Ill-con­sid­ered ban on street trad­ing

Daily Trust - - BUSINESS -

There is a grow­ing list of states in­clud­ing the Fed­eral Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory (FCT), proclaiming a “se­ri­ous in­ten­tion” to en­force laws ban­ning street trad­ing. Edo State Gover­nor Adams Osh­iom­hole tried it, but backed down after he in­fa­mously scolded a wid­owed street trader telling her to “go and die”. La­gos State Gover­nor Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode is now try­ing his hand hav­ing de­clared that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will en­force a ban be­cause street trad­ing ham­pers free flow of traf­fic, con­sti­tutes a nui­sance, and is a se­cu­rity threat.

Although no new laws have been en­acted, en­forc­ing such ex­ist­ing laws at this point in time speaks vol­umes of the ex­tent to which Nige­rian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials’ care about the plight of the masses. Bans on street trad­ing only sat­isfy the needs of the rich with their ob­ses­sion for a pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment, not the poor who are pre-oc­cu­pied with day to day liv­ing.

Our present so­cio-eco­nomic re­al­ity is one of ex­treme poverty and mass un­em­ploy­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics (NBS) there is a 65% rate of un­em­ploy­ment or un­der-em­ploy­ment, and the sit­u­a­tion is de­gen­er­at­ing. The con­tin­ued fail­ure of mi­cro-credit schemes re­stricts op­por­tu­ni­ties for cit­i­zens to em­power them­selves.

Mean­while Gov­ern­ment can’t pay salaries let alone con­sider pay­ing the un­em­ployed. In these cir­cum­stances it just isn’t right for gov­ern­ments to en­force anti-street trad­ing laws. It rep­re­sents cal­lous­ness in the ex­treme. Street trad­ing has be­come the only means to se­cure an in­come for the teem­ing masses of un­em­ployed many of whom have poor ed­u­ca­tion and no prospects.

While en­sur­ing or­der on the streets is nec­es­sary, and the street trad­ing is ad­mit­tedly un­sightly and dis­or­derly as presently car­ried out, sim­ply ban­ning it is the eas­i­est op­tion and in­di­cates a shal­low­ness of thought. Much as gov­ern­ment has a duty to en­sure or­der­li­ness and pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment, they have a higher mo­ral duty to cater for the un­der-priv­i­leged in so­ci­ety.

Any­one can ban any­thing if they have the power, but it takes cre­ativ­ity and com­pas­sion to de­vise so­lu­tions where hawk­ers can still earn a liv­ing while or­der­li­ness is main­tained. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers must put their heads to­gether and come up with more hu­mane and in­no­va­tive ideas by adopt­ing meth­ods used in ma­jor cities through­out the world where street trad­ing ex­ists. Un­em­ployed Nige­ri­ans strug­gle to make an hon­est daily in­come by ei­ther dis­play­ing wares on the road, or risk­ing life and limb chas­ing after mov­ing ve­hi­cles.

They truly can’t af­ford to rent space in­side des­ig­nated mar­kets. They are pa­tro­n­ised be­cause the dirty, rowdy, dif­fi­cult to ac­cess mar­ket stalls ap­proved by town plan­ning au­thor­i­ties are not con­ducive or con­ve­nient for shop­pers to pur­chase items on their way home. Street traders pro­vide easy ac­cess to goods and ser­vices and ban­ning them will not only re­strict trade, but en­force­ment of the leg­is­la­tion will rou­tinely be used as a means of ex­tort­ing money from in­di­vid­u­als rather than solv­ing any prob­lem. Even a ban is suc­cess­ful, it will only swell the ranks of mil­i­tants, kid­nap­pers, armed rob­bers and other crim­i­nal el­e­ments.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials tend to un­der­es­ti­mate the ex­tent of the prob­lem by sim­ply dis­miss­ing street traders as mis­cre­ants, crim­i­nals and a pub­lic nui­sance. How­ever any se­ri­ous at­tempt to get them off the streets, must in­clude pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­vest­ing in tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion and find­ing so­lu­tions to in­creas­ing ru­ralur­ban mi­gra­tion.

On a daily ba­sis peo­ple are leav­ing vil­lages na­tion­wide and ar­riv­ing in cities with vir­tu­ally noth­ing. They strug­gle to earn a liv­ing hawk­ing on the streets. En­forc­ing a ban on such en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­ter­prise is to de­stroy the only means they have of re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to en­gage in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

At the end of the day street traders are vic­tims of so­cial de­pri­va­tions caused by poor gov­er­nance. There is also a cul­tural an­gle to the whole is­sue be­cause street trad­ing has al­ways been part of our way of life. Nige­ria isn’t a west­ern na­tion and while we must def­i­nitely adopt mod­ern ways of do­ing things, these new ways must be ben­e­fi­cial to cit­i­zens. Our lead­ers have come to be­lieve that or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans are docile and can al­ways be cow­ered into sub­mis­sion.

They should be wary of main­tain­ing such a con­temp­tu­ous view of their fel­low coun­try­men. En­force­ment of anti-street trad­ing laws will give rise to bru­tal­ity by over-zeal­ous of­fi­cials and lead to seiz­ing peo­ples only means of liveli­hood. The Arab Spring pop­u­lar re­volt in the Mid­dle East was trig­gered off on 17th De­cem­ber 2010 by an “il­le­gal” street hawker in Tu­nis named Mo­hammed Bouaz­izi who was as­saulted by a po­lice­man and his goods seized. With his last hope of earning an hon­est liv­ing gone, Bouaz­izi bought fuel and set him­self ablaze.

A jus­ti­fi­ably an­gry and sym­pa­thetic mob started a riot that grew and ex­ploded into open re­volt against the Tu­nisian dic­ta­tor Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Our un­com­pas­sion­ate and self-cen­tred lead­ers would do well to re­mem­ber that those who fail to learn the lessons of his­tory ended up re­peat­ing its mis­takes.

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