Why street trading remains chaotic
Recently, three lecturers from the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lagos, embarked on a research to determine the underlying causes of the seeming insoluble nature of one of the nagging menaces plaguing Lagos State, with a view to proffering germane solutions that could aid the state government in its efforts at tackling the problem.
The intention was to verify whether the Lagos State government’s policy on street trading was being effectively implemented, its success or otherwise and its effect on concerned traders and Lagos generally.
In the course of the research, 894 respondents, comprising street traders, relevant Lagos officials and other stakeholders, participated in the study. Different segments that constitute street trading, including village markets in the metropolis, were also involved. Their verdict? It is high time the state government came up with an alternative strategy and review the existing policy if it is truly desirous of ridding the state of the menace.
At a one-day workshop/research dissemination on the theme: Socio-economic Factors Influencing the Coping Mechanisms of Street Trading, held at the Safety Arena, Bolade Oshodi on October 28, 2021, the three researchers: Dr. Adisa Wasiri, Dr. Ayodele Shittu and Dr. Adebowale Ayobade noted that not much has been achieved with regards to the implementation and aim of street trading policy. In their view, the state government would have to deploy much more than it is currently doing to attain the desired goal.
The Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Ayobade, who presented the paper on behalf of her team, said they adopted a unique approach in arriving at their conclusion.
She said: “The street traders are still everywhere, which means the policy is not achieving its purpose. If we still have such a large number of street traders, today, then it means the policy is not working. And that is why we are making a suggestion that the policy is reviewed, as eradication of street trading is simply impossible. There is no way you can eradicate street trading. It can only be regulated, and it is this regulation that stakeholders should now be thinking of.
“But how do we regulate street traders? Which hour should they be allowed to come out? Where in society can we allow them to stay? Street traders are all over the world, but they are highly regulated in developed nations.”
Ayobade said the number of street traders in Lagos would reduce if governors of other states rose up to their tasks, which will, in turn, enable Lagos to have peace.
“You see, there is a Yoruba adage that says if I know you will not let me eat my food to my satisfaction, then I will add extra food, so that it will be enough for both of us, rather than you shortchanging me.
“So, instead of Lagos State paddling its own canoe alone, it has to carry other states along. There should be a collaboration between Lagos and other states in all the areas that Lagos State is leading.
“Lagos State is leading in so many areas because its governors usually engage the services of brilliant intellectuals and critical thinkers, which is very crucial in governance.”
To her, the objective should be to come up with innovative and constructive ideas that will bring about progress on all sides.
And since street traders are also contributing to the economy, they should not be totally eliminated.
“They are part and parcel of people generating ideas and revenue for Lagos State. So, they only need to be regulated to prevent them from doing things haphazardly.”
Another aspect of the issue that needs to be addressed is that of making the traders become more hygienic.
“For instance, people selling tomatoes and such food items do not properly dispose of their baskets and containers after the day’s sales. Instead of them discarding those empty baskets, they just pile them up, until they litter the whole place with junk. They must be clean and hygienic in whatever they are doing.”
The traders must be mandated to tidy up the markets after each day’s sales.
Another knotty area she pointed out, which needs an urgent solution is that of levies being collected from street traders. This gives cause for concern, as there is no specific group handling the task. All sorts of groups and agencies, including miscreants, collect the levies, and there is not much to show for it, by way of improvement or orderliness in the markets.
Stating that the popular Sunday Market is also operated globally, Ayobade believed that the same could be duplicated in Lagos State on a larger scale than is being done now.
“When I suggested that Lagos State should start playing the role of a big brother, I am not saying it should carry the problems of other states on its head. It is not every problem that requires political solutions to resolve. The sociological and economic approach also matters. Lagos State cannot be Father Christmas to all other states in Nigeria. So, Lagos is very correct, when it said it could not be working for all other states. Let other states work for themselves. However, Lagos State can render such sociological solutions as playing the role of a big brother. It is just like saying, ‘These are what we did and they are working for us in Lagos,’ so that other states can equally adopt them.”
She believed with this approach, more people would be discouraged from migrating to Lagos State, as other states will be stimulated to also attain Lagos State’s development status.
She said: “And because their states are also developing and have a lot of things to offer, people will have no choice than to stay put. Their states would have become very attractive. So, people from other parts of the country would have no reason to migrate to Lagos. In any case, where are they migrating to in Lagos? They end up under the bridge and uncompleted buildings. They eventually become miscreants, creating nuisance in society. But they can be made to feel relevant in their own states, where they have their family houses. They belong in their various states, where they can become useful and contribute to the development of their states.”
Lagos can provide other states with the technical know-how of what they did to establish the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and Lagos Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC), among others.
