Street trading: Abuja’s newfound headache
• Traders Defacing FCT Roads, Causing Traffic Snarls — AEPB
• Your Shops Are Too Expensive For Us — Traders
Entering into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, from any of the surrounding satellite towns and states by road, one of the first indicators that a commuter is nearing his/her destination is swathes of debris on both sides of these busy highways. As one ventures deeper, a battery of street traders, who are accused of generating this refuse are jostling for the attention of commuters, while roadblocks by diverse agencies, as well as traffic jams at different knotty spots, help in giving rise to long vehicular queues.
The ugly scenario has on several occasions, resulted in fatal accidents, which have claimed the lives and properties of several commuters over the years. At different times, a complete picture of bedlam is painted in places like Berger Roundabout, Dutse Alhaji Bus Stop, Karu-Nyaya-Mararaba Road, Area 1 Junction, and Wuse Roundabouts just to mention a few.
In these traffic snarls, there have been several reported cases of bags and mobile phones snatching, car snatching and sundry criminal activities, which pose a great risk to the lives of commuters. In addition to this, precious man-hour is lost by commuters, who could be confined to same spot for many hours, a development that experts insist also affects the economy one way or the other.
Not only do street traders risk their lives by jotting across lanes recklessly, but they also display their wares in such a manner that the roads are narrowed down, thereby making quick manoevres by motorists a Herculean task.
According to stakeholders, one of the major factors that giving rise to upsurge in number of street traders in the FCT is the daily arrival of unskilled, uneducated and even educated, but jobless persons in the FCT, who will sooner or later, for want of what to do, take to street trading.
The Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) the FCT agency saddled with the responsibility of making the city clean, and ensuring regular and free flow of traffic seems to be found wanting in the enforcement of laws and bringing violators to book.Apart from ensuring that FCT’s masterplan is strictly implemented, drainage maintained and houses built according to specification, the AEPB is similarly vested with the powers to address erosion challenge, and rid the city of refuse and street trading. Worried by the menace, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Mohammed Musa Bello, in August 2019, established a ministerial team codenamed “Operation Clean up Abuja.”
The 12-man team headed by Ikharo Attah drew membership from across security agencies including, the Nigeria Army, the Nigeria Police, Abuja Environmental Control, the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), as well as staff of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA)
According to Attah: “One of our major tasks is to free traffic first along the Abuja-Keffi Road, especially the Nyanya-AYA-Mararaba stretch because the traffic along that corridor is extremely chaotic, and is the worst traffic centre in the whole northern region of the country, especially, in the middle belt.”
He said that before the intervention of the task team, workers who live along the Nyanya-AYA corridor spend between three to four hours daily on the road before getting to their offices and going back home, but with the intervention, the journey time has been drastically reduced to between 12 and 30 minutes.
He continued: “Nyanya used to be a no go area on Wednesdays because of the activities of traders and buyers at Nyanya Market, who park their vehicles indiscriminately, thereby causing gridlock. We also have the challenge of apprehending those that go against traffic, especially military and para-military personnel, who constitute the bulk of offenders. But by the grace of God, we have surmounted.”
While calling for the expansion of the Kugbo Road axis where fatal crashes involving trailers have occurred in the past, Attah refuted claims by some of the street traders that the exorbitant cost of government shops was responsible for their flocking to highways to display and sell their wares.
“Many of the traders that are displaying their wares along Dutse in Bwari Area Council have refused to hire the shops meant for them. In the past, the council had someone managing that market, but unfortunately, he was instead hiring the parking space in front of the Dutse Market to traders and collecting illegal fees. Before long, these traders took advantage of that development to start selling along the road, while still complaining that they cannot afford the shops because they are poor, but all of these excuses are nothing but lies.”
To avert further loss of lives and sundry unpleasant consequences, Attah advised the traders to hire “the very numerous shops presently available for occupation in their various locations and completely withdraw from plying their trade, or displaying their wares on the highways.”
Attah, who alleged that his car was recently vandalised at Nyanya, during one of our operational outings, said that some notorious vandals in some of these affected areas are in the habit of attacking them whenever they go out for enforcement. “They erroneously believe that we don’t have the right to challenge them. In addition to this, we also have the challenge of personnel shortage and the regular breakdown of our service vehicles. All of these need to be given serious attention by the FCT administration to enable us to do our work better,” he said.
On the ban of tricycle, otherwise known as Keke NAPEP across FCT roads, the chairman explained that those transporters were only restricted from the city centre. “What happened is that it is even for their safety. They cannot ordinarily be ‘flying’ on FCT highways, so they are only restricted to do their job in the various estates, and satellite towns. All that they have been asked to do is stay away from four major areas of AYA, around ECOWAS alignment; Garki 11 market area, Ahmadu Bello Way to Gudu; Utako and Life Camp Junction, In short, we want Keke NAPEP to be the last point of traffic in the FCT.”
A landlord at Nyanya area of the FCT, Alhaji Suleiman Dibia, told The Guardian that the Attah-led task team failed to sensitise the street traders or create the necessary enlightenment before swinging into action.
Dibia was particularly disappointed in the way and manner the team arrests, and illegally detains the very poor traders in the guise of easing traffic flow along the highways.He said: “The FCT administration must get it right, that it has not created jobs for the teeming population of residents of the city. So, why should it wake up one day and begin to crack down on innocent traders that are struggling to feed their families? The government ought to have sensitised the street traders very well even long before setting up this task team.”
He, therefore, called on the authorities to see reasons and return all goods seized from the traders to their owners, while it works towards providing them with alternatives. This is the only way that the government can keep traders out of the road completely. Anything contrary, they will all return sooner or later. Dibia also appealed to the traders to obey the laws of the land, and spare themselves the tragedy of untimely deaths while trying to earn a living.
In his contributions, the Chairman, Igbo Traders Association, Dutse Alhaji, Chief Eugene Ofor Agwuiyi, told The Guardian that the association is satisfied with the work of the team.He said: “Truth be told, the Dutse Alhaji Express Road linking Bwari Area council to Abuja city centre was getting out of hand before the task team began its operations. So, we are supporting anything that the government can do to correct it. Why not? I am happy because the team is already sanitising the roads and making traffic flow very easily.”He stated that he was never in support of people selling along the highways, because of the heavy risks associated with roadside trading, especially frequent accidents.
“You see, it is only in Nigeria that we don’t put in place necessary preventive measures, rather we believe in looking for solutions after problems have been created. This is not good for our democracy’’.
According to him, the association has been trying its best to prevent its members from selling along the roads, but some of them have bluntly refused to listen because they only succumb when force is applied. He said it is a fact that the FCT administration built some shops for rents to traders in the markets, “but the cost of renting the shop, many of the traders say is too exorbitant.
“Perhaps, it is this high cost of rent that is responsible for many traders resorting to doing their business along the roadsides. Today, the least rent per shop here is N400, 000 per annum. Some go for as high as N500, 000, N1m and up to N3m in this Dutse Market. Those who cannot afford these just pour into the road to sell their wares because their families must feed.”He advised the FCT authorities to help bring down the costs of rent for shops in these markets, stressing that such a step would encourage Igbo traders to hire the empty shops, do their businesses in peace and make a living.
“I must tell you that there is no trader who prefers to sell along the roads when there is a downpour, or when the scorching hot sun is up there. Unfortunately, all the plots of land close to these markets have been sold to rich people, especially, developers. They are the owners of several shops that have all been built up, but without occupants, because they are simply too expensive to hire.”