By Charles Kumolu& Bose Adelaja
WE will be watching out for buyers and sellers; all we need is just a scapegoat. Don’t buy plantain chips or any other items in traffic from July 1, buyers beware. The issue is we need to enforce our laws because we already have a law in respect of that and then there is a clause in it which says the buyer and the seller are both liable and that we are going to fine them either N90, 000 or a six-month jail term. ”
It was on this definitive note that the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, recently outlawed street trading in the state. Contrary to the impression that the action was a knee-jerk response to what the state considers a problem, it was done in line with the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Markets Prohibition Law, 2003.
The law, VanguardFeatures, VF, gathered, restricted street trading and hawking in the metropolis.
Specifically, sections seven and eight gave jurisdiction and power to the Special Court to order the seizure and public auction of items impounded from street traders. Section 10 of the law, also prescribes a N5000 fine or three months imprisonment upon conviction. As punitive as the penalties are, the law has been hardly observed and loosely applied 13 years after; making street trading in Lagos to grow in leaps and bounds at the expense of human lives and public good.
It was this failure that resulted in the incident of July 1, 2016, when a street hawker who was trying to escape from enforcement officials of Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, was run over by a BRT bus. The incident led to the destruction of dozens of BRT buses by a mob.
Since the symbolic revival of the law by the state government, VF observed that concerns bordering on the fate of street traders, supposed social effects, public mood and feasibility of the law had been freely expressed.
Of these, the application of the law in the face of pockets of sympathy for the hawkers seems more overriding to many who had long expected the government to curb the menace posed by street trading.
Reputation for making laws
While there are agencies statutorily empowered to push through this policy, VF, learned that many are concerned about the ability to make the framework very functional now, especially when previous attempts yielded poor results.
‘’The law in itself makes a whole lot of sense because the dangers that come with street trading are quite devastating, but one is in doubt about the ability to enforce the law. Already some are surprisingly condemning the government for doing what is right,’’ Chief Silas Ogbangwor, President Alliance for Credible Governance, ACG, told VF.
In fact, the growing sympathy by some for street trading and traders in spite of the latest development, suggests that the state government may face a Herculean task as it tries to sanitise the streets and roads.
For instance, since July 1, 2016(the date of commencement of the law) the media has been awash with articles expressing empathy for those affected and as well wanting the government to have a rethink.
Consider this: ‘’The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders is opposed to the promulgation of the anti-street hawking law in the first place because Nigeria, and Lagos in particular, has a preponderance of poor people who live on less than a dollar a day. The situation even gets worse when you realise that there are people who live on less than 50 cents a day. We said that all the facilities that are available for the people are far beyond their reach. We educated the previous administration on the need why such a law should not be promulgated.’’
This statement which represents a microcosm of the barrage of criticism trailing the development was made by the Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran.
Similarly, in a piece titled: “Ambode’s War Against the Poor: Why Lagos Street Trading Ban is a Terrible Idea”, Mr. Cletus Offor observed thus: “But one thing is sure in all of this-the ban will not work. Every government in Lagos, in one way or the other, tried to ban street trading. And every time they failed. If anything at all, just like the ban on Okada on some roads in the state, this will only enrich dodgy policemen and other officials of law enforcement agencies.
“Maybe we shouldn’t really attach much importance to the Governor’s statement. Lagos State government has a reputation of making laws it has neither the capacity nor desire to enforce.’’
Feelings like this, VF, discovered, portray the kind of difficulty the government may encounter as it goes ahead with this policy which some termed humane in spite of its attendant mixed feelings.
Obviously disregarded, resisted: However, it was gathered that the following agencies are expected to be pivotal in making the law effective: The Lagos State Task Force on Environment and Special Offences, KAI, the Police and the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA ,among others.
Notwithstanding the number of these agencies,VF finds a big doubt on the workability of the ban. In dismissing fears about the capacity to make the policy effective, the Lagos State Taskforce on Environment and Special Offenses said a total enforcement on street trading across the state as directed by the governor had commenced.
On his part, the Marshal-General of KAI, Mr. Amusat Jimoh told VF thus: “All we are doing are normal activities where suspects are to pay between N2,000 and N3, 500 or engage in community service. By the time our operations start fully, the information will spread round. I am less than four months in office but we will not rest on our oars till Lagos is rid of gridlock.’’
Notwithstanding, findings across the state showed that the regulation is still being obviously disregarded and resisted, increasing doubts about the possibility of having an appreciable level of compliance from those who engage in such activities.
Since the commencement of the ban, it was discovered none of the agencies have arrested traders who carry out their activities on the highways and other prohibited places.
