On the 17th of May, 2020 the Bayelsa State Government carried out what it referred to as the demolition of “illegal structures” at the Edepie/Etegwe Roundabout, popularly known as “Tombia Market” in the state capital, Yenagoa. This action was preceded by a similar demolition exercise in the popular Swali Market which took place on the 19th of April 2020.
Although the government has not made public an official policy in this respect, there is an apparent drive by the current administration of the state – which has been in office for about three months – to undertake urban renewal projects in the state capital.
In a subsequent statement released by the Governor, he confirmed that a car park would be built at Swali Market, whilst a flyover would be constructed at the Tombia Roundabout to ease traffic in the area and give the state capital a facelift. Other reasons adduced by the government for the demolition exercise include the need to enhance the security situation in the state and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in such congested market places.
REACTION TO THE DEMOLITION EXERCISE
There have been mixed reactions to the demolition exercise. Whilst it has received support from government officials and some citizens, traders and shop owners have lamented the effect of the demolition on their livelihoods, especially in the light of the broader economic effects of the coronavirus.
It is with the objective of having a basic understanding of the general opinion of Bayelsa State citizens on the demolition exercise that the Nun River Development Initiative initiated an online survey in the immediate aftermath of the exercise.
The simple survey was carried out online on two social media platforms: Facebook and Twitter. These platforms were chosen as they are the preferred social media platforms and main mechanism of engagement for Bayelsans in cyberspace. Whilst on Twitter the survey was put out through the handle of Media and Publicity Lead of the Nun River Development Initiative, On Facebook, it was put out on two main groups on which Bayelsans interact: Sayelba and Bayelsa Focus Group. The poll ran for three days.
The poll had a single multiple choice question with three options. Participants were required to respond to the question, “Where do you stand on the Urban Renewal/Demolition at Tombia Roundabout?”. The three available options provided were: (a) I support; (b) I am against it; (c) I am indifferent.
Facebook – Sayelba
A total of 158 respondents participated in the survey on SAYELBA. As shown in the chart above, 95% were in support of the government’s action. 3.7% were against it, whilst 1.3% expressed indifference towards the demolition.
Facebook – Bayelsa Focus Group The poll received a total of 138 responses on Bayelsa Focus Group. Out of these, 97% expressed support for the demolition, whilst the remaining 3% were against the action. No respondents expressed indifference for the demolition exercise.
On Twitter, 74% of the respondents expressed support for the demolition exercise, 2% were against it, whilst 18% expressed indifference.
The simple conclusion that can be reached from the results of the survey is that there is widespread support for the actions of the government in demolishing the illegal structures at the Tombia Market. Whilst admitting the obvious limitations of the survey, which is not statistically representative of the population of Bayelsa, the media utilized for the survey provides a reasonably informative perspective of Bayelsans on social media.
1. Notwithstanding, the high level of support for the demolition exercise, it is important to recognise the few dissenting voices like those of the traders whose livelihoods are in jeopardy as a result of the exercise, especially in the current economic realities occasioned by COVID-19. The government should give the initiative a human face by addressing genuine concerns in the aftermath of the exercise.
2. As the government continues its urban renewal efforts, it should improve its information management for subsequent demolition exercises by properly informing traders ahead of time and affording them adequate time to evacuate. Beyond this, it should work with the traders in providing reasonable alternative arrangements to enable them continue their businesses, considering, especially, the significance of the informal sector on the economy of the state. Moreover, such pre-information should be shared with the general citizens as well to ensure informed views and perspectives on the actions of government.
3. As a corollary to the above, government should ensure that the allocation of alternative stores to traders in places like Swali Market and Kpansia Market is carried out in a transparent manner, on a merit-based system, without political or other considerations.
4. Finally, and breaking from past practices, it would be of great credit to the government for subsequent policies and actions like this to be informed by research. This would enable it have a factual basis for its decisions and prevent the need for such ex post facto rationalisations and debates. It can do this easily by engaging researchers and research firms within the State for this purpose.
This report was prepared for the Nun River Development Initiative by: