In the heart of Lagos, Africa’s biggest city, sits a sprawling, bustling market stacked with almost every tech product imaginable and known informally as “Computer Village.” Here, amongst a maze of shops and complexes, vendors serve thousands of Nigerians every day looking to buy or fix mobile phones, computers, hard drives, microchips and software.
The market, estimated by a former government minister to generate $2 billion a year, has become an important cog in the local tech ecosystem. It’s also been a critical source of employment, as hundreds of independent tech-savvy vendors hustle for commissions on sales at big stores, or walk the street market in search of profits on second-hand items and repairs.
But that’s about to change.
Last week, the state government announced plans to relocate Computer Village from its location in Ikeja, one of the largest business districts in Lagos, to an information and communications technology park in Kantangowa, on the city’s outskirts. Officials say the move will solve traffic congestion and environmental problems in the area. With its ramshackle shops and roving salesmen, the area is known for daily traffic gridlock, and its poorly planned layout means many of its drainage outlets are frequently blocked.
While the government might score points for trying to fix some of Lagos’ infamous traffic issues with the move, the decision to move the market to the city’s outskirts has sparked an outcry. Computer Village, which has evolved by necessity rather than by the government’s design, occupies valuable real estate in the city center. Even though the government promises a “world-class” computer park at the proposed location, Kantangowa is 13 kilometers away from Ikeja, and could easily take a few hours to reach, given Lagos’ nightmarish traffic jams. The move will deal a major blow to the hundreds of businesses in the area.
Samuel Salau, 31, has worked as a phone and computer engineer at Computer Village for eight years. He says he has no plans to move his business as he fears losing customers who don’t want to brave the commute to Kantangowa. Instead, he hopes to find another shop in the city center in a bid to keep his business alive.
The move may also force local customers to look to foreign websites like eBay and Amazon for goods. Pereowei Osekamebor, a web developer who frequents the market, has already begun looking for alternatives to avoid long trips to the new proposed location. “Going to Kantangowa is out of the question,” he says. “If the market is moved, I’ll buy things I need online. I can’t go all [that] way to fix a bad computer charger.”
Nigeria is looking to grow support for local businesses amid an economic recession and the decision to move Computer Village has elicited heated debates about class and elitism in Africa’s largest megacity, given the impact of the move on customers who can’t afford to travel far or buy tech products online. Regardless, Wasiu Anifowose, Lagos commissioner for physical planning and urban development has said the relocation plan, 11 years in the making, has already been agreed to by traders, and is in its “concluding phase.”
The promise to relocate businesses to a new, more modern location rings hollow for Salau. “In all the markets the governments have tried to intervene, poor people can’t afford the fees,” he says. History backs up that sentiment. In 2014, following a fire, the Lagos government tried to renovate Tejuosho, a popular textile market on the Lagos mainland. But the new three-story shopping complex built for Tejuosho’s traders remains largely unoccupied as they say they cannot afford the high rent and service charges.
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