“An unjust law is no law at all” St. Augustine
2011 was the year of reckoning for Arab dictators and the rise of people power in the Arab world. The ordinary people stood up to their leaders and said “enough was enough”. The revolution swept out decades old dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria’s Bashir al-Assad continues to battle revolutionary forces to remain in power more than 4 years after.
The Arab Spring as it came to be known was triggered off by the act of self immolation of a Tunisian vegetable street hawker, Mohammed Bouazizi. Bouazizi was an unemployed High School graduate who hawked vegetables to survive. On 17th December 2010, his goods were seized by a policewoman which was not unusual as street hawking was illegal and attracted a 10 dinar fine in Tunisia then.
However, the last straw for the unemployed and frustrated young man was being assaulted by the policewoman and being denied audience by the municipality officials whom he had gone to make a report to.
Less than one hour later, a humiliated and dejected Bouazizi doused himself with petrol and set himself ablaze. That fuelled the anger of the people to revolt against the Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Before the dust could settle on Ben Ali’s disgraceful escape from power, the Egyptian Dictator Hosni Mubarak would leave power under severe public pressure to prison where he and his sons remain till date. In Libya Col. Mummar Ghadaffi kept his word to fight till the end than bow to public demands to leave power. He did get his wish and was buried in an unknown and unmarked grave.
These events of about 5 years ago seem forgotten but then let us be reminded that those who fail to learn from the history end up repeating the mistakes of history.
The mentality of Nigerian leaders (whether military or civilian) is that the ordinary Nigerian is so docile that when he/she is pushed to the wall, he/she would rather break the wall and make do his escape than fight off his aggressor.
Till date, Nigerian leaders of all hues and affiliation continue in this contemptuous suzerainty over their fellow countrymen. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released in November 2015 reveals nearly a 50% rate of unemployment or underemployment at the end of the second quarter of 2015.
We need not be told that the situation has degenerated. In the last one year, Nigeria has suffered a serious energy crisis with power generation hitting the lowest of the low, making any productive activity only possible with generators. However, an over 6 months petroleum scarcity palaver was recently solved with a total removal of subsidy on petroleum product, leading to more than a 60% increase in the price of petroleum product.
Nigerians have literally been pushed to the wall as despite all these, inflation has kept the prices of goods and services off the reach of the common man. The bearish run of the Naira to the Dollar due to the slump in the price of crude oil in the international market has meant that nearly all goods in Nigeria which are imported have tripled in prices.
Despite all these sacrifices, the Lagos State government have asked Nigerians to sacrifice more; the unemployed who eke out a living by not committing crimes but engage in the indignity of chasing after moving vehicles with threat to life and limb, would be imprisoned or fined (or both) if they continue to hustle for their daily bread.
The Lagos State government’s decision to enforce the ban on street trading is in reaction to the violent protest embarked upon by street hawkers on Wednesday, 29th June 2016, over the killing of one of their own by a BRT Bus. The deceased was said to be running from the officials of the KAI Brigade, a paramilitary outfit of the Lagos State government created to curb “indiscipline” amongst poor citizens of the state, when he met his untimely death.
The Lagos State government does not pay unemployment stipends to the unemployed and neither cares about creating the right opportunities for citizens to empower themselves nor fear a backlash from the army of unemployed citizens. So it adds salt to injury by rolling out the full force of the state to quell not the activities of miscreants popularly called area boys who extort and rob law abiding citizens but street hawkers who themselves are the result of bad governance.
The timing of the government’s action says a lot on how much the average Nigerian government official cares about the public mood. In this era Nigerians are yearning to feel the change they voted for, the Lagos state government is putting them in chains.
However, Akinwumi Ambode should be reminded that the purpose of government is the people and that law is made for man, not the other way round. There is no justification to enact or enforce a law banning street trading when the government has failed to provide jobs or create opportunities for people to create their own jobs.
In fact, this is an unjust and oppressive law that all Lagosians/Nigerians in the words of Thomas Jefferson have not only a right but a duty and obligation to disobey. Going under the pretext of enforcing the law to oppress poor people can spell a backlash which even President Buhari’s government would not survive.
Lagosians and by extension Nigerians are no fools and Ambode should be reminded of what led to the Arab Spring. Denying people of their livelihoods would be daring fate and inviting a Nigerian Spring. The consequences will not be pleasant.
Maduka Onwukeme is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner.