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Abuja Environment: AEPB, Hawkers In Cat, Mouse Race



Hawking, especially along major busy roads with heavy traffic and popular bus stops in urban centres, has become part of the nation’s economic activities. But will the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) allow hawking in the Federal Capital Territory? GABRIEL ATUMEYI reports

While hawkers depend on the business for their livelihood, they provide ready market for busy commuters who while on transit make purchases of things they need at home.

But this practice is not going down well with the authorities of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who believe that the hawkers are defacing the environment.

This simply explains the cat and mouse race between the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the hawkers.

These days it is becoming a common sight as hawkers in Abuja scamper aimlessly in different directions on sighting hilux trucks laden with lightly armed mix of policemen and officials of the AEPB.

As soon as the vehicle grinds to a halt, the occupants of the vehicles in a commando fashion jump down and chase after the fleeing hawkers and street urchins and sometimes carting away the wares of some of the hawkers who are not fast enough to move their items of trade.

This appears an endless cat and mouse chase because as soon as the AEPB officials depart the scene, these hawkers are back at their spot doing what they know how to do best.

The places these hawkers are usually found are heavy traffic road corridors of the federal capital territory. They include Berger junction, Area one and three junction, Wuse zone six, Kubwa – Zuba express road, Wuse 2 and their environs.

At Berger junction, before the present clamp down, round the clock was glorious hours for profit seeking hawkers and urchins as they look for a corner to showcase their wares.

To checkmate the activities of these hawkers, AEPB officials have set up makeshift stations made of containers to supervise designated areas.

However, investigation carried out by LEADERSHIP Weekend revealed that despite these measures there seems to be no let down in the activities of the hawkers and urchins, making these chases a never ending scenario.

Miss patience Friday who sells boiled corn close to VIO office at Mabushi, said they were told not to sell on the road because the minister will not be happy if he is passing and he sees us hawking.

“But they did not make any place available for us to trade around the city,” she said, adding, “We don’t have work and we have children to feed.”

Also speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, one Mrs. Roland Magdaleine, who sells ‘okpa’, the local delicacy made of beans at Garki market road, she complained bitterly about the activities of the task force.

According to her, “The task force is making it difficult for us to do our business. The officials are always chasing us around. Some of us are widows and have children to take care of. It is from what we make from this that we use to support our family.”

She appealed to the government to halt the incessant threat and arrest or they should provide alternative business or employment for them.

“If they say we should not hawk, they should give us a job from which we can feed our children,” she said, adding, “It is not as if we like the burden of hawking on the street, but we do it because we do not want to sit idle at home. Even when you beg, you won’t even see who will give you. That is why we are selling, we don’t want to beg.

“They should leave us, if they want us to be paying tax, we would pay.

And if need be they should collect tax to maintain the streets but not to be pursuing us.”

Mr. Friday Emmanuel who sells perfume at Berger junction, said, that the environmental task force is constantly chasing them around.

“The task force do not want us to sell and hustle. They are always disturbing and chasing us. If they catch you they will seize all your wares and take you to their station. We have not committed any crime, we are only looking for our daily bread.”

He further disclosed that the AEPB officials occupying the container by the junction don’t disturb them because they collect small payments from them but if you don’t cooperate they will seize your things.

He said the officials with patrol vehicles are the ones that will not allow them to rest. According to him, “if they catch you hawking, they will destroy your wares immediately no amount of plea will save you.

The ones that are not so destroyed, you will have to go to the station to bail it.

“They have seized my goods several times. The first time it was worth 18, 000 naira, while the second time it was 12, 000 naira. These days I am very careful.

“There is a large population streaming through this area or they should designate here as a park so we can legally trade our wares. We are not thieves and this is better than stealing,” he said.

Ibrahim Imanche from Benue State, who sells clothes at Berger junction said that he was already tired, “The task force is making life difficult for us,” he said noting that it is lack of job that led him to hawking. “I have applied five times for the Nigerian army and the government did not give me. Now I am selling Polo, hustling to take care of myself, the same government through the task force are still harassing me.

“It is annoying, I don’t know which kind of country this is.”

Ezekiel Etoya, who sells belts and shoes also at Berger junction, says he understand that AEPB are doing their job but he too is trying to survive.

“I agree that the Abuja Environmental officials are doing their work.

It is what they are employed to do. But we are here hustling because of lack of work. As there is no work in town we will not sit at home.

I was working at a bank before, at zone 3, I was an auditor there.

