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Benin City’s Melting Pot

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IMAGE: Ring-Road,-Benin-City Edo-State »


There are many interesting part of Benin City, the capital of Edo State, but Ring Road is one area that is distinct. Solomon Elusoji writes
As one walks down its streets, young boys call out to you. Some walk up to you and hold your hand, asking you whether you want to repair a phone or buy a new one.

The persistent ones stay with you, even when you tell them you have nothing to buy. They walk on with you, asking, cajoling, pleading, until they realise that not even God can convince you to do business with them. The traffic-busy roads are lined with stalls, storied complexes, large markets, bus-parks, and trees populated by bats.

Here, at Ring-road, thousands of people converge every day, either for ephemeral purposes or to source for their daily bread. The rush is not unlike that of the busiest streets in Lagos, and impatience hangs in the air at all times, as people push and shove one another, trying to get to their destination on time.

Ring-road is not exactly the name of a place. According to Wikipedia, the term is used for the “majority of circumferential routes in the European union.” In Benin-city, the idea of Ring-Road is built around its major roundabout, which has been described as one of the widest, roundest roundabout in Nigeria. Inside the magnificent circa is a beautiful park and garden, enhanced by a colourful fountain, a national museum, and landmark sculptures depicting diverse images. Beside the roundabout is the Oba’s Palace, who is the most revered being in the whole of Benin Kingdom, and even its environs. Then there is the Oba’s Market; a towering edifice that houses thousands of stalls, and a plethora of commercial goods and services.

Like several commercial centres in the major cities of Nigeria, Ring-road, is always made vibrant with life by many activities that are run in it. It is a place where travellers board commercial buses that would convey them to their various destinations; where cabs and commercial and luxurious buses have their bus-stops; and it’s a cynosure where business transactions are carried out.

“I have been here for two years,” a trader, who gave her name as Dumebi, tells THISDAY. “And I sell a lot of provisions, as you can see. I also sell toothpaste, toilet-soap and other things.” Her stall is one of the hundreds along the busy roads, and though small, it is stacked high with cartons of goods heaped at a corner. She sits at the front, while she waits for customers to stop by, and transact with her.

However, not every trader in Ring Road operates like Dumebi. Alex Inomwan has been selling pop-corn along the streets of Ring Road for the past six months, and he does not sit down in one place to make sales. He does not have a permanent stall, but makes do with a cart-like box to move around his goods. “That is the only way people can see what I am selling and approach me,” Alex says, as he tries to explain why he does not have a stall.

In Ring-Road, people like Alex are always on the run, because of the task-force commissioned to ensure that there are no hawkers or hawker-like ventures on the sidewalks. “They always drive me and my colleagues away from the sidewalk whenever they come,” Alex says, lamenting that the force was probably the major challenge he faces in conducting his business at Ring-Road.

Nevertheless, Alex believes that the force is doing its job, and apart from disturbing him, has made sure that traffic across streets in Ring-road is reduced to the barest minimum. “Man has to eat,” he says with a smile. “But these task force people should really be commended. They are simply doing their job, and as you can see, the traffic on the road has really reduced, compared to what we had before.”

Alex is right. Traffic on Ring-Road streets is beginning to run smoothly, and even during rush hour periods, there is a palpable reduction in the heaviness of stalemates, compared to what was available previously. An official of the Edo State Traffic Management Agency, who gave his name as Obaseki, attributes the undisturbed passage of vehicles, especially at the roundabout to the effectiveness of the Agency’s efforts.

“Commercial buses have their parks now,” he says. “Before, they used to park anyhow and this caused a lot of traffic jam. Any commercial bus that parks inappropriately or anyhow will be seized and taken to the Government lodge. After which the owner of the bus will be charged to court.”

According to Tina, a newspaper vendor, businesses thrive in Ring-Road. “I have been here for up to ten years,” she tells THISDAY, “and I can say that businesses go well here.” The high-rate chances of a business succeeding in Ring-road would obviously boil down to the large mass of people (consumers) who wade through its road on a daily basis. Although, not everyone is happy with the profitability yield from the area.

Charles Uzor, a film marketer in one of the markets in Ring-Road, maintains that Ring-road is losing its Midas touch on businesses. “You cannot compare Ring-road now, and then,” he complains. “Then, the business complex made work go faster but now it is hard to get money. Things were better during the days of the PDP than now. Oshiomole is trying but business is not going well now.”
Uzor refuses to give concrete reasons and explanations to elucidate his views properly, and one is left wondering whether the market itself is to be blamed, rather than the bleak and harsh climate of the Nigerian economy.

A striking Ring-road feature is its trees, which harbour large number of bats. In the morning and afternoons, the bats can be seen on the trees, and in the evenings, they emerge from their abode and soar into the grey skies, sometimes almost covering the dull reflection of the close-to-the-horizon sun, and creating the semblance of an eclipse. Many believe the animals carry a spiritual significance.

However, Ekundayo Akuma, a student of the University of Benin, who uses Ring Road frequently, does not believe the bats in Ring-road have any spiritual importance. “I see them as just animals,” he says. “Yes, they are weird and look somehow ugly, and that makes people think they are evil, but I think they are just animals, and are doing their own thing.”

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 4 Years ago

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Tags:     Benin City     Solomon Elusoji     Wikipedia     Alex Inomwan     Ekundayo Akuma     Ring-Road