“We are not saying Lagos should charge consultancy fees, however,” she explained. “Lagos is only to advise them on how to put necessary structures in place. By the time Lagos does this, it would have succeeded in giving other states ideas on how to formulate and start their own development plans, as well as enable them to become critical thinkers. The truth is that many people are just occupying space; they don’t know what it takes to govern.
“In applying this sociological approach, Lagos can even send personnel for maybe two or three months to help other states establish certain agencies. At the end of the day, Lagos would have succeeded in not only discouraging people from migrating to the state but would have also reduced the number of street traders. Many of the people engaging in street trading are migrants from other states.”
One of the challenges encountered during the research is the uncertainty on whether the street traders would be willing to talk to the researchers.
“Initially, we set out to interview 900 people, but we ended up interrogating 894,” Ayobade recalled. “Everybody was willing to tell their own side of the story. The street traders saw us as their advocates. They wanted us to help them speak to the government; that they must remain in the system. Their officials also saw us as their advocates. In their opinion, we should let the government know that the street traders are only doing their job.”
The response from village market traders and their buyers was quite interesting and informative. The researchers were made to understand that people prefer vegetables and fruits sold in village markets, as they are organic.
“Since the fruits and vegetables from the village are not laden with a pesticide that is cancerous, many health-conscious people prefer them. Hence, the tendency to buy them from the village markets,” she said.
But Mrs. Abimbola Jinadu, who represented the Iyaloja General of Nigeria, Chief Mrs. Folashade Tinubu Ojo, was of the opinion that the solution starts with people understanding properly the government’s intention behind any policy, and then taking steps to do the right thing.
She said: “One thing we should ask is: The risk people expose themselves to in the process of selling on the highway, for instance, is it really worth it? Are the proceeds from that trade really worth the hazards? When people realise that it is dangerous to their life, they will learn to do something better. People don’t have to be on the street to eke a living. If people can acquire skills, they will realise that they don’t have to be street traders.
“There are other things you can do with your hands, and the services are needed everywhere. Unfortunately, people have not discovered these. We want the cheapest and quickest solution, which is why you see everybody on the street. We have to make people think deeper; that they do not have to jeopardise their life or any part of their bodies to make money. At the end of the day, the money they are making is not enough to even cater for the damage.”
Her most urgent message to street traders is that they should be law-abiding.
“When the government comes out with any policy, let us check it out and try to connect with that policy. How it is going to positively and negatively affect us? By the time we stop and think, we will see the need to obey the government and think of better things to do. I don’t think there is any government that will see something lucrative, prosperous for the people and say no, don’t do it.
“You know we have this mindset that, because the government doesn’t understand what we are going through, that is why they are rolling out those policies. But if we stop thinking like that and we begin to think that government really wants our good, that government desires prosperity for us; then there will be progress on all sides. If after checking out what the government is trying to say to us and then we get to a point we feel that this is too rigid, we can form a body or whatever and inform the government that we want to have a word with you. And the government will surely listen since it is there to serve the people.
“I believe that markets and parks are inseparable, as there is no way people will be at a park and will not want to eat. Since some people sell food at parks, other things will naturally go together with this. What I am saying is that we can add value to whatever is happening in the park. Even in the so-called developed world, it is the modern system that is making people feel that life is good. We can begin to introduce the mortgage system for traders that cannot afford the bulk money at a go. We can even put up affordable stalls because when the money is huge, traders won’t go for the shops, they will look for alternatives.”
The Corp Marshal of LAGESC, CP Gbemisola Akinpelu said the programme was apt, as it would afford her agency to do an in-depth review of possible and permanent solutions, as well as enhance robust management decisions on the best approach to tackle the menace of street trading, including hawking on the road.
She said that the menace of street trading and its attendant effects on such mega-city as Lagos has become a critical issue over time in the state’s socio-economic development.
“Lagos State, with a population of over 20 million, with a high influx of people of all tribes and nations flocking into all the nooks and crannies, has been faced with perennial problems of trading activities on walkways, road verges, medians, setbacks, drainages, pedestrian bridges and even on the main road, which affect the free flow of human and vehicular movement, thereby putting intense pressure on the state of environmental sanitation in the state.
“It’s pertinent to note that the agency has been up and doing at ensuring that sanity prevails in the areas where street trading and hawking have become daily features in the state.”
According to her, despite their efforts through stakeholders’ meetings, advocacy and sensitisation, voluntary compliance has been extremely difficult “due to our traditional ways of conducting market activities among ourselves, taking goods to the roadsides despite the designated market places, while our enforcement protocol has also resulted in arrests and prosecution of recalcitrant traders by the court.
She was optimistic that the gathering would further enrich the research finding and deepen the public understanding of the perennial issues of street trading and illegal market within the state, as well as create a platform for developing adequate strategy, communication mechanism and cooperation from all and sundry.