Ban on Street Hawking: Unsteady Giant Leap


Story: Blessing Ehidiamen                                

When one is stuck in traffic for hours and the only thing that could be heard is the sound of your stomach; glad that you could at least quench the hunger with sausage and soft drink only for you to realize that what you about to do is a crime.

Recently, Lagosians were struck with the news that it is an offence for both buyers and sellers to transact business on the streets, especially on highways.

Speaking at a live interview session on Television Continental, the State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi  Ambode, said that the renewed enforcement is in line with section one of the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003 which restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis. Evidently, anyone found guilty will be fine either N90, 000 or six month jail term. To prove that the government officials are in for real business, new strategies will be introduced in ensuring that the people abide to the law. In the next few days, signboards will be imputed on the street of Lagos warning buyers and hawkers to be aware of the consequences if they go against the law.

Governor Ambode also went further to say that his administration has concluded plans to roll out a massive campaign which would warn both motorists and hawkers of the restrictions and the penalty for defaulters.

“We will be watching out for buyers and sellers, and all we need is just a scapegoat. Don’t buy plantain chips or any other item in traffic from July 1; buyers beware,” Governor Ambode warned.

Consequently, it has been observed that street trading is reducing due to fear of being caught and facing the music. This has been a general problem because 90 per cent of residents in Lagos are being affected. But apparently, it is the hawkers that suffer the most. Though they go against the law, who will buy their commodities? Nobody wants to fall victim. On the other hand, traffic in Lagos is exhausting, requiring one to revitalize the body with either water or food needed for the strength to carry on. But, today in traffic, one will have to swallow his/her saliva till one gets to his/her destination.

Certainly, the law didn’t just come out from the blue as one thing led to another. It is a known fact that the death of a street hawker who was trying to evade the arrest of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and got crushed by an articulated truck along Maryland Bus stop was part of what led to the imposition of the law. But that was not exactly what provoked the administration; the destruction of government properties of over 49 BRT buses and the fact that that it has added to the expenses of the government was actually the reason for the ban.

Apparently, there are two loses here, a life and perishable commodities. Following what the Governor said: “it is not in our DNA to allow someone to just die by the road accident or the way it happened in respect of the incident. But beyond the fact that we lost one person while crossing the road as a result of evading the arrest by KAI officials, I needed to tell Lagosians that over 49 buses were actually destroyed and it is costing us like almost N139 million to put those buses back on the road” the question is; what is the governor more concern about?  The lost life or the damage buses?

So, it happened that the poor boy met his death while hawking on the street leading to the outraged of hoodlums thinking it was a BRT that knocked him down. But has the Governor failed to ask himself what will cause the boy to hawk on the street in the first place. Certainly, one can’t just wake up one morning and say he/she wants to join the hawking business which of course is a very unpleasant and difficult task to do neither can it be said to be a hobby.

Apparently, the real cause of street hawking is poverty and unemployment. Going back to what Governor Ambode has said, the state government intends to be civil in enforcing the law. Ask what plans the government has for the unemployed graduates who have taken to street hawking, the governor said that his administration has launched a N25billion Employment Trust Fund, urging them to access the fund” is that even good enough. Aren’t Nigerians tired of procrastination rather eventual actions? This people that took to street hawking are helpless as their only means of survival are being taken away from them. Where we they turn to? Although, there are the bad ones among them whom claim they are hawking but used the medium to execute evil plans such as robbing, pocket picking and so on. Some others sell fake products or expired products to buyers. Notwithstanding that the government needs to call a spade a spade, if there are jobs and better standard of living this wouldn’t have become a topic of discussion in Nigeria.

It appears that Lagosians have mixed feelings over this enactment. Melvin, a resident of Ikeja Lagos said “the banning of street hawkers is like a coin with two; it has the good side and the bad side, but the bad aspect of it is higher than the good. Now that the government has banned them, taking their source of living, do they have anything to replace it with? A whole lot of them use this hawking to cater for their families, and now you have taken that source from them. There are lots of things the government can do to take away this street hawking instead of asking them to live the streets”.

When asked about the advice he can give the government on this issue, he said “In the Europe, they have social security if you don’t work; we don’t have that here. We can create business environment, but when the government set it up they share it among themselves making it difficult for citizens to access. By the time they make it available to all these streets hawkers, it is no longer affordable, and they go back to the street”

Okoro Oghogho, a youth corper said responded to the Boss Newspapers enquiry thus: “there is no construction without destruction, the government is trying to bring sanity and orderliness to the society, and at the same time, you can’t push the people away hence it will create more nuisance.”

In his response, another resident, Daniel Nyang, said: “Street hawking is generally bad; it is because of the economy situation that is why it is so. Looking at the dangers involve, like getting hit by a car, it is not advisable, but the attraction is that it is not capital intensive compared to the owning stalls. With N2, 000 one can buy things and start hawking them on the street but you can’t use that N2, 000 to buy a stall in the market. When you look at all these street hawkers, the capital based of their money is not more than N2, 000 that explains how bad the country is. They can be banned from the expressways, but not on the streets; it has been with us for a long time now and has become a tradition. I support the government to ban them from the expressways, but not from the streets because it doesn’t pose any danger.”

Jide Bisiriyu, who claimed that he had once hawked on the streets of Lagos, said the is wrong to have banned hawkers, saying they hawkers should been asked to form an association.

“The government can’t just ban without making provision for it. Let the street hawkers form an association and tell them what to do and ways in which they can carry out their activities without posing any threat to the society,” he said.

A street hawker, who identified herself as Mrs. Idowu said “it is very unfair. Even the graduates don’t even have jobs not to talk of us hawkers who have little or no education. This is our only source of income through which our children are fed and educated, and I know that when they graduate, they will take this load off my head. We are pleading for them to temper justice with mercy because I don’t have any other means of income.”

But according to a social analyst, who pleaded anonymity, there is good and bad in every situation.

“The banning of street hawkers will reduce the rate of highway robbery but it should also be noted that same banning of street hawkers can lead to increase rate of robbery with the rate of joblessness. It surely cannot be disputed that Nigeria is facing one of the toughest economic crisis at the moment therefore to deprive some people with a means of survival is cruel and thoughtless. A law cannot be imposed without the provision of a conducive environment that would ensure that the law is obeyed,” he said.

The way things are, it is obvious that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, and so the government needs to re-think, and stop taking unsteady giant leaps.

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