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Why street trading flourishes in Lagos despite ban

By Kehinde Olatunji, Victor Okechukwu and Yetunde Jeariogbe
15 March 2020   |   4:06 am
Over the years, the Lagos State government has made concerted efforts to curb the menace of street trading, but the practice has continued to defy measures put in place or policies formulated by successive administrations.

Street trading

• Street Trading Remains Illegal In Lagos — Govt
• Shops Too Expensive, Beyond Our Reach — Traders

Over the years, the Lagos State government has made concerted efforts to curb the menace of street trading, but the practice has continued to defy measures put in place or policies formulated by successive administrations.

At different times, the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) Brigade, an outfit under the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC), which was, among other things, set up to ensure the general cleanliness of the state, and to prevent cooking and selling of food along roads/sidewalks, has carted away illegally displayed wares and food items worth millions of naira, but the sellers are still not deterred.

While many have blamed the rising cost of hiring a shop and the parlous state of the country’s economy as reasons fuelling street trading, the state government appears to be in an awkward situation addressing the reasons adduced and out to enforce the ban.

The activities of traders in market areas and streets adjoining markets are also adding to the tough time the state government is going through to ensure free flow of traffic and maintain sanity in market areas.

This is because daily, some traders who own shops in these markets and those who don’t, abandon the markets to display their wares along the street. At the end of each day, dirt arising from these activities, oftentimes litter these streets.

Bent on addressing this issue frontally, on November 5, 2019, the LAGESC expressed its readiness to commence what it termed

“Operation Zero Tolerance on Street Trading” across the metropolis, and on November 23, 2019, the Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tunji Bello, warned that the state government would no longer condone the excesses of traders, who have abandoned markets for streets.

He said their activities was unacceptable to the state government, which is left with no other option than to protect the interest of the larger majority of residents, who are daily slowed down by the activities of street traders that also litter the roads with refuse.

Bello expressed disappointment that despite several warnings to them to keep off the streets, the traders have continued to litter the streets, markets and also refused to patronise PSP operators.

He stated that towards this end, operatives of the Lagos Environmental Sanitation Corps have been drafted to markets and the adjoining streets with standing instructions to arrest any street trader found within the vicinity.

While warning the operatives that they would face stern disciplinary measures if they compromise or are found to be collaborating with street traders to thwart government’s efforts, he equally cautioned street traders in areas like Marina, Agege, Mushin, Alimosho and Obalende to seek alternative places of business as their days were numbered.

However, despite all these threats and warnings, street trading is not only very much in existence, but it is still a booming business, and going on without any hindrance in many parts of the state, including Ojota, Maryland, Yaba, Balogun, Ikeja, Lekki, Obalende, Oshodi.

Investigations, by The Guardian, however, revealed that officials of KAI and neighbourhood hoodlums better known as Agberos constantly intimidate and extort these roadside traders if they must be allowed to carry on with their activities in some parts of the state.

In a chat with The Guardian, some traders lamented that have continued to migrate from one point to the other to fend for their families because of the exorbitant cost of renting shops in the state.

Mr. Olorun Samuel, a roadside trader, who deals on fabrics at the Oshodi area of the state said: “I don’t have another means of survival, and that is why I am trading here. To rent a shop here is N30, 000 per month, approximately N360, 000 a year. Most of us cannot afford that. The state government should do all it can to provide cheap shops to willing traders. Doing so would make things easier for us.”

Another petty trader, who simply identified herself as Mrs. Folashade Adeleke said: “Things are very expensive now, and the profit margin from what we sell is too small for us to set aside money for shop rent. So, the government should endeavour to provide cheap shops for street traders because we all feed our families from the little income that we make. The government should provide us with small shops that are affordable, and not ultra-modern markets.”

Mr. Godstime David, who sells plastic wares in the same neighbourhood added: “Doing business in Lagos State is not easy; you pay for shop rent; pay dues to the local council, and also pay to register your business with the government. If all these monies go to the government, has anyone bothered to find out how much is entering our pocket? To worsen matters, business is not moving after we have paid all these monies to the government. I owned a shop before, but I decided to stay outside when the situation became unbearable.

“The state government should do something as quickly as possible, even if it means providing affordable shops and grants to street traders since the economy is not working well, and means of doing business not easy in the country,” he said.

Also, Mrs. Eucharia Chukwuma, who is bitter with the situation stated: “Government agents only know how to come around and collect what we have worked for, instead of giving us a befitting place to carry out our businesses. It’s an unfortunate situation in Nigeria.”

Mrs. Nifemi, who sells used, imported clothing better known as okrika, in the Yaba area of Lagos lamented: “We are here suffering day-in, day-out selling under the scorching, hot sun because we have no money to rent expensive shops. Inside the shops, there is very poor telecommunication network, which means contacting anyone from there, or being contacted there on phone is practically impossible. Shops at Tejuosho Shopping Mall are too expensive, and that is why we cannot afford it, and the reasons most of the shops are still empty years after work was completed on the mall. In addition to this, some of our customers cannot climb the stairs to patronise us. But the worse part of it is that we do not have millions of naira to hire these shops. All we want is for the government to provide affordable stores for the masses.”

But claims of shops being exorbitant notwithstanding, the Director of Public Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, Kunle Adesina, noted that there was need for a change of orientation by the traders and those that patronise them.

According to him, if roadside traders are ignored by would-be buyers, they would be discouraged from engaging in street trading, which is an illegal activity.

He added that even when roadside traders were handled strictly by constituted authorities, residents would be the first to tackle the government that the traders were being deprived of their livelihood.

“For instance, the state government is currently cleaning up Ikoyi and Victoria Island. When officials of the government try to arrest these traders, the residents in that axis would quickly open their gates for them to run in and hide. What do you stay to that? How do you explain such situations? And the next thing the residents would ask you is ‘what is it now, don’t you want them to survive? What do you want them to eat with their families when there is no job.’ It’s not as if government is not doing anything, but many times, residents are the first to attack the government when there are moves to enforce the ban on street trading.

“When you resort to too much enforcement, people would start saying, ‘this government does not have a human face; it is mean.’ For instance, in a particular location that people built shops on drainage, when the government went there to address the issue, the residents were the first to attack the government. People do not consider the fact that these things are illegal. Must you condone illegality because you want to be humanitarian? When you say that we have not been proactive in tackling these issues, this is not true because this government has been very proactive.”

He added that many of the roadside traders were comfortable with the illegality because they don’t want to pay appropriate taxes and levies to the government, admitting that the economic situation in the country is also a major challenge.

“I know that some of the people who engage in street trading have some level of education, some of them even have Ordinary National Diploma (OND), BA or B.Sc. as the case may be, and when you engage them, they would tell you that they don’t have jobs and so have to resort to what they are doing to survive. I want to believe that if the economy improves and more jobs are created, even artisans would be engaged. Though, it is not everyone that will have a white-collar job, but the problem now is that even the artisans, traders, carpenter and automobile mechanics don’t want to pr5actice their professions again. They either prefer ride commercial motorbikes, or sell on the road.”

He assured that the government is putting measures in place to ensure that the problem of street trade is tackled.

“I don’t think it will continue for a long time. The government will continue to do something about it, that’s why we believe in advocacy. Those arrested were made to face the mobile court instead of going to jail. We give them non-custodial sentences, that is, community service, like sweeping the road, cleaning the gutter and not throwing them into jail because the government does not profit throwing anybody into jail.”

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