An Eateryís Ordeal with Host Community
For some time, Swiss Park Nigeria Limited, an eatery located in Amuwo Odofin neighbourhood in Lagos has not enjoyed the cordial relationship of its host community based on what it termed misconceptions. But the company continues to seek dialogue with the Joseph Orru Residents Association that superintends the community where its business is sited. Chris Asika writes
Recently, Swiss Park Nigeria Limited, a consortium of hotels and eateries around the country with a branch in Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos, received an ultimatum from members of the host community to vacate the premises, alleging that the activities of the eatery and huge influx of cars pose a security threat to the residents. Yes, they also accused the restaurant of noise pollution.
At the expiration of the ultimatum, the residents took to the streets to protest the continued existence of the eatery, calling on the state government to seal-off its premises.
They complained that over the years, the activities of the eatery have been detrimental to the community, which has about 250 buildings on10 major streets.
Chairman of the residents association, Tunde Keshinro was quoted as saying: “From about Thursday through Sunday every week, residents of the community experience hell on earth as customers of the fun spot would block Joseph Orru Street, which is the main entrance to the community, thereby making it difficult for the residents to entre or leave the community.”
Another resident said the noise pollution generated through the loud musical engagements from the eatery is terrible and ear deafening. “On weekends, especially the musical renditions from Swiss Park will be played from about noon till about 2.00 am, and residents of the area will not be able to sleep,” he said.
The protesters also complained about the security threat occasioned by the presence of people of questionable characters, who openly defecate, urinate, make lousy utterances and threaten those who dare to question them when they are drunk.
Not leaving anything to chances, the Consultant to Swiss Park, Mr. Ikenna Nwosu, on behalf of the Proprietor, Chief Orji Okosisi, who is out of the country on health ground, called for a peaceful resolution of the issues through dialogue with the residents association.
“My simple outlook to this is that we should sit down and talk things over, I believe that when we sit and dialogue, the issues will be resolved. There was no form of agreement between the community and the outfit until recently, just like some other eateries, hotels and outfit in the area; we do not understand the basis of this witch hunt. There was no issue before now, but this whole issue started when we decided to renovate the place in September only for the community members to inform us that that they have decided to move the street gate to the major entrance which overlooks the major entrance of the eatery.
“We have the first building on the street and I told them that the owner is not around and that when he returns they can talk with him, and the next thing was that they came back with placards saying ‘we want Swiss Park out of here’ and I was like ‘what are your complains, why should that be the case’, this is a commercial property, we have the right to run a business.”
Nwosu added that he asked members of the community what the eatery was not doing right and the main thing that was brought to his attention was that of the right of way for residents driving in and out of the estate and that due to the number of patronage and people that come to the eatery, easy flow of traffic had been impeded.
According to Nwosu, “On the advice of one of the people concerned, the eatery has been addressing the issues raised. For the past one week, customers are not allowed to park in front to the eatery, but are directed to park their vehicles elsewhere until adequate arrangement is made for alternative parking lot which is ongoing, but even at that, the residents are yet to come to agreement with Swis park management
“What else have we not done, please if there are other things that we need to do, let us know, we want to continue doing business here and we want to continue the social goodwill that we are known for. Obviously there are different voices; some say it is as a result of the structure that we are putting up, but like I say to everybody this is to be able to cover our customers who come around since this is a rainy season, like everyone knows in Lagos, it’s been pouring cats and dogs. Our idea is to make them comfortable and also to have a sit out above when the rains are gone,” he explained.
Further, he said: “That is all I know and I have been drawing a blank what else we have not been able to do right, I have not been in Nigeria for a long time maybe there are other things that I am yet to be educated about. I believe those that came for the demonstration could also be those who have benefited from the carnivals being sponsored by the outfit and we will continue to sponsor as part of the social responsibility we owe the community.”
The consultant explained that Swiss Park, “a world-class eatery is known to offer finger foods (point and kill, fish, suya, gizzard, isiewu, nkwobi) and drinks. It organises comedy nights because most of its patrons are family members, who tend to bring their kids in the evenings, especially during the weekends to have an atmosphere that is relaxing and conducive.
“For a place that people consume alcohol, to know that there has never been any crisis among customers or staff, fistcuffs have never reigned. That gives an impression of a complete relaxed atmosphere purely driven with customers’ satisfaction in mind.”
Unlike other residents of the area, the Chairman of Raji Rasaki Residents Association (RRRA), Mr. Sylvester Umeaku, called for dialogue among the warring parties, to ensure a peaceful coexistence among community members.
Umeaku, who doubles as the Chairman of United Amuwo Odofin GRA Residents Association (UAOGRA), an umbrella comprising all the resident associations in the area, said, “My involvement is this, I don’t subscribe to any witch-hunt. I don’t subscribe to man’s inhumanity to a fellow man. I feel and subscribe to live and let live.” According to him, “with all Okosisi has done, I owe him gratitude and not this effort to undermine him. Personally, I am making every effort to reach out to those who are after his head so that they can have a common ground when they meet.
“Why I got involved was because the proprietor called me and told me that he is having a health challenge, we are all human beings. Let him be available so that whatever the issues are, let him address them with the neighbours. They brought those people carrying placards and I never knew they were having issues until I began to inquire what was happening.”
During the demonstration, Umeaku said his attention was sought and he particularly asked after the proprietor thinking it was some kind of demonstration among Swiss Park staff challenging the government since there is lack of some infrastructure like power supply, water or other obvious social issues like environmental degradation, and insecurity, among others.
“Some residents of the street and even other people who are not members of the community so as to add to their numbers gathered and began to raise issues and unfortunately the young man has not been around.”
He said he would make every effort to see that the warring parties come to a round table and that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) would be signed.
He advised the management of the eatery to respect the right of way for residents and that staff should be instructed to maintain traffic decorum since there is an ongoing construction in the premises of the eatery.
“They can manage the traffic by hiring more hands.The eatery had barely started around May last year when some people started to talk about it trying to create a misconception that the place ought not to be an eatery, but a car park or a washing bay, but unfortunately it is not so and to be candid with you most of the residents around here are agitating over the influx of hotels around here.
“There are many hotels around here because it is a prime area. Along Joseph Orru Street, there are about five to six hotels and ironically none of them has this challenge and I don’t know why but presumably I think being the youngest person who owns such an outfit, someone who is under 40, owning such an outfit some people will not be happy, it is a human thing but not withstanding we thrive on people’s excellence and nobody should shackle the Nigerian spirit, that’s my take.
According to Umeaku, “the proprietor was flown to India for a surgical operation as a result of health issues which makes him greatly indisposed, and my prayer for him and his family is for the good lord to sustain him and make him come back a better person but he told me in confidence in a phone conversation that he will do whatever is in his power to address the grievances of the community.”
He said some of the community members that were lured into the act might not be privy to Okosisi’s kind gesture, which includes providing a jeep worth millions of naira to the police command in the area, repair of ram which helps in the bonding effort to de-flood the area since it’s a swampy area, and the ongoing negotiations for electricity projects with the electricity distribution company, which includes the repairs of broken down transformers in the area. These he said are financed by the same man.
Article Credit: Thisdaylive