They navigate the maze of Lagos jam-packed roads with the preciseness of a new reader as he traces out the words in a book. They are the Lagos traffic hawkers. These sellers have become an important part of the economy of the state. Offering a wide range of items from pots, books, sunglasses, wristwatches, art and crafts, household items, snacks and even raw food items to road users, providing these commuters with an easy access to majority of their needs on the roads of Lagos state.
Across Europe, America, Asia and our own Africa, hawking has been proven to be a very effective means of sales and distribution as it is cheaper and convenient for buyers.
In Lagos state, the potentials of traffic hawking may never be discovered as the Lagos state government has vowed to enforce section 1 of the street trading and illegal market prohibition law 2003 which restricts all forms of street trading and hawking in the metropolis. Section 7 & 8 of the same law also gives jurisdiction to the special courts to order the seizure and public auction of any impounded item. This law imposes a 6 month jail term or 90,000 naira fine on both hawker and buyers.
Huge billboards also have been mounted across the state, warning road users of the supposed dangers of patronizing the traffic vendors, as they have been labeled as ‘armed robbers’. Following an increase in cases of commuters being robbed at gun point in traffic during the 2015 Christmas season, the means of livelihood of thousands of Nigerians is at risk.
Even though this is not the first time previous government of Lagos state has purposed to rid the highways of these street hawkers. Lagos are seeing a new turn of events as road users who patronize these street hawkers can face going to jail for 6 months or part with the sum ninety thousand naira.
The decision by the Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, was reinstated following the recent clash in Lagos at Maryland and Ojota, involving the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials and a traffic hawker. According to eye witnesses report, the KAI officials chased a young male hawker into the express way where he was crushed by on-coming state owned Bus rapid transport vehicle. The young man identified as Nnamdi across the busy expressway. This sparked a reaction by the angered onlookers as they went on a rampage destroying a total of 49 BRT vehicles. And according to the Governor, it will cost the state government “almost N139 million to put those buses back on the road.”
Speaking with Mr Uchenna Orji, a man in his late 40’s who sells inspirational books and novels on the Jakande – Cele express area of Lagos “We traffic hawkers are not going anywhere and we are prepared for whatever comes, the cost of renting a shop in even the remotest part of Lagos is too high and selling half of what I make daily on the road is not even guaranteed” he went on further to explain, lamenting that the bad economy of the country has made a lot of Nigerians jobless. He advised the Lagos state government, especially Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to have mercy on their plight and give the common Lagosian the chance to earn a living. “Banning traffic hawking will even further increase the number of armed robbers in Lagos”.
“I don’t see anything wrong in patronising the sellers, and so far, I have never been robbed. They are like a blessings to road users in disguise. They save me time, that would have been spent touring markets and they even provide some seasonal items you would never have imagined to buy. They keep us company and quench our hunger in traffic. Even though there would always be some bad people who hide under the guise of selling to rob innocent people. The majorities are honest Nigerians and they must not be deprived of their chance at survival” added Mr Femi, a commercial bus driver as he munched the sausage roll he had earlier bought from one of the street hawkers.
Mr Deji Alonge,a commuter, however shares the views of the Lagos state government, He complained that the traffic hawkers are reckless and do not have any regards for other road users and car owners. “They act as if they own the road and they refuse to leave even when you horn because they desperately want to show their wares to the people in cars. Many times, I have also caught them staring intently at the items at my backseat, I am very wary of them and do not patronise them. Let Governor Ambode rid our roads of them”.
Uzoma Amaka, a bakery owner in Okota also had this to say ” my workers sell my bread on the road, and its not surprising that I make good profit from these road side sales. My bread has even gotten to far and wide places because, everybody and anybody passing through these roads can buy it. Instead of banning traffic hawking, the government can register us and give us a badge or uniform. This way every road users will know the authorized and reliable traffic hawker to patronize.
Lagos traffic hawkers, to stay or to go?
As the fate of the traffic hawkers remain under dicey deliberation, and Lagosians are being forced to participate in banning them totally from our roads by not patronising traffic hawkers. Do you see them as a blessing or a curse?