Saturday, 14 March 2015

Election Fever: Street Traders Flood Lagos

                           Gov. Babatunde Fashola, Lagos                              
As the 2015 general elections draw near, street traders have virtually taken over most streets in the Lagos metropolis. It will be recalled that immediately after the 2011 governorship election the Lagos State Government introduced a policy to turn the state to a mega city status. With this policy in place, street trading and hawking were banned. Then, the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) Brigades and their Black Maria vans were visible in all parts of the Lagos metropolis; carrying out their statutory duties with vigour, zeal and commitment.
Then, major streets in the Lagos metropolis were paraded regularly all days by the KIA Brigades in order to prevent street traders from carrying out their activities.  To ensure strict adherence to this policy, the KAI Brigades arrested and tried offenders speedily in mobile courts. This action stimulated fear among street traders so they deserted the streets for fear of being arrested and prosecuted. The movement of commercial motorcycles were also restricted to some roads but such roads have also been taken over by motorcyclists

Street trading became a common practice owing to the demolition of some major markets in the Lagos metropolis. It will be recalled that Tejuosho, Ajilogo, Mushin Ajina and Jakara markets have been demolished for almost eight years but have not been rebuilt. Tejuoso Market was demolished after some parts of the market were burnt in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Though, Tejuosho Market is under reconstruction but when completed, the former traders may not be able to afford the new prices of the shops which range from N3 million and above. Ajilogo and Jakara Markets have been taken over by grasses. In September, 2013, the Lagos State House of Assembly, approved the demolition of the popular Retail Market, Ogba to be replaced with a three-storey complex. Thus, the demolition of markets without rebuilding them speedily led to the upsurge of street trading in the Lagos metropolis. Markets and farms are the two major employers of labour in this country. Since many urban dwellers do not farm as a result of lack of land, they take to trading and when the markets are demolished, they therefore look for alternative means of livelihood. This is why street trading and hawking became prevalent in the Lagos metropolis.
However, the activities of KAI Brigades and their Black Maria vans that were hitherto visible had virtually disappeared from the streets as the general elections are fast approaching. Hawkers and street traders can be seen displaying their wares in many streets across the Lagos metropolis. Major streets in Oshodi have been taken over by street traders which were deserted some years ago. When this inquisitive writer asked some of the street traders why they were being allowed to sell their wares in the streets which violated the mega city policy of the state, they simply said it was because the general elections were drawing very close and that the All Progressives Congress (APC) led government in the state did not want them to vote against the party in the next elections. According to the hawkers and street traders, they knew they would definitely be harassed and arrested after the elections but said they would not be fooled for a second time as they knew the political party to vote for in the next elections.
Likewise, certain roads where commercial motorcycles were banned from operating on are now being plied by commercial motorcyclists while security agents who hitherto arrested them now pretend as if they do not see them. When same question which this writer asked  the hawker and street traders was thrown at the commercial motorcyclists they answered in like manner as the street traders. They said they knew the political party they would vote for in the next election saying they were given crash helmets before the 2011 elections but as soon as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the political parties that merged to form the APC, won the elections, they were banned from operating in virtually all the roads in Lagos metropolis without providing alternative means of livelihood for them. According to them, this anti-people policy, they said had caused them much hardship and sufferings; making their children to drop out of schools. They said they could not be deceived for a second time.
 The return to the streets of hawkers, street traders and commercial motorcyclists makes many residents in the Lagos metropolis to wonder why they should be allowed to return to the streets just because elections are fast approaching only to be chased from the same streets by KAI Brigades after the elections. If the fight against hawking, street trading and commercial motorcyclists is relaxed now only to be revived after the elections, Lagosians will doubt the sincerity of the state government as regards the mega city policy. If the Lagos State Government is sincere with the mega city policy, it should continue with the war against hawking, street trading and commercial motorcyclists before the elections to send a clear message to the residents in the state that the government is serious with the policy to turn Lagos metropolis to a mega city. This will also afford the residents to vote wisely if the mega city policy is at their advantage or not.

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