Street hawkers are victims not villains

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A CITY is not just a collection of buildings, streets and public spaces arranged by architectural, engineering and urban planning standards. It encapsulates and expresses the totality of a people’s way of life.

Therefore, Nigerian cities are invariably expressing the totality of the Nigerian way of life, that is, the Nigerian reality.  Street hawking in Nigerian cities is a manifestation of the Nigerian reality – a direct consequence of an evil mix: A corrupt and irresponsible political class and a spineless and passive citizenry.

An imaginative writer’s description of Nigeria will inescapably include the avarice, corruption and economic bungling of the Nigerian power elite and the vibrancy, resourcefulness, resilience and docility of the Nigerian masses.

The greed, thievery and bungled governance of the power elite ruined the economy and undermined a principled distribution of the national wealth. And the masses, in their passivity, accepted to vegetate in desperate poverty in a land of plenty.

Passive, yet, resourceful and resilience, they honed survival skills worthy of those that inhabit the poorest and/or war-devastated countries of the world; they took to eking out a living under most miserable circumstances.

Consequently, in Nigerian cities, apart from scavengers (men, women and children) rummaging through trash dumps for edibles, reusable items and sellable scraps, street hawkers throng the streets hoping to survive by selling to motorists and pedestrians. In the blazing sun, along the streets of Lagos, children that should be in school, women (some of them with babies strapped to their backs) and able-bodied men  dart through slow moving traffic, selling bananas, groundnuts, water,, soft drinks, CDs, etc.

The presence of such desperate, primitive poverty that spawned garbage foragers and frantic street hawkers in the economic capital of an oil-rich nation, amid the massive corrupt enrichment and extravagant lifestyle of the political elite, should have evoked the pity and roiled the conscience of the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola.

But like the generality of the Nigerian power elite, Babatunde Fashola is indifferent – contemptuously indifferent – to the ever worsening economic woes of the Nigerian masses.

Consequently,, not only that he is unconcerned about the economic plight of these Nigerians trapped in insufferable, dehumanising poverty, he, in his ill-conceived urban renewal policy and its harsh implementation methods, unleashed Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials against them.

KAI officials, in their voracity, are feeding off the misery of street hawkers. They confiscate their goods, some of which they expropriate for personal use or resell.

They arrest them and extort money from them (they call it bail). They pursue and herd these innocent people (including women and children) around like animals.

They brutalise them as though they are slaves. KAI officials’ cruelty, viciousness and brutality conjure up the image of slave drivers hounding fugitive slaves.

Mr.  TOCHUKWU EZUKANMA, a social critic,  wrote from Lagos

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