Street hawkers: How they fare in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Kaduna
As a vocation, street hawking has been around in the country for decades. From rural settlements to urban centres, and cosmopolitan cities, hawkers are found in droves wandering the streets, selling items ranging sachet water to pendants, canned drinks to beef rolls, confectionaries, sunshades, fruits, vegetables, wristwatches, belts, household utensils, compact disc plates and many other items.
Across the country, hawkers are found either patrolling busy streets or heading towards one, or huddled at places where there is usually high flow of human and vehicular traffic. In most cosmopiolitan cities, they are a regular sight in areas with traffic lights, or in spots where traffic snarls are experienced on expressways.
Hawking remains one vocation that does not recognise gender barriers, and its practitioners spread across a wide array of age brackets, ranging from children of school age, to sexagenarian grandparents.
While some under-aged children are compelled to take to hawking as a result of their parents’ dire financial situations, innumerable parents do this to sustain their families.
For the youths among them several factors push them into the trade, either as a way of keeping body and soul together, or supporting parents and guardians shore up income. While some youths make a success out of hawking by growing into business owners upon saving enough to rent shops, others barely make a headway.
As in other vocations, hazards are also abound in hawking, also known as street trading. If the hawkers are not robbed by armed robbers, they get killed by stray bullets, or reckless drivers. Some get knocked down while darting across lanes on busy streets to make sales.
It is common knowledge that some females hawkers get raped, and have to contend with unwanted pregnancies. Others generally move on to prostitution, when their businesses experience a lull of fails to blossom.
On the heartwarming side, some male and female hawkers, who interact frequently, develop friendships that lead to marriages.
Irrespective of the gains and pains that hawkers are exposed to, some state governments in recent times, have begun moves to either regulate their activities, restrict them to certain areas, or ban them outright.
For instance, the Lagos State government in June threatened that from July 1, 2016, it would commence a total enforcement of the ban on street trading and street hawkers, adding that the law banning their activities across the metropolis would be applied to the letter.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had informed that his administration had concluded plans to put up an elaborate campaign, warning both motorists and hawkers of the restrictions and penalty that defaulters stand to face, stressing that beyond the environmental hazards associated with the activities of street traders and hawkers alike, they also pose great security and health risks.
“A whole lot of people who are hawkers, when you check them, I understand from intelligence that there is a cartel. Some people buy fake products and then bring the products in and then give these boys to sell on the street and come back to make returns in the night. So, what I want to advise Lagosians is that most times when you think you are buying something of quality on the road, be rest assured that those things are fake product.
Ambode urges unemployed youths in the state, who have taken to street trading and hawking to access the N25bn Employment Trust Fund (ETF), which his administration has launched.
From all indications, the threat by the governor have not come to pass, as street trading and street hawking are still experiencing a boom in different parts of the state.
Nwanna Isiguzo, a street trader, who plies his trade around Lagos Island, is one of those that believe that the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003, would die a natural death in view of the fact that it is “anti people.”
“I sell exotic eye wears, bangles and perfumes at traffic hold ups. I have a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Electrical Engineering. But I have not got a job six years after I finished my national service. I started selling with N20, 000 because of the quality of goods that I sell. I have quite a number of big customers because I sell quality products, which shop owners around here always sell at very exorbitant prices for them. So, these big boys prefer to patronise me because I just make a little gain, but enjoy a high turnover.”
Port Harcourt : Absence Of Affordable Shops, Employment Opportunities Keeping Hawkers On The Streets
Though street hawking is outlawed in Rivers State and considered as a “menace,” and an “eyesore” by the government, it has continued to flourish due to non-enforcement of the law, which deems hawking a criminal offence, and prescribes a three-month jail term for anyone caught selling, or offering for sale, any goods or other articles of trade, at traffic light junctions, or in any other unauthorised place.
Specifically, Section II (xx) and 35(i) of the Environmental Sanitation Authority Law of Rivers State (Cap 52, Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria 1999) prohibits street trading and expressly stipulates penalties for offenders.
