Following the continued downturn of the economy and lack of new opportunities for the employment of the teeming number of youths in the country, there has been an upsurge in the army of street traders in our major cities.
Almost anything one can imagine is being hawked in traffic snarls, ranging from computer/phone accessories to food, refreshments, household and fashion items. There has also been a great increase in the number of beggars, including women who hire infants to solicit for alms in the traffic. Sometimes, hoodlums and armed robbers find it easy to mingle with this motley crowd to dispossess people of their belongings, especially during the wee hours of the day.
Exasperated, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has dusted up the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Markets Prohibition Law, 2003 to sanitise the roads and free them of traffic impediments and criminals.
Unfortunately, on 1st July 2016 (the first day the implementation of the law went into full force) it produced a casualty. A young street hawker who was trying to escape from the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) enforcement group was run over by a BRT bus. This sparked mob anger, resulting in the destruction of dozens of BRT buses.
This ugly incident portrays the difficulty that is often encountered in implementing the laws of the land, but the Lagos State Government (LASG) appears adamant to push through this policy.
We are fully in support of efforts to clear all urban areas of all forms of traffic impediments and secure the lives and property of commuters. Free flowing traffic is good for the economy and the health of all road users. The successful phasing out of commercial motorcycles and their replacement with tricycles in many cities across the country has made our cities better for all.
We, however, worry about the capability of the LASG and indeed, other state governments, to sustainably implement the elimination of street trading. In the first place, the law-enforcement agencies hardly operate after the close of office hours.
Secondly, street trading and hawking, which are offshoots of our cultural practices and the exploding number of unemployed youth and women, need more than just arrests and imprisonment of culprits. It requires the provision of alternative means of engaging these youth who would rather “hustle” in traffic for a living than embrace crime.
The All Progressives Congress APC, Federal Government has as one of its priorities the provision of mass employment through the diversification of the economy. We call for the immediate activation of this policy to give our youth gainful employment.
Street markets exist, even in advanced countries, but they are regulated and orderly. We can do the same here.