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Street hawkers are victims not villains (2)

GENERAL Dwight Eisenhower was quoted as saying that “to knock people over the head is assault, not leadership”. Similarly, to beat up people, steal their goods and extort money from them is criminality, not law enforcement.

There is nothing as legalised or legitimised criminality. The cold hearted excesses of KAI Brigade may have the approval and authority of the law of the state but it is still a crime to beat up defenseless men, women and children and steal their money and wares.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “any system that substitutes it for he is an unjust system.”The pronoun for man is he and the pronoun for animals and inanimate objects is it.

To treat human beings like animals or pieces of wood or stone is substituting it for he. Governor Fashola presides over an unjust system because his administration treats human beings like animals.

To stand in the sun for just one hour can be disconcerting. Therefore, those who stand in the sun endlessly hoping to earn little money from hawking CDs, snacks, soft drinks, etc are neither having fun nor exploiting the system.

They are poor and helpless individuals consumed by the drudgery for daily survival. They are victims of a series of kleptocracy that ruined the economy and subverted a rational distribution of the national wealth, and thus, consigned a disproportionate percentage of Nigerians to waste away in gateless poverty. They deserve encouragement, not punishment.

To punish people for hawking on the street is as wicked and insensitive as punishing people for sleeping on the street. People sleep in the street because they are homeless and utterly destitute. So, while sleeping in the street might constitute an environmental eye-sore, it presents the society with a problem that needs to be accommodated on the short run and solved on the long run.

People engage in street hawking – an excoriating and hazardous trade that exposes them to the risk of being seriously hurt or killed by moving vehicles – because they are unemployed and financially strapped, and have nothing better to do with themselves. So, while street hawking may constitute an environmental blemish, it presents the society with a problem that needs to be sympathised with on the short run and then resolved or regulated on the long run.

To fixate on the environmental smirch of street hawking and feign ignorance of the incontrovertible fact that street hawkers are victims of social injustice and economic dislocation is mindless hypocrisy.

To continue to compound the problems of those already struggling with shackling poverty by rough-handling them and stripping them of their money and destroying their means of livelihood is unmitigated wickedness.

Please, Governor Babatunde Fashola direct KAI officials to focus on salient environmental and disciplinary issues in this lawless, chaotic and dirty city (where grown men and women urinate, and even, defecate on the street) and leave street hawkers alone.

After all, they are Nigerian citizens, who, though poor and voiceless, deserve to be treated with respect and allowed an opportunity to earn a living and provide for their families.

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


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