Street Hawkers: Marvel’s next superheroes
Anyone who has experienced Lagos knows that this unique city is the undisputed world heavyweight champion of traffic jams. From ‘danfos’ (dilapidated buses that have gone through a lot – accidents, pan- el-beating and dents from fights) that stop suddenly in the middle of the road to enraged drivers shouting “do you know who I am?”, traffic jams in Lagos can be caused by the most ridiculous reasons imaginable.
A constant in the traffic jams is street hawking, a beehive of activity where individuals have capitalized on an opportunity in an otherwise frustrating situation. They have successfully and ingeniously turned “go slow” into mobile department stores. The resourcefulness of these hawkers is often overwhelming. They sell sausage rolls, plantain chips, water, soft drinks, earphones, mirrors, paintings, towels, chargers, toys, caps, hats, socks, handkerchiefs, toothbrushes and the list goes on and on. Street hawking is part of the informal economy – a diversified one made up of self-employed individuals and small-unregistered enterprise.
Data shows that close to 60% of what multinational corporations sell in Nigeria goes through the hawking channel before getting to the final consumer.
These hawkers embody superhuman abilities and can give Quicksilver, Thor, and Tony Stark a run for their money, as they exhibit exceptional running, strength and mental maths skills. They also have ‘hawk-eye’ (no pun intended) instincts that keep them tuned to commuters’ calls for their products.
Just a shout of “bottled water” from a commuter and the race to sell a product begins, they maintain a tempo that can rival that of Usain Bolt even with their 10kg products balanced on one arm.
A few seconds later, they get to the customer, make a sale and patiently wait for the next prospect or try and convince you to buy from them. These folks can do complex calculations rapidly on their feet, you hear things like, “Abeg bring N500, make e be N360, I go come give you N200” and in an instant, your brain gets muddled and your years of education flash before your eyes.
They have the ability to carry heavy objects while sprinting after fast-moving cars. A bottle of soft drink weighs about 600 grams and a hawker with 20 of these will comfortably balance 12kg on one arm while keeping an eye out for customers and law enforcement officials. In the city of Lagos alone, it is estimated that about one billion Naira exchanges hands in hawking per month.
A faculty member of the Pan-Atlantic University conducted a survey where he interviewed 42 street hawkers in Lagos, 20% of who have been in the business for over a decade. He found out that 17 of them earn a gross monthly income of over N200,000, and 29 were secondary school graduates. Another survey carried out in Bayelsa showed 131 out of 470 street hawkers interviewed, also earned a similar amount. With the 2016 enforcement of the Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law, which restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis and attracts either a fine of N90,000 or a six-month jail term in line with Section I of the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003, their reasons for running have increased. While there is no official record on how many people have been arrested, we often see the defeated faces of the hawkers who were unable to escape the law.
Just as the comics portray superheroes as average people who are often overlooked by everyone around them, street hawkers are examples of normal people with extraordinary abilities. Their trade has made them adapt over time to the occupational hazards inherent in street hawking. It’s a marvel that they keep showing up with their strength, running, and mental maths skills. This makes one wonder if the next Marvel characters could be these street hawkers.
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