However, street hawking has had a long historical presence in Port Harcourt and its environs. Since it has provided essential services to a lot of people, and direct employment to others, reactions to government’s decision to ban it has remained mixed.
Across the length and breadth of Port Harcourt and its environs, all manner of things are offered for sale by this category of traders. The items, some of which are fake include books, shoes, cell phones and accessories, doormats, car tools, recharge cards, wristwatches, as well as, fruits and soft drinks.
A hitherto quiet residential neighbourhood like the new Government Reservation Area, in Port Harcourt, has been taken over by hawkers, who deal mainly in food items like Irish and sweet potatoes, watermelon, yam, onions, groundnuts, pineapple, carrots and so on.
Other than accusing street hawkers of constituting a menace in the state, the government also accuses them of inappropriately using streets, and footpaths for the display of their wares, particularly along Ikwerre Road, and Creek Road, thereby, obstructing free flow of vehicular traffic.
They are also accused of littering the streets, and constituting social nuisance as some criminal elements among them rob unsuspecting motorists of their valuables.
It was as a result of these and sundry unpleasant developments that Ministry of Urban Development Physical Planning, warned that the state government will no longer tolerate roadside trading in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local councils.
Commissioner in charge of the ministry, Chinyere Igwe, this week, specially warned that the government would clampdown on street hawkers along the busy Ikwerre Road, beginning from the Abali Park flyover area.
It would be recalled that the ministry recently dislodged roadside traders along the Bishop Okoye Street, in Mile Three, Diobu, and at Eagle Island, to make for free flow of traffic along major roads and streets.
Despite the irregular raid by state officials, trading activities have continued to thrive around the 2nd Amphibious Brigade Junction (Bori Camp), First Artillery, and Second Artillery, Waterlines, Air Force, Eleme and Rumuola junctions, and along the Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, where hawkers chase vehicles ceaselessly in order to sale their wares to their occupants.
Chidiebere Kanu, a hawker told The Guardian that most hawkers are persons who desire to earn legitimate living, but cannot afford the exorbitant rent charged by shop owners.
“Street trading is a very dangerous work to do because nobody enjoys chasing vehicles on this very busy road for most part of the day, under the scorching sun just to sell his/her wares. But we want to survive without resorting to begging for alms. There are times that cars get out of control, swerve off the road and injure or kill hawkers. I want the government to realise that lack of employment opportunities, remains one of the major reasons why people are involved in street trading. So, government ought to be considerate with hawkers because we are just trying to survive.”
Raphael Ibe, another hawker said he started hawking to enable him save enough money to fund his tertiary education since his parents are incapable of doing that.
“I decided to sell books in order to escape from poverty. My parents cannot afford to train me in school, and since I am desirous of acquiring higher education, I decided to start selling books, and I believe that someday I will be able to raise sufficient money to enroll in a part time degree programme. I just resolved never to depend on anyone. I need to fight my way out of poverty, and that is why I want the government to be considerate. If these boys hawking choose to resort to crime, the entire society will suffer for it,” he said.
A human rights activists, Ms. Bridget Kabari, argues that often times violent actions against hawkers by agents of the state, including the police, constitutes a breach of their rights to earn a living.
She pointed out that street hawking has become a daily feature in Port Harcourt since the end of the Nigerian Civil War, and has provided essential services to most of the population, as well as, provides direct employment for a lot of the people.
According to her, since the government has abdicated its responsibility of building new markets for the ever-expanding pool of traders, common people now resort to street trading, and getting the few affordable stalls to do their businesses.
“Nigerian laws not only provide for right to life, but right to livelihood. Lets be frank, no sane person will be hawking on the streets if such a person has the resources to rent a stall or shop as the case may be. Their essential, and at the same time contentious presence of hawkers on the streets, requires a critical engagement to sort out. So, government must provide markets shops and stalls, and make them affordable for people to rent. If the local councils fail to build markets, then, they lack the rectitude to forcefully stop street trading.”
