needed MSc certificate of a leading university in Lagos that will bear my name and my grade as first class. However, I said I didn’t have much money with me. On hearing the university’s name, Ola jumped in ecstasy. He said, “kekere niyen (that’s a small task).” He said how much I had so he could help me beg his boss to accept it though they wouldn’t take less than N7000. I told him I had N5,000. He hesitated but later said I should come along.
At the junction of Imam Ligali Street (one of the streets providing exit for Oluwole Steet), Ola led me in. We headed for a storey building plaza and Ola took me to a shop at the basement, operating like a Business Centre.
He led me to a man I understood to be his boss. After a brief discussion, with the boss, I was offered a sit. As I waited, I noticed that the young man working on the computer system was trying to redesign the logo of a famous Federal Government petroleum company.
Few minutes later, there was power interruption, and the young man and Ola’s boss went for the shop’s electrical generator. They tried in vain to start it. Ola returned after 20 minutes to realize that nothing had happened since he left. I told him that if after another 20 minutes there was no solution to the power problem, I would leave. And that was exactly what I did after spending 45 minutes in the shop. There were other exciting realities of Eko Idumota I needed to explore.
Idumota is full of drama. Few minutes before I arrived the Oluwole Urban Mall situated at Martins Street, two female commercial load carriers (otherwise known as Alabaru) had exchanged blows over who should have assisted a supposed client of theirs with loads meant to be conveyed to his car.
The younger of the two had dazed the older one with repeated blows despite entreaties from bystanders and peacemakers. Before both could be separated, the older Alabaru already had her lips bleeding while the younger one ended up with torn clothes.
“That was a fight of their lives,” Kayode Badejo, a tailor and one of the peacemakers told me. “While I really do not know how it all began, what I know is that anytime a shopper is heading into the mall, some of the Alabarus will be soliciting patronage, offering to help carry luggage for the shoppers.
“But in this case, it seemed both of them had talked to the man before he went into the mall, so while he was coming out, they both rushed towards him and in a bid to outsmart each others, it seemed the elderly woman pushed the younger one. On regaining her strength, the younger one decided to go combative and a fight ensued. In the process, neither of them got the job because while they were fighting, the man quietly left with his luggage.”
I decided to seek the opinion of the Mamaloja at the Oluwole Urban Mall on how the activities of the load carriers are regulated, among other sundry issues, but the old woman will not grant audience to journalists except on prior appointment.
Aside the hustling forgers and combative Alabarus, Idumota also has daring risk takers. Just across the street from the Oluwole Mall is the gigantic Great Nigeria House – a 25-storey building which used to be a commercial hub before it was gutted by fire in November 2013.
The building is desolate, weakened and may probably collapse anytime soon. All of the floors have been vacated. Instructively, the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) has a danger sign and emboldened inscriptions: ‘Destructive Test Required’ on the wall.
Ironically, such warning does not deter a legion of petty traders who on daily basis display their goods and lobby for patronage on the ground floor of the building. When I approached one of the traders and asked if she understands the risk of selling her wares close to such dilapidated gigantic building, she retorted, “No evil shall befall us by the Grace of God,” and ignored every attempt to get her to talk.
Some of the traders direct me to two men, who I was later told are the Baba Ita (local area commanders) of the area, and who allocate the spaces to traders selling within the vicinity. When I approached the duo, they declined comments, saying they were visitors.
Regarded as the largest market in Lagos and one of the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, Idumota Market is structured with locked-up shops and roadside trading. From the popular Nnamdi Azikwe Street, hosting the Lagos Central Mosque to Apongbon Exit, Issah Williams to Imam Ligali, Breadfruit to Taiwo and Martins, Broad streets, among others, Idumota Market attracts thousands of buyers and sellers for commercial activities on daily basis.
While the ‘chaos’ in Idumota, which defines its operation now, makes it difficult to compartmentalize sales being undertaken in different sections, areas such as Nnamdi Azikwe, Oluwole and Breadfruit are heavily concentrated with sales of clothing materials, while the stretch between Apongbon exit and Broad Street has a concentration of banks and other financial establishments. Taiwo Street for instance is home to Bureau the Change operators, while Martins and Oluwole play host to dealers on foreign wears, shoes and bags.
Idumota’s infamous chaotic nature comes with implications. From the constant harassment of sales canvassers who persuade prospective buyers to patronize them and their bosses, to the criminal elements who usually engage in picking pockets, a first time visitor stands the chance of getting lost or losing something.
There’s also waste generation in all the sections of the market. From Issah Williams to Nnamdi Azikiwe Street, I watched how overwhelmed officers of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and Visionscape battle to clear debris on the roads as trading activities thrived.
“The poor environmental situation, the rowdiness of the road and the near-impossibility of moving freely in the market forced the state government under Governor Tunde Fashola to demolish illegal shops and make shift tents in 2010,” Kazeem Balogun, an officer of the Broad Street Business District Guard, said.