Churches, new tenants of old industrial estates

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With production and selling environment getting tougher for businesses, churches are becoming the ‘lords’ of old industrial clusters, GEOFF IYATSE writes

Once upon a time, the headquarters of the Dunlop Nigeria Plc, in Ikeja, Lagos, was a beehive of business activities. It stirred the hope of hundreds of young men and women. Sitting on several acres of land side-by-side with the Guinness Nigeria Plc at Oba Akran, the company dominated the Ikeja Industrial Estate, just as it played a leadership role in the then emerging tyre market.

But as if Dunlop’s fate was tied to that of the manufacturing sector, which it operated in, its un-concealable rising star dimmed abruptly in late 1990s – a time the industrial sector experienced a major setback, leaving behind tons of hopelessness.

But hope does not seem to have vanished completely from its huge edifice. On the northern side of the premises, where it shares boundary with the Guinness Nigeria Plc, is a new occupant that is also “giving hope” to Nigerians.

Does the new tenant share any similarities with the defunct Dunlop? Yes, it does. Thousands of Nigerian youths are also ‘absorbed’ by the organisation.

First, while Dunlop’s operations thrived on shift production arrangement, the new tenants also do shift. With 26 national flags hoisted in its frontage, the Triumphant Christian Centre could be placed on the same multinational scale the tyre company occupied several years.

The TCC, in every sense of the expression, is like a new wine in Dunlop’s old wine skin. For one, apart from whitewashing walls of the hitherto neglected production facilities it now occupies, the church has not tampered with the old structure used for its offices and auditorium.

Here is a major divergence. Whereas Dunlop was solely concerned about the physical wellbeing of its employees, TCC’s vision is heavenly-bound.

Interestingly, scores of youths from Ogba, Ikeja and Agege areas who have had to lose the employment potential help by the sprawling production plant now look up to the church to lead them to ‘seek the face of God’ on matters relating to joblessness and poverty, social challenges that have escalated by closure of industries.

The church itself seems to have acknowledged the responsibility on its shoulders. Rising from a breakthrough programme themed “Turnaround Laughter”, the church is warming up for another, “Five Supernatural Sundays,” a spiritual exercise that focuses on every problem that has links with joblessness.

In the five Sundays that make up July, hundreds (or thousands) will gather in a ‘two-shift’ service at the youth-centric TCC to ‘pray their ways out of’ business, career, marital, and financial challenges, among others.

The present condition of Dunlop facilities may have stretched the connotation of the slogan of Victory Land (as TCC calls its edifice). With the roofs of the production yards dangling atop the buildings, previously cherished machinery rusting away and a large portion of the complex grappling with wildflowers, there could not have been a better slogan from an organisation operating from the complex.

The case of Dunlop property is but just a definition of the new role Lagos industrial community has settled for. The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Province 27 headquarters, is a few meters away from Dunlop. It also exhibits the character of TCC in part.

Located on a sprawling parcel of land on Ladipo Oluwole Street (beside Guinness), the church, with its school, is another ‘invader’ on the supposed industrial-purpose developed estate. Almost every street on the famous industrial estate has welcomed one or two churches in recent years; a situation the operators say is increasing.

At the beginning of Kudirat Abiola Way, Alausa, the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries has ‘seized’ a huge portion of a factory complex, leaving a negligible part for those who have stubbornly stayed back to confront the odds against manufacturing.

Religion is also gradually altering the ‘tenor’ of Iganmu, another ancient industrial layout. Apart from the portion controlled by the Nigerian Breweries Plc, the area is becoming quieter in weekdays (except for the activities of trucks that visit importation-servicing warehouses to load or discharge goods) than at weekends. At every stretch of the industrial city, you find one religious house or the other. They keep Sundays in the area bubbling, even more bubbling than weekdays.

In the heyday of the country’s industrial sector, factory machines rumbled day-in-day-out in the entire stretch of Akanbi Onitiri. But with the collapse of the Central Bags Manufacturing Company Nigeria Limited and several other operators that clustered around it, the street has become a shadow of itself.

That is as far as its original purpose is concerned. Otherwise, the International Church of Christ is Akanbi Onitiri’s new bride. The church, though still operates in tents, sits on a vast land many modern companies cannot afford. Around it are abandoned and dilapidated production facilities of CBMC and several companies, which those who are conversant with the area can barely remember their names.

Apart from the church, which is struggling to bring back the groove of Akanbi Onitiri, the only business that seems to be doing well in the vicinity is warehousing. Most of the collapsed companies, like what obtains in several other parts of Lagos, have been transformed to storage facilities for sundry imported goods.

Besides truck drivers and a few menial workers visiting the numerous warehouses, other individuals found on the serene close are those on a spiritual mission to the church.

Events at Akanbi Onitiri point to an emerging trend at Iganmu/Ijora, a foremost industrial layout. On every stretch of the infrastructure-starved estate, there is a church ‘fighting’ to take the shine off a near-moribund or dead production plant.

The same image painted by the growing influence of religion at Iganmu and Ijora stares at curious visitors at Isolo and Mushin industrial settlements that have long been abandoned for importers, mechanics and social miscreants.

Abimbola Street, and its adjourning environs, was the hub of the Lagos plastic industry at a time between 1970 and 1990 when Aswani, a sub-industrial cluster in Isolo, was at the peak of its performance. But, the sun that shined brightly at Abimbola street and its surroundings has dimmed.

Except for the resilience of Johnson Wax Nigeria Limited, an insecticide maker, and dozens of warehouses, Abimbola Street would have been described as a ghost neighbourhood. With the likes of the comatose Femstar & Company (Limca and Gold Spot bottler) and several other ventures that made the street tick those days, the street has lost its boom.

