Not many took Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, seriously when he vowed to deal with street hawkers by enforcing the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law (2003). Not long after, the administration bared its fangs by unleashing officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), on the unsuspecting but complacent traders whose only sources of livelihood were hop and jump before moving vehicles to hawk their wares. But those who thought Ambode was either grandstanding or indulging in scare-mongering because his predecessors felt politically incapacitated to execute the law knew better when KAI started arresting and throwing people into jail as a result of its provisions which recommends that the buyer and the seller are both liable upon arrest to a fine of either N90, 000 or a six- month jail term.
Before long, casualties were recorded as street hawkers were knocked down by articulated trucks while trying to evade arrest and a few landed in jail. To protest what the citizens saw as unfair arrest, over 49 buses were to be destroyed and the government lamented the sad occurrences each time it occurred.
In our opinion, whatever is the motivation for the full scale enforcement of the law cannot justify the wanton destruction of public property, loss of human lives and the negative impact of this enforcement on the people’s psyche and the state’s economy.
Lagos should have directed its mind to the likely social tension and security issues that the exclusion of this crucial informal sector could engender. We are convinced that survival instinct more than anything else compel these hawkers to engage in this patently dangerous vocation. We are also certain that if they are forced out of this legitimate source of livelihood, it is a recipe for growth in crime in a city like Lagos with an over-powering contradiction of obscene opulence and extreme poverty. Granted that Ambode’s quest is to make Lagos cast off its staid image for the real mega city feel, like Johannesburg, London or New York Streets against the marauding hawkers and vendors who make the nation’s business capital look like a massive jungle, constitute environmental nuisance and impede free flow of traffic. But in a situation where the government has not provided alternatives like shops, markets and other commercial facilities at reasonable prices, full enforcement of the law appear callous. No one likes to risk his or her life by prospecting for customers in front of moving vehicles.
While laws are meant to be enforced and obeyed, we hasten to ask if the Lagos state government under Ambode has put a structure on ground to accommodate the teeming population of street vendors and ensured that they are mainstreamed into the overall economic system without compromising their rights. We are worried that the renewed enforcement has snowballed into more misery, destruction of public property and human fatalities. For us, law enforcement must have a human face. It is time for introspection for Lagos law and policy makers as the State is still held hostage by street hawkers, even at nights and wee hours of the day.
There is no part of Lagos, including the seat of government in Alausa, where bottled drink hawkers don’t chase after commercial buses to sell to as many customers as possible. While the social and political considerations may have restrained previous governors from the full implementation of the law, Ambode is commended for pulling the bull by the horn. Our position is not that street vending or hawking as it currently operates in Lagos should be encouraged. Indeed, the state government is urged to clear off hawkers and vendors who block the right of way by displaying their wares close to the road, thereby causing avoidable traffic gridlock. What we found objectionable is the draconian, militarised execution and dehumanisation and criminalisation of the street trader. We ask for a fair-minded, civil and just way to phase out these risky and antiquated ways of merchandising.
By Leadership Editors