Banning Street Trading in Lagos: Pro’s, Cons and Repercussions

It came as a shock to many when the Lagos state governor announced the full implementation of The Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition law in Lagos. The governor emphasized the fact that it is an existing law, and would take effect beginning on the 1st of July, 2016. This development came into motion as a result of a tragic incident that left the family of a traffic hawker grieving. He was said to have been hit by a bus while trying to escape the grasps of Kick Against Indiscipline ”KAI” officials. The governor was moved by grief and made up his mind to authorize the full implementation of this law.

After silently observing the situation logically and equally putting logic aside, I believe I can now see things properly from both sides of the doubly edged spear. However, before I go into much talk, I would like to state one fact that I am still uncomfortable with.

The government has not properly spelt out what ”Street trading” is, includes or encompasses. Clearly, not everybody has access to documents where these terms are descriptively broken down, so I think there is supposed to be a direct communication of what constitutes ‘street trading’.

”Some people will get arrested out of sheer ignorance. Others will stop selling their wares, when in actual fact, they do not fall under the category of street traders.” Someone said.

Apart from roadside/ in-traffic Hawking, what other forms of trading fall under the umbrella, according to the law, or how it is to be implemented? This is a question that I believe the Lagos State Government should answer speedily, instead of expecting people to use ”common sense”.

I read an article by Reuben Abati, where he pointed out (albeit not emphatically), an example of this dilemma. He wrote of a newspaper vendor who still sold his papers in traffic, and had the mindset that only sellers of edible items like ‘gala’, biscuits and drinks were affected by the law. Also, I spoke to a woman who had refused to shade her wares in her small kiosk positioned in the safety of her street. She jovially explained that she wanted to be sure that she was indeed safe before she ‘resumed work’.

Nigeria is a country that has serious misinterpretation issues, especially when the situation involves life and survival. These kinds of information should be properly communicated to the public so that everyone can have first hand knowledge of the situation.

I first want to acknowledge the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode and his drive for a better life for Lagosians. His act, showed that he indeed cared about the lives of Lagosians. However, one has to consider that the decision was quite drastic, and acknowledge the future realities that could result from this ‘simple’ action. Street trading (traffic Hawking especially) is one of the most functional markets in Nigeria. Hundreds of Lagosians earn their living by selling petty wares in traffic. It might not be wrong_ to say that the number of hawkers in Lagos surpasses a combination of welders, plumbers, vulcanizers, and maybe even mechanics. A vast majority of them fall within the bracket of (12-30) years of age. So many of these people have only seen the four walls of primary schools and maybe secondary schools. I choose to believe that all of these people were forced into Hawking by ‘condition’ and poverty. I just hope that the Governor has not out of grief, made a decision that would bring unfathomable repercussions to the Nigerian state. I certainly hope so. Let’s take a look at both sides.

Hawking is not something that a parent would/should be proud of… Especially when little boys and girls below the age of 15 are involved. It irks me to see young kids running up and down the main road, risking their lives, chasing after windows, just to sell one or two items. Sometimes, when bus passengers purchase some of these items, the bus drivers are not considerate enough to wait for the transactions to be completed. And since Nigerians generally have the ”goods and change before I give you money” mentality, these young hawkers are usually left with no choice but to run daringly after buses. The risks abound. Death… the ultimate price, in few cases. I won’t say that deaths occur everyday… in fact, it only occurs in rare cases… but even one death is enough to bring sorrow to the mind of an observer.

These street hawkers create the perfect opportunity sometimes, and foster highway robbery and other forms of criminal activities on the road. Many tales have been told, many experiences have been shared.

These street traders are sometimes responsible for damaged roads. They do this to promote their market, because cars have to slow down before business can move.

Street trading equally destroys the driving force for kids to go to school. Uneducated parents introduce their children and other children into this trade, and any prospects for their education might be destroyed.

These children, teenagers and youths are exposed, vulnerable to immoral inhumane afflictions. They are never safe at night… Their tomorrow is not even promised.

Albeit all this… You simply cannot deny the fact that this same ‘profession’ that has so many downsides, is actually the only source of livelihood for many of our brothers and sisters in the streets. We cannot fully understand their plights, because we sleep in the comforts of our homes at night, and while we experience stress over losing a contract, they experience stress over losing their lives.

Street trading provides easy access to food for motorists and travellers. These days, you can even get virtually everything you need on the road. Almost every edible and utility item is available in traffic now a days.

The presence of these hawkers, especially in locations where they are concentrated, helps in the control of over-speeding, and drivers sleeping off during journeys. Drivers are alert, and being able to chew something on _ the road, refreshes motorists and passengers alike. These hawkers actually indirectly reduce accidents on the roads.

The advantages of having these traders on the streets and in traffic and quite obvious. The disadvantages and down sides to this, are also pointing conspicuously.

I believe that these street traders deserve a better life, and they should be taken off the streets. But you do not take food out of a man’s mouth when you do not have an alternative for him. This law should be a ‘process’. Putting an abrubt stop to the activities of this large market might have dangerous back-firing effects. The already corrupt police system has been given another chance to exploit the poor. They will be bullied… and asked to pay an amount that is far more than the money they rake in, in one month. This market will still be in operation, but will be run by sharks in the ‘industry’. These people will be forced to the edge. These men and women chase after speeding cars and buses.. They are no doubt ‘able bodied’, and fall within the most youthful age range. If these people turn to the dark side, all at once, I can’t start to imagine the results.

Street trading should be scrapped, yes, I agree. But I believe that it should be done gradually and strategically.
Eric Arthur.

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