Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital is filled with street hawkers. The hawkers take advantage of the city’s congested roads to sell a wide range of household items to motorists stuck in the traffick jam.
But following the recent killing of a street hawker by a car, the government has now introducced new laws designed to bring to an end the practice.Those who break it, risk up to six months in prison.
Normally, the hawkers move between vehicles caught up in traffic jam and hold up their items to motorists. This way, the street traders make quick money selling off their goods to travellers. A typical traffic jam in Lagos could last for several hours and withe sweltering heat comes the need for refreshments like, water and food.
Some of Lagos’ main roads are considered the best ‘mini markets’ in town. These street hawkers compete for space with motorists. However, this about to change as the Lagos state government has threatened jail terms for those buying or selling on its highways.
“We don’t want traders on our roads anymore,” said Babatunde Adejare, the State commissioner for the environment for Lagos. “They help in contributing to bringing traffic gridlock to our roads and we don’t want that. That will lead to wastage of man hours, wastage of money, time and things like that,” he added.
Despite threats of imprisonment, hawkers are still on the streets. Often, they run after moving vehicles, which lead to severe accidents. “We have no other alternative, no other way for us to trade,” said Austin Akpa, a street hawker.
“We don’t have money to pay for shops, which is why we are on the streets. I have to come to the road and sell so that I can make a living. I have two daughters at home right now. It’s true that it is dangerous to sell on the road, but what can I do? Nothing! So I just have to take the risk,” Akpa added.
Hawkers go underground
As a result of the ban, many street hawkers went underground. They hide their goods from officers, who often patrol the roads. But ordinary Nigerians sympathize with the traders. Some argue it is counterproductive given the large number of people making living from the streets.
“If you remove these people from the roads, you have put their source of livelihood in jeopardy,” Ayodele Ojo, a Lagos resident, argued. “Water will of course always find its level. If they are not allowed on the streets anymore and are banned from selling anywhere at all, chances are some of them might get involve into bad things. Some might just go ahead and start pick pocketing,” he said.
Lagos authorities have for several years battled without success to curb street trading. Rising unemployment and the determination of many unemployed youths to make a living hawking on the streets makes it extremely difficult to permanently send the hawkers off the streets.