Amid the gloom, however, Victory Holyghost Ministries and its sister, Victory Bible Institute, have found a home in the head office of the Banex Industries Limited, a company that attained fame in the manufacturing of paints, plastics and other chemicals some decades back. With a faded signage of the moribund company struggling for attention amid imposing signboards announcing the presence of the two religious organisations, nobody tells a visitor that the property has lost its original essence.

Of course, relics of industrial activities are still everywhere in and around the building. One could see abandoned machines, which managers of Banex would have smiled at with a sense of fulfilment.

There are also several purpose-built sections in the premises. But all of these may have been designated as waste by the new tenants, whose interest is in the delivering of “salvation, miracle, success in marriage and financial breakthrough” to their members rather than the laborious process of turning a mixture of chemicals and rubber into plastics.

Again, the new role of Banex building seems to have altered the character of the area. While Victory Holyghost Ministries gives it ‘life’ every Sunday by the huge number of worshippers it attracts from far and near, the bible college opens every day of the week to ‘make up for the loneliness’ Abimbola has suffered since factory workers (that once populated it) left the area.

The Abimbola House itself, which used to be a haven for many small-scale manufacturers, has been remodelled into a distributive and commercial property. A large portion now houses a showroom belonging to the Tecncool Nigeria Limited, a distributor of LG products, and several other marketing companies that are serviced by a branch of Wema Bank Plc, which is situated on the ground floor.

Thermocool, ClemGas and several other similar trading companies have moved part of their operations to Abimbola Street to take the places of the exited manufacturing companies.

Unfortunately, whereas the former occupants had hundreds of Nigerians as factory workers and support staff on their payrolls, the new ‘lords’ of the streets need just one or two ‘gatemen’ and a few attendants to sustain their businesses. At Matori, Iganmu, Oba Okran, Ijesha and several other industrial estates in Lagos, this is the new order.

In Ajao Estate, a neighbourhood in Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area, churches are also pushing struggling industries to the edge. For instance, on Kolawale Shonibare, a street on the industrial arm of the estate where the likes of Eleganza Group once commanded a huge influence, The True Vine, a parish of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, operates from a manufacturing plant that also accommodates three other trading companies.

Even residents of the area have lost a memory of the name of the original occupant of the property the RCCG now occupies and the specific line of production the company was into. But, almost everybody still recalls that the structure and other members of the league of the Ajao Estate industries, which have all gone under in recent years.

In the 1990s, Eleganza, a company owned by the doyen of Nigerian industrialists, Razaq Okoya, was the Usain Bolt of the Ajao Estate industrial cluster, employing both skilled and unskilled labour from different parts of the country. Its imposing property on the estate is now a hustling centre, with trading stores ‘fencing’ the property.

A security guard at the gate, Ahmed Yusuf, told our correspondent on Thursday that more than 10 church leaders called for a vacant warehouse inside the complex but that their offers were turned by the management for lack of adequate parking lots. He said pastors regularly visited to request a space to house their ‘flocks’.

Yusuf said, “You know that this place is located by a major road. If a church is using the place, where will its members park their cars during services? They cannot park on the road; the Lagos State Transport Management Agency will not allow them. The premises will not be enough because drivers of trucks that bring goods park inside leaving their vehicles for days sometimes. These are the reasons the management has not given this place to churches.

“Otherwise, churches would have taken over the entire complex by now. There is no month pastors do not come to ask whether there are vacant spaces. Even when you tell them that we do not allow churches to open here, they will continue to come. Some of them go as far as sending people who know the managers to help them to talk to them.”

For the firm resolve of Eleganza management, road users are saved the nuisance of indiscriminate parking on the Kolawale Shonibare Street by worshippers.

But such discretion is lacking in the manner a property occupied by Jesus House, a church located just a stone throw from Eleganza, is managed.

On Sundays, Asa Aforiogun, a major road on Ajao Estate, and its adjoining streets are blocked by members of the church built on a supposed industrial zone. The two storey-church built on a corner piece has no provision for a car park.

The entire stretch of Ijesha up to Itire and Challenge (Mushin), which were set aside for industries, have been invaded by churches. For instance, the premises of Churchgate, which used to be a major player in the Aswani industrial cluster on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, was once taken over by a church.

A resident of the area, Tony Nwaize, described the development as an abuse of government’s intention for the estates.

Nwaize said, “One could complain about the coming of the churches. The land was acquired by the original owners for manufacturing purposes. If along the line, an owner of a property wants to use it for something else, the law says he should approach the government for an authorisation to do so.

“You could also blame the government. What has it done to help the manufacturers to sustain their operations when they were operating? It is a complicated issue.”

Findings show that there has been a growing demand for Lagos abandoned manufacturing facilities by church administrators. Sources said the demand was fuelled by proliferation of churches. Property brokers, it was learnt, are under pressure to meet the growing demand.

A property agent in Ilupeju, Bola Bamidale, who spoke with our correspondent on phone, said, on a weekly basis, he received, at least, two briefs from pastors interested in warehouses owned by dead manufacturing companies.

He said, “I think it is a function of changing dynamics. Is there anybody that is still interested in manufacturing? The few people that are interested cannot raise funds for equipment and other things they need. Unfortunately, owners of some of the manufacturing plants are not willing to convert them to residential properties because they still have the ambition of using them for the original purposes in future.

“In the meantime, they want to let them out to those who will not tamper with their structures. Except churches and those who need storage facilities for imported goods especially, the properties are not suitable for any other use.

“Also, a church may also not have enough money to build. When they think of how they could get a space to use as a temporary auditorium pending when they will raise money to acquire permanent property, the first thing that comes to mind is a factory setting.”

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Source: Punch News

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Churches, new tenants of old industrial estates

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