street trading
Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran

Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, tells BAYO AKINLOYE that Lagos State Government’s renewed enforcement of Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003 is unfair and unwarranted

Why are you against Lagos State’s renewed enforcement of the Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law?

The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders is opposed to the promulgation of the anti-street hawking law in the first place because Nigeria, and Lagos in particular, has a preponderance of poor people who live on less than a dollar a day. The situation even gets worse when you realise that there are people who live on less than 50 cents a day. We said that all the facilities that are available for the people are far beyond their reach. We educated the previous administration on the need why such a law should not be promulgated. The concept of creating a megacity is not about making the environment look beautiful with flowers and other architectural projects and de-population; chasing out the poor from the city. It is about expanding the existing infrastructure to accommodate the mega population. The government needs to provide adequate structures and facilities that will enable every member of the state to realise their potential within the ambit of such provisions. Since there has not been any provision to keep people gainfully employed away from major roads, it is improper for the government to invoke a law that is, considering the present realities, against the masses’ welfare. True, we do not want anybody to constitute a nuisance on the road but we do not want a situation where the poor pay for the convenience of the rich. The ban on street hawking as it is today only satisfies the needs of the rich rather than the poor’s.

We also raised an issue back then that available markets in Lagos State are not within the reach of the people who hawk on the streets. Besides, many of the markets in Lagos are also not situated in places convenient for people who want to patronise them – many of the markets are usually dirty, muddy and rowdy. These markets don’t even have hygienic conveniences for would-be shoppers; coupled with the fact that there are hardly any parking spaces in those markets. We also advised the government that instead of trying to re-enforce the anti-street trading law, they should provide spots off the road with barriers where these street traders can be patronised. We are not civilised enough to ban street trading outright. If they want to copy what obtains in advanced countries they should also provide adequate facilities that ordinary people enjoy in those countries.

Are you saying the Lagos State government does not have the moral right to ban people from selling at major roads?

Exactly so; the Lagos State government does not have the moral and social right to do so. They have no reason in the world to do so because they have failed to create any sensible alternative to what they are kicking against. Enforcing the anti-street trading law is just an oppression of poor people.

But the argument is that no street trading is worth the life of anybody. Don’t you think the ban is a means of saving everyone from avoidable tragedies like the one witnessed recently?

That is not true. While nothing, is worth the life of anybody, but a city that under-protects and under-provides for its poor will perpetually be under one threat or the other. Selling on the streets is a last resort for people because they have been chased into the remotest parts of the state to live whereas those who require their goods and services do not live in those places. What the government seems to be doing, and we are opposed to it, is to create markets for mega supermarkets like we have in Shoprite; we learnt that Wal-Mart is coming. The government wants supermarkets to sell everything the poor try to sell to earn a living from. Unfortunately, these supermarkets sell imported goods. How does that grow the economy and promote made-in-Nigeria products? The elitist administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola and its predecessor tried their best to rid the state of poor people who were honestly struggling to eke out a living. It is an anathema that a government that should care for the poor is trying to get rid of them by hook or by crook. Where is the social welfare from the government? The purpose of governance is simply to cater for the people’s well-being and security.

Do you think it is worth the risk to hawk on the streets with a fine of N90,000 or a six-month jail term to contend with?

If those involved in street trading could afford to pay N90, 000, do you think they will be on the road to sell their wares? My guess is that they will engage in more profitable businesses. What the government will end up doing is to fill its prisons which are already congested with more hapless people; an unjust law is meant to be broken. And, of course, many of the people selling on Lagos streets and major roads are even homeless in the first place. Perhaps, they will find peace behind bars and get some free meals from the government – meaning that the government will be compelled to spend more money on prison inmates. It should be noted that a hungry man is an angry man and an angry man is a mad man in the making. I think many of these people are ready to go to jail in their bid to eke out a living. Is the government going to imprison those who are below 18 years old too? Does the government have enough facilities for these teenagers who are usually products of broken homes or homelessness? Why have our governments abandoned their basic responsibility of providing homes for its citizens? Citizens have right to shelter and right to food. We demand social justice from the government and this should be integrated into our national law. Banning street trading is unfair, ungodly, unwarranted and (the government is) reprehensible.

Does it not bother you that the possible risk of death is high when hawking on major roads?

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