Everything has closed now and you won’t just sit at home until you get a government job.”

Mr. Dickson Okeke, a graduate who sells unisex foot ware said task force has not given them any breathing space to sell.

“Apart from that we settle the task force officials, we pay levy daily for this space that we use to sell items. Even after paying some other group of officials will come to molest and seize our wares. It is frustrating.”

He further added that there are modern ways of dealing with the situation, “In Lagos, for instance, the Lagos state government has brought modern kiosks for hawkers and charge them certain fee for usage. You cannot tell us that we must go to Wuse market and pay N3million to have a shop space. At least in every economy, they have the upper class, the middle class and the lower class. Where ever you find yourself government should be able to provide those amenities you should be able to afford.

Abdulraman Umar who hawks his wares on a wheel barrow, spoke in Hausa, saying he does not know the offence that hawkers have committed.

He said: “Before we were at Wuse zone 6, then under pressure we moved to Berger junction, and gradually we moved to Gwarinpa, then to Dutse Alhaji, and subsequently to Kubwa at Arab junction. Despite the stress we didn’t stop doing our business but environmental officials are still disturbing us, so we moved to dei dei, then to Zuba. At Zuba we thought we had arrived at our last bus stop but has not been the case.”

He further revealed that people with goods in trucks and wheel barrow were pursued by environmental officials and their wares seized and off loaded onto their hillux vehicle.

He further added that over 500 people have had their businesses destroyed. He said people with initial capital of N20,000 or N30,000 will discover that their capital has gone down the drain as a result of the activities of officials of AEPB.

According to one Usman Umar, a fruit seller at Zuba, he said, the government knows about fruit market and it’s activities, so why are they acting like this. “Our distance to the road is 5o meters yet we are daily harassed by officials of the AEPB. Even if they seize your goods today, they would still come tomorrow to do the same thing. It is a daily occurrence, they are just using it to make money. If they don’t want us to let them let us know so that we leave. We even make weekly payments of about five to six thousand naira. If your goods are seized you will have to three thousand naira initial payment to the leading officials. We deserve freedom to trade like other Nigerians.

Reacting to LEADERSHIP Weekend, the head of information and outreach, programme unit of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), Mr. Mukhtar Ibrahim, said the improvement in the city of Abuja is not without its many challenges in terms of manpower and resources. He said that on a daily basis the enforcement arm of the AEPB goes out, both in the morning and night to ensure that they clear the city of all forms of nuisance.

“When we talk of nuisance, we mean things that are not legally permitted to be in the city. Just like the street hawkers, the beggars, street urchins and others,” Mukhtar said.

“We try to remove them to make the city safe and healthy for residents. Like I told you, it is a lot of challenge and I keep appealing to the residents of Abuja to join us in ensuring a safe and clean environment, first and foremost by not patronising the hawkers, because when you patronise them, you are also encouraging them to come here. We believe that since hawking on the street of Abuja is illegal there is no excuse one can give and there is no way you can explain or excuse hawking by this able young men and women because it is breaking the law.”

“So you cannot justify illegality on the basis of sympathy, they are not supposed to hawk except at designated areas and when we talk about designated areas, we have the markets, we have enclosed commercial centers. I want to believe too that even in the garden where people relax, there could be a bit of buying and selling but certainly not on the street where you find them waving their wares in and out of the traffic.”

He further stated that hawking on the street could pose danger to the people because some of the so-called hawkers may be criminals pretending to be traders. He said there have been cases of people’s valuables being snatched and some may use it as an opportunity to assault other people especially without the presence of law enforcement officials.

“So if you want to survive you should do it within the ambit of the law and not by breaking the law,” he said.

“Our mandate here is clear and straight forward which is to remove nuisance from the street and that is what we do. If you want to make a living there are other agencies that are concerned with empowerment of people and the unemployed.”

He said according to the law empowering the agency, anyone caught is charged to court, it is the court that fines them. The punishment on conviction by the court is a fine of N5,000 or three months imprisonment. “But they hardly get imprisoned and the fine is affordable, maybe that is why they keep coming back to the streets or junctions to litter them up with used packages and other stuff that constitute environmental degradation,” he said.

Also speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, an official of the AEPB who gave us his name as Marshal and who acts as the supervisor in charge of Berger junction area, said that they usually experience challenges in enforcing their mandate as they are frequently interrupted by the intervention of passers-by who usually plead that they should let the hawkers be.