No hawk­ing. No trad­ing: La­gos bans street sell­ing

The Myanmar Times - - International Business -

EV­ERY morn­ing, Mama Bi­liki pre­pares small bags of pop­corn out­side her ram­shackle house in Aje­gunle, one of La­gos’ poor­est neigh­bour­hoods, to sell by the road­side for 50 naira each.

On a good day, she reck­ons she can earn about 5000 naira (US$16) hawk­ing them to pedes­tri­ans and mo­torists stuck in the traf­fic jams that plague Nige­ria’s big­gest city.

But the gov­er­nor of La­gos state, Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, is get­ting tough on street sell­ing, leav­ing Mama Bi­liki and oth­ers like her with an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

“I ap­peal to the gov­ern­ment to al­low us to hawk on the streets since we don’t have money to rent a shop, so we can con­tinue to feed our fam­i­lies,” she told AFP.

“Even those with a shop, they don’t sell as much as me who hawks in the streets. There are so many taxes on shops that it doesn’t al­low them to make a profit.”

In Nige­ria’s fi­nan­cial hub, a noisy, over­crowded melt­ing pot of some 20 mil­lion peo­ple, hawk­ers can be seen ev­ery­where, snaking be­tween the cars in chok­ing fumes and op­pres­sive heat.

Hun­gry driv­ers or pas­sen­gers in packed dan­fos (public minibuses) can buy snacks of spicy plan­tain chips and roasted peanuts, and quench their thirst with cold drinks.

It’s pos­si­ble to do some gro­cery shop­ping while the traf­fic idles in snaking, honk­ing queues: Prepacked fruit and veg­eta­bles and dried noo­dles from boxes are of­fered at car win­dows.

Else­where, there are Nol­ly­wood DVDs on sale at traf­fic lights; hats from ev­ery Nige­rian re­gion; bas­ket­ball hoops; mo­bile phones; and, at Christ­mas time, a whole va­ri­ety of fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions.

And it’s al­ways clear when there’s a fuel short­age: Hawk­ers sell rub­ber pipes and plas­tic fun­nels to get petrol from the jer­rycans of il­le­gal road­side traders. Goods are sea­sonal and pre­dictable.

But now the hawk­ers – who pro­vide a mea­sure of ser­vice to grid­locked com­muters with no time to shop – risk up to six months in jail and a fine of 90,000 naira if they are caught.

Mr Am­bode called the petty traders an “en­vi­ron­men­tal nui­sance but also... [a] se­cu­rity threat to cit­i­zens”.

“Street traders and buy­ers will hence­forth be ar­rested and pros­e­cuted,” he said in a state­ment ear­lier this month.

“The Task Force on En­vi­ron­men­tal San­i­ta­tion and Spe­cial Of­fences has been man­dated to en­sure the law of the state against street trad­ing is en­forced to the let­ter.”

For the traders, though, the crack­down could rob them of a life­line. De­spite Nige­ria’s nom­i­nal sta­tus as Africa’s lead­ing econ­omy, most of its 180 mil­lion peo­ple live in dire poverty.

Kings­ley Shokun, who sells books, said many of the hawk­ers were not on the road by choice. “We’re not en­joy­ing sell­ing here,” he said.

Nige­ria’s econ­omy has been built on oil but with global prices low since 2014, the flow of money has dried up. In­fla­tion rock­eted to 16.5 per­cent in June – the high­est for nearly 11 years – driv­ing up the cost of liv­ing, par­tic­u­larly for fuel and food.

Nige­ria’s de­pen­dence on oil has been laid bare, with lit­tle do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing or in­dus­try to plug the gap. Unem­ploy­ment among young grad­u­ates has been es­ti­mated at nearly 45pc.

Ac­cord­ing to Chinedu Bosah, sec­re­tary of the Cam­paign for Demo­cratic and Work­ers’ Rights (CDWR), ban­ning the hawk­ers could have a neg­a­tive ef­fect.

“What is go­ing to be the al­ter­na­tive? The al­ter­na­tive will only be crime. And the gov­ern­ment keeps spend­ing money for se­cu­rity, re­in­force­ment. It doesn’t pay so­ci­ety,” he said. –

Photo: AFP

A street seller car­ries wares in La­gos.

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