Cross River: An Emerging Hawkers’ Haven
Hawkers in Cross River State are excited with the bill initiated by the state government to legalise their activities. But they are quick to caution that legalising their trade should not come with an extra burden to them, in terms of taxation.
A hawker at Watt Market, Calabar South Local Council, Mrs. Atim Asuquo, in her excitement said, “God will bless Governor Ben Ayade for this step he has taken. I depend on hawking to survive because I cannot afford the huge amount charged by shop owners in this market. But when I hawk my wares, I pay a little amount for tickets daily.
“Now that government is recognising us, I am happy, and I believe the harassment we suffer in the hands of some local government officials will come to an end.”
Another trader, Effiong Bassey, said: “I have a shop here in Watt Market, but I don’t sell much within the market. And that is why my boys go out to hawk. I like the arrangement by government to legalise hawking. This will give us freedom to sell our goods without any disturbance.
“I pray the state government will not use the initiative as an opportunity to tax us because so many families depend on hawking to survive.”
Ayade, at a recent media parley said: “I just sent the Hawkers’ Rights Bill to the House of Assembly to permit free hawking in the state,” adding that the law will permit only those above 18 years of age to hawk, and it will “provide hawking corridors… we are repealing anything that will prohibit hawking.”
The governor pointed out that: “The social welfare of the people is fundamental” to him than building infrastructures everywhere when the people are hungry.
“If one chooses to hawk and not beg it is better and the state will do everything to encourage it, as Cross River State is the only state that will make law legalising hawking in the country. You cannot tell a man to sell his goods because he does not have money to rent a store, and you still tell the same man not to steal?” he stated.
Ayade said a regulatory framework would be provided to facilitate this, while the hawkers must wear reflective outfits, and there would be a time frame for them to ply their trade so that they don’t constitute a nuisance.
Throwing more light on the bill, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor/Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Christian Ita, said the governor’s idea is germane because things are so though now, and not everyone has the money to rent a store/shop, but everyone needs to provide for their families. “So why do we stop them from earning a living?
Ita added, “This bill when passed into law, will also check crime and criminality because if a man does not have money to rent a shop and you are chasing him off the street, you are pushing him to criminality.”
On taxes or levies that may be associated with it, Ita said, “There is none that I am aware off. The governor has not mentioned that. The bill is all about protecting and regulating the activities of hawkers in the state.”
Kaduna Government Collision Course With Hawkers, Beggars
Despite the law prohibiting begging and hawking which was signed in February this year, by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, hundreds of children are still roaming major roads in various parts of the state, hawking and begging.
Though the passage of the bill by the state assembly, and the assent by the governor, attracted immense criticisms from residents of the state, the government affirmed that it would take effect from last month.
The same day that he signed the bill into law, the governor, during the signing of a partnership agreement to boost the education sector, informed a delegation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United States Agency For International Development (USAID), that every child in the state must go to school.
“This morning, I signed a bill that prohibits street hawking and begging in Kaduna State. From September 2016, every child between the ages of six and 15 must be in school, not on the street hawking or begging, otherwise the parents must be prosecuted and sent to prison.
“We have taken this step to give impetus to the Universal Basic Education Act, which makes basic education in Nigeria compulsory. We must force people to send their children to school, and we are not going to give them any choice; everyone in Kaduna State must go to school.”
El-Rufia added that this administration would “open the doors of learning to every child, and will not shrink in its responsibility to make public schools capable of delivering quality education.”
Apart from the uproar generated by the governor’s assent, many people in the state are accusing the state government of deliberately unleashing pains on beggars and hawkers in the state.
But his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Samuel Aruwam, while addressing a press conference in Kaduna, begged to differ, insisting that the ban was necessitated by security situation in the state, and to ensure maximum protection of lives and property.
Spokesman of Kaduna State House of Assembly, Nuhu Goro Shadalafiya, said the anti-hawking bill would checkmate hawkers whom he said were in the habit of depriving shop owners from selling their wares, as they (hawkers) were always roving everywhere, and in the process “blocking people from buying from shops.”