Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
In an abode of at least 20 million residents, the debate, even controversy, generated by the ongoing clampdown on street trading and hawking in Lagos State by the authorities should not be any surprise. But the law is the law. And decency, even respect for human dignity, bears out this particular law. There is nothing worthy of consideration, therefore, outside its enforcement by the government and compliance by the people.
The opposition to the law may seem understandable given that street trading has for decades become part of the life of the residents, taking on the garb of a culture even.
But what is indecent is simply so. Whatever blights human dignity cannot be justified on any altar.
The challenge, however, is for the Lagos State authorities to balance its redevelopment programme with the economic wellbeing of the people, especially, those whose livelihood depends on informal trading.
For the records, restriction on street trading is not new in Lagos. As a matter of fact, the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law has been there since 2003 without enforcement, a situation which created room for street trading to flourish across the state. The creation of the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) specifically charged to enforce the law by arresting offenders and confiscating their wares didn’t achieve much of the desired objective.
As a matter of fact, trouble erupted the other week after a street hawker was crushed by a Bus Rapid Transfer (BRT) bus, while attempting to run away from officials of KAI in the Maryland area of Lagos Mainland. The death of that female hawker triggered violence, leading to the destruction of several BRT buses and several other property.
Reacting to the incident, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, said the renewed enforcement was in line with Section One of the Law prohibiting street trading. Ambode, however, sympthised with the family of the deceased hawker and it is hoped that the State would lend a helping hand to the family of the deceased.
Ambode’s words were commendable in the empathy they conveyed: “It is not in our DNA to allow someone to just die by road accident or in the way it happened in respect of the incident”.
Sadly too, over 49 buses were destroyed, which would cost hundreds of millions to put back to work in a highly populated state and one in which commuters need them urgently.
The ugly incident, he noted, prompted the state executive council to resolve to enforce the law, which makes both hawkers and buyers liable of the offence. A clause in the law prescribes N90,000 or six months jail term for offenders.
The governor said his administration has appropriately concluded plans to roll out a campaign to warn motorists and hawkers of the restrictions and the penalty for defaulters.
It needs to be acknowledged that street trading is a thorny issue across the length and breadth of Nigeria. In all the urban and semi-urban centres, thousands of traders display all sorts of wares on the streets and highways. Hawkers, including minors risk their lives in traffic selling practically everything available in the market.
In the case of Lagos, it is noteworthy that street trading is so commonplace that most highways are blocked. Despite the fact that the Law was enacted since 2003, nothing was practically done about it with regard to enforcement until about 2011, when the Babatunde Fashola administration took the decisive action to bulldoze thousands of illegal stalls that blocked Oshodi area, a major hub of hawkers, and extended the same to other parts of Lagos metropolis. That, for the first time, gave Lagosians a breathing space they never had for decades
Even though Lagos, for decades, has been referred as a “jungle city” as a result of mounting or insurmountable disorder, now is the time for the people to appreciate that there is a change of attitude and the authorities are committed to giving Lagos a new image.
Lawlessness is a recipe for violence and insecurity. The law promotes human dignity and hygiene, which is for the common good.
Nonetheless, a challenge before the Lagos State Government is to erase an impression that it is elitist and only out to inflict pain on the teeming population of the poor.
This brings all down to the imperative of planning and good governance. Building highways, roads and sidewalks as well as shops and other facilities in appropriate areas is a planning issue the state must address urgently. A state or city like Lagos should be properly planned with provisions made for all necessary environmental, commercial and recreational infrastructure.
And adequate investment should be made on public enlightenment with a view to educating the people on a law which, whether they like it or not, is largely aimed at improving their collective and individual dignity.