By Austine Uche-Ejeke
Mixed reaction has greeted the recent ban on activities of street trading on the streets and high way of Lagos State.
Following the incident of a fracas occasioned by crushing to death of a street trader and resultant riot and vandalization of the mass transit buses of the state, Lagos state Governor had no choice but to re-enact the extant laws banning street trading in Lagos.
Quoting profusely from a section of Lagos State trading and illegal market prohibition law 2003, Governor Akinwumi Ambode reiterated that the full weight of the law will fall on any defaulter. One of such penalties is a fine of Ninety Thousand Naira (N90, 000) or six months jail term.
Imaginations are running wide on what Lagos streets and highways particularly congested traffic will look like without the hustling and bustling of street traders who pursue motorists and passer by begging and cajoling them to buy pure water and Gala.
The critical aspect of the law is the one that stipulates same penalty for both those selling and buying on Lagos streets and highways. One can imagine being sent to jail by the mere fact of buying a product with his hard earned money. The same imagination runs through situations where many people have been resuscitated after fainting spree as a result of excruciating and long hours on Lagos traffic. Many casualties would have been recorded if a nearby seller of pure or is it bottled water has not come to the rescue by providing water for such people.
Be that as it may not out rightly subscribe to the street trading under clement economic conditions. If Lagos must strive towards attaining the status of a Mega city, all hands must then be on desk to discourage street trading. Most people that travel to other advanced countries can attest to the fact that street trading is virtually non-existent. The highways are devoid of any nuisance of street trading as things go on orderly and decently.
But the cardinal question to ask here is do these people engaging in street trading doing it with happiness. It must be stated that it is not with clear eyes that one finds himself in a particular white garment church. Something pushed these people into street trading. One of the factors that lure most people to street trading is unemployment, poverty and despondency.
Before government can effectively stop street trading it should tidy its side of the bargain by creating enabling environment that will dissuade its citizens from engaging in life-risking act of street and traffic trading. Lagos state government should provide employment and alternatively activate workable empowerment programmes that can keep people away from street trading. Also government should provide electricity supply on regular basis for most of them to be involved in arts and crafts that will bring out their potential and marksmanship. More stalls , shops, markets should be built by government at very affordable price and conditions that will encourage people involved in street and traffic trading to jettison the idea and thus own a shop of their own.
It may interest the governor to know that some of the street traders are people who were dislodged from their markets by various government obnoxious laws and policies. Recently many markets are being demolished at very short notices. A typical example is that of popular Oshodi Market and Ladipo Market where traders woke up in the morning to see that their stalls have been reduced to rubbles and their wares carted away or thrown to the streets. What do you expect such people to do than to hit the streets to hawk for the survival of their families? Most of them are fathers and mothers with children who not only hawk but send out their children/ wards to also hawk to make both ends meet.
Added to this is the fact that one particular aspect of street trading that is mind boggling is the one done in Lagos traffic. Some of the factors that make these traders to run after buyers are the perennial and excruciating traffic jam in Lagos. Governor Ambode should work on more effective traffic management that will ease up traffic on Lagos roads and thereby naturally discourage street trading. Men and women of LATSMA should be retrained and re-orientated to purge themselves of putting eyes on contravening erring motorists and extorting money or asking for gratification from offenders. Their primary focus should be free-flow of traffic and it is only when traffic is moving freely that those hawkers who pray every morning before leaving house for hold-up will not find avenue to ply their trade.
To aggravate this is that most Lagos state roads are in deplorable conditions, filled with potholes, gullies and craters that force motorist to slow down. This logically encourages street hawkers to come out to solicit for patronage. So if Lagos State government is serious about stopping street trading particularly on Lagos road, the roads must be fixed and made motorable. This will naturally prune down the activities of road hawkers.
Why we may support the government for a gradual phasing out of street trading in Lagos, Lagosians are wondering what Governor Ambode is doing on total wiping out of touts on Lagos streets and highways. It is disheartening that the government has continued to look the other way while sensibilities of its people are daily assaulted by the antics and violent dispositions of these touts popularly known as Agberos. You see them come out of road and bus stops to forcefully collect money from bus drivers and conductors. Most times this intimidation by the touts result into physical fights. Dangerous weapons like bottles, knives and guns are freely used. These have resulted into maiming and loss of lives.
A visitor to Lagos will be shocked to see hordes of touts in Berger Bus Stop harassing and constituting nuisance to motorists. Most times they dress half naked and block a part of the highway with no caution from security agents standing close by. Also international visitors passing through Murtala Muhammed International Airport are daily assaulted with the activities of the touts at Hajj Camp and Ajao Estate junction. The popular Oshodi bus stops and even upscale CMS bus stops are fertile example that Lagos state government should visit and see what these touts are doing to their image and not just only the street traders. To discerning minds banning of touts will be more paramount to Lagos state government than street traders. This is in the sense that banning of touts will be more beneficial both to the image of the government and good people of Lagos. It will thus promote decency and security to lives and properties of the residents.
In the same vein government should muster all political will in their arsenal to also ban the operations of motor cycle operators popularly known as Okada riders who also constitute nuisance to the decency of Lagos State. It is incredible that one still see Okada in places like CMS as this was observed recently. They encroach on the road brazenly. This is not good at all. Decent society like Lagos State should be done with okada by now. They should be pushed into the hinterlands. In doing this Lagos State government should provide alternative source of livelihood for them by empowering them to find another means of work or provide gainful employment for them.
While Lagos State government fiddles with the idea of banning street trading on Lagos streets and highways it should also provide alternatives means of empowering those that are to be disengaged from the act. This is the only time that it will make sense and in fact receive wider support. For what will it profit a political party or candidate to ride to power on the painful backs of street traders and okada riders and only to dislodge them after using them without finding alternatives to them?
Austine Uche-Ejeke, a public Affairs Analyst wrote vide: firstname.lastname@example.org
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