By Seun Williams
Agbalata Market is (read was) the major market in Badagry town, and indeed the entirety of its division in Lagos State. This is by no means a recent development. Relevant colonial records and archival documents dating as far back as the 1890s point to the fact that this “central market” in the town was a crucial hub of local, regional and international trade. There is indeed a long history to this very important market, that one can only hope that an elaborate study or treatise will be dedicated to this remit soon.
In any case, with the effective enforcement of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and as ‘legitimate’ commerce gained currency in its stead from the 1860s onwards, the market that became Agbalata, like several other regional markets on the West African coastline, gained prominence. People from far and wide trooped to the market to exchange goods and services. Sellers and buyers came from within Badagry and surrounding communities as much as they came from Lagos, Ejinrin, Epe, Porto-Novo, Cotonou, Whedah, Weme and other places. The fact that Agbalata is accessible both by road and via the lagoon is one of the reasons why the market enjoyed high patronage.
There was a ring of several other smaller community markets which depended considerably on Agbalata market for their supplies. Two principal products traded in the market in the early 20th century are palm oil and palm kernel oil, much of which were sold to European firms for exports. Other commodities of trade included textiles, mats, pottery, seafood and foodstuffs. Besides these, the market is today a key entrepot for the international trade in coconut between Ghana and Northern Nigeria.
Sadly though, Agbalata market has, for about a decade now, been experiencing seriously dwindling fortunes. This adverse twist of fate was brought about when Badagry’s immediate past local government administrator, late Mr. Husitode Moses Dosu (alias Oshoco), demolished a large section of the market in a bid to ‘reconstruct’ and ‘modernise’ the market. Alas, the purported reconstruction of Agbalata Market has turned out to be a failed project, and woefully so. This sad reality hardly comes off as surprising as it is consistent with the condition of many public projects across the local government, state and country. The Lagos–Badagry expressway, the shoreline reclamation and development project, the housing estate at Torikoh, and the high-rise building at the Chalet are a few examples of failed or abandoned projects within the local government area.
A whole decade since the ‘modernisation’ project commenced, hardly any block of shops or stalls has been successfully completed in the market. The entire complex is now a big mass of mess. From one part to the other, the market is filled with rubbles, dilapidated structures, half-demolished structures and half-constructed beams. Save for the population of traders and buyers who still regularly congregate there, one may not be so amiss to take the market for the site of a plane crash or bomb explosion. Did not our people, in their wisdom, tell off a deity that will not help or save one to better leave one as he meets one?
As at today, not much change has occurred in Agbalata market since the incumbent mayor, Mr. Olusegun Teliat Onilude, inherited the office. More than ever before, it is exigent that local government authorities intervene promptly so as to bring about a turn-around in the fortunes of the once flourishing market. By making the rebuilding of the market a matter of urgency, the council will demonstrate its commitment to the economic welfare of Badagrians, especially in the face of the current harsh economic realities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A stitch in time, they say, saves nine; even one that is ten years late will still save something.
Ṣeun Williams, a student of history, hails from Badagry, and loves to write about her. He can be caught roaming the web via @WheelHelms.