Hawking has not come cheap, but quite a good number of people are into it as if it is an all comers affair. Notwithstanding the dangers inherent in the job, yet people find it a suitable vocation to get involve in.
Hawking is an age long tradition among Nigerians. It has become a child of necessity owing to the inability of most traders to afford the high cost of shops and the limited space in the market places, especially in the cities.
In Lagos and other major metropolis of the Nigerian nation, hawking has been made not just an occupation, but a profession.
To some hawkers, low sales in the shops and markets make them hawk in the streets, while to some others, the need to bring their wares closer to passersby, motorists and passengers make them embrace hawking in the streets.
A cross section of hawkers who spoke to The Boss said that the high volume of sales they make on the streets, and the fact that they don’t have to pay crazy rents for shops, have made them dare the laws against hawking on Lagos roads as well as the risk involved.
But that is not the crux of the matter: It has been variously alleged at different quarters that though hawking is an open trade to anybody irrespective of tribe, sex or creed, one state has been penciled down as the culprit-state, and that state is Ebonyi.
When the rumour broke that most of the highway hawkers in Lagos State, especially, are from Ebonyi State, Saturday Mirror undertook a feasibility studies and discovered the assessment is far from the truth. Using the yardstick of language, it was indeed proved that most Ebonyi youths are involved in full time hawking.
Investigations across many major areas in Lagos such as Third Mainland Bridge- Berger road, Funsho Williams –Ikorodu road, Mile 2 –Badagry road, Alfred Rawene-Ikoyi road, Lekki-Ajah-Epe road, Mile 2-Oshodi road, Agege-Oshodi road, Oshodi-Sango Ota road and Maryland- Mobolaji Bank Anthony road, all in the Lagos metropolis showed that the army of hawkers swelling by the day, are actually from the rice rich state.
When the Boss accosted one of the hawkers who gave his name as Emma at Iyana Oba along the Badagry Expressway, he said he sells as much as four to six cartons of sausage roll per day, depending on how heavy the traffic jam is, disclosing that a colleague of his who has a provision shop at Barracks area of Lagos takes as much as three days to sell even a cartoon of same product.
He added that apart from the very expensive shops in Lagos, shop owners or intending shop owners have to contend with various taxes from the local government officials and street urchins known as “area boys”. This he confessed reduces sales
Another hawker who gave his name as Akpala, and hawks bottled water at the ever busy Oshodi/Apapa Expressway, told our correspondent that his sales boom on the road, and so he does not any other kind of job.
However, while most of these hawkers are having a field day as regards booming sales and returns, the government and people of Ebonyi State are having a hard time coping with the tag of a hawker-state; a term so degrading and humiliating for a state known for massive production of rice, and rice related products among other things.
Consequently, as the administration of Chief Dave Umahi took off, the Governor itemized as one of his priorities, the need to rid the streets of major cities in Nigeria of able bodied Ebonyi youths. It is on record that these young persons, especially the male folks, hawk different items such as beef sausage roll, plantain chips, cakes, soft drinks, ‘pure’ and bottled water among other edibles.
The Governor identified that apart from the danger of having to risk one’s life on the road while contending with some dangerous drivers and the fear that men of the task force could show up unexpectedly, hawking is degrading, especially when majority of a state’s productive or labour force are into it.
On assumption to office therefore, in 2015, and having served as deputy governor since 2011 under the former Governor Martin Elechi, he swung into action, initiating programmes tailored at turning around the fortunes of youths in the state for good.
With a new programme tagged “Ebonyi State Government – From Street To Skill”, the governor began the process of withdrawing all Ebonyi youth from the streets as hawkers, and have them gainfully employed by making sure that each one is trained to have a vocation of his or her own instead of running after vehicles in the streets and highways in Lagos and other cities with many of them losing their lives in the process.
In a seminar tagged: Street Hawking and the Effect on Ebonyi People, which took place in three major locations in Lagos State between March 21 and 23, 2016, visiting officials of the state’s liaison office in Lagos spoke extensively on the sad consequences that has been recorded from hawking from street to street in Lagos.
One of the speakers, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Ogechi Ogbuewu, said there was need to sensitize the people of Ebonyi in Lagos State to save the face of the state ‘as anyone with tray pans on head or various kinds of wares along the holdups are usually taken to be from Ebonyi State. She added that at a point in time, some potholes on the roads were said to be created by Ebonyi youths, and by extension, Ebonyi State, to booster their hawking business through slow movements of vehicles.
Though many youths were unable to relate reasons behind their experiences while hawking, it was generally believed that they were not encouraging.
However, a cross section of Ebonyi street hawkers told the Boss that life in the state was becoming unbearable, more so, the fact that coming to Lagos could open an avalanche of opportunities prompted their movement to Lagos.
A respondent, who gave his name as Ukpai, said that most people see the hawking job as very degrading, but do not see beyond that, adding that the job is actually rewarding. He said that a brother of his, who brought him to Lagos, was into the trade before he could save money and buy a commercial bus, which he is operating at the moment.
“This job has no problem apart from the stress and risk of being knocked down by vehicle. There is money in it as one does not need to pay rent or taxes though touts and some local government officials intimidate us into parting with some money sometimes,” he said.
But Andy Chukwu, a popular Nollywood actor and producer, who is a native of Ebonyi State and is partnering with the state government, has said that the new programme was designed to rehabilitate youths of Ebonyi who are erstwhile roaming the streets of Lagos after which they would be empowered with the fund allocated for this purpose by the Governor. He added that the project is in partnership with the Lagos State Government.
To further prosecute the war on hawking among Ebonyi youths, the government budgeted three billion naira for the rehabilitation of natives of the state who are hawking in major cities across the country. The Commissioner for Information and state Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe disclosed this to newsmen after the State Executive Council meeting held last year.
Senator Onwe said the Special Adviser to governor on Lagos Liaison office, Mrs Jacinta Nworie is to immediately be redeployed and be reassigned to the department of Talent Development which will be created under the office of the Secretary to the government.
Mrs. Nworie was mandated to conduct census of Ebonyians who are hawking in major cities like Lagos, Anambra, Port Harcourt and Aba, and elsewhere in the country.
“Once that comprehensive census is taken, it is the resolution of the state Executive Council to make a budget of three Billion naira (N3bn) to begin the rehabilitation of all indigene of the state who engage in disgraceful and humiliating activities of hawking on the highways,” he added.
He noted that the discovery of Talent hunting would be made a matter of priority by the department of Talent Development in the state saying “there are areas which talent could be developed other than these people (hawkers) who will be deployed to the area of agriculture”.