In places like Ikeja, particularly along the railway lines, Agege , Abule-Egba, Iyana-Ipaja, Mushin, Ojuelegba, Surulere, Yaba, Oyingbo, Fadeyi, Berger, Onipanu, Ikorodu, Mile 12, Lagos Island and Ajah, VF found that street traders and highway hawkers were still carrying out their activities.
Business as usual
In places like the Lagos/Badagry Expressway; Agboju, Alakija, Barracks, Volks, Iyanoiba, Igboneri and Iyanaira, VF observed that it was still business as usual. Across the major trading streets in Lagos Island and Ebute Ero, noncompliance was quite evident, as the roads were still occupied by traders whose activities impeded the free flow of traffic.
At Ikorodu, Oshodi, Ikeja and Iyana-Ipaja, Abule Ado, Alakija, Finiger, it was observed that the situation has not changed, even as the traders appeared to be alert to the possible arrival of KAI officials. Once alerted by their appointed look-outs, the traders quickly disappear with their products only to resume their activities after the officials had gone.
However, most of the street traders, who spoke to VF at some of the places visited, simply dismissed the law as the usual posturing by the government, adding that they were not worried about current attempts to take them off the roads.
Traders ready to go to jail: Amusingly, they noted that the same government that implemented the law created the conditions that forced them into street trading. As far as they are concerned, trading on the streets and roads, remain the available alternative in the face of alarming unemployment rate. A certain John Nwokedi told VF in Abule-Egba that the demolition of Tejuosho Market and the high cost of rent at the rebuilt shops at the same market left him with no option but to take to trading on the road. “I owned a big shop where I was selling textile materials but after the demolition and reconstruction of Tejuosho Market, the shops were taken away from us as we could not afford the new price. I used to pay N5000 monthly for my shop before the place was transformed to an ultra- modern market. Since I could not afford to rent a shop at the exorbitant amount they were charging, I resorted to street trading and petty business to keep body and soul together.’’
At Oshodi Bus-stop, traders and hawkers have almost taken over a large portion of the service lane forcing vehicles to negotiate their way out of the resultant maze. Same is the case in Mushin and Agege where the presence of the KAI Brigade means nothing to roadside traders and hawkers.
A hawker, who identified himself as Lukman Dawodu in Mushin, insisted that nobody can stop him from street trading which is his source of livelihood. The father of four who said he was a former commercial motorcycle rider, added that it was after the state task force impounded his bike that he started trading on the road.
‘’I bought the bike on hire purchase and had not completed the payment before it was impounded and the owner insisted on collecting his money. A friend introduced me to hawking to enable me eke out a living out and pay my house rent, LAWMA bill, electricity and cater for my family. Whoever tries to stop me from trading will regret the action because this is the last bus-stop for me to survive,’’ he stated angrily before disappearing into the crowd.
At Iyana-Ipaja, a roadside trader, Mrs. Monsurat Omosanya, said government ought to have made necessary provision for traders before proposing the ban.
Patronising a hawker
She said: ‘’This ban is not realistic because all of us know the economic situation in Nigeria. I am a widow with three children. I lost my husband three years ago and have been struggling since then, I cannot afford to rent a shop and somebody is telling me to leave the road. I am ready to go to jail provided he will take care of my children.’’
At Ojota motor park, a hawker, who identified herself as Bisi said she could not afford to rent a shop as the total value of her goods is less than N7, 000. “ All my goods are less than N7,000. Yet everyday I pay N150 to the garage touts; I also pay for tickets issued by local government officials, while law enforcement agents are also settled,’’ she lamented.
A commuter, Mr. Lekan Olayiwola, when asked why he was patronising a hawker on the road considering that both the buyer and seller are liable, exclaimed thus: ‘’Haba! N90,000 fine is killing. Is that what we get in this Buhari administration?’’
Not done, Olayiwola asked: “How much do they make that you expect them to pay a fine of N90,000. The government is not being fair. What do they mean? When in traffic, do they expect us to disembark and start entering shops to buy snacks or water? This is a serious matter.’’
But another commuter who pleaded anonymity commended government for trying to enforce the ban, noting that some criminal elements now masquerade as hawkers to rob people at the slightest opportunity.
Narrating a personal experience, he said: ‘’I was buying gala(sausage) from a hawker who asked me to take my pick from a carton he was carrying containing different sausages. But surprisingly my hand touched a metal in the carton and on close examination, I noticed that it was a pistol tucked inside the carton. The hawker took to his heels and disappeared.’’