No doubt, street hawking has become a serious challenge in Nigeria, as people indulged are aptly exposed to immeasurable risk. And government at all level are battling hard to curtail the negative impact on the society.
In spite of the risk involved, high rate of poverty has swayed some young and energetic youths into the business of street hawking, and it’s eventually being seen as one of the fastest mean to fend for themselves and members of their families. Most of the hawkers have been found to have migrated from their local communities to major cities like Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan and Port-harcout.
An investigation has revealed that some of them, especially the youths who indulged in it were lured in to the cities with a promise of better lives by their patrons, but ended up on the streets when their expectations failed to manifest.
For the youths, several factors lure them in to the trade- while some had identified passion as a driving force, others have declared as a mean to keep body and soul together or a fund saving mechanism to grow or raise capital for a bigger business venture.
Whatever informs the business of street hawking, risks are also eminent. If stray bullets from armed robbers or police do not hit them, reckless drivers may knock them down while running in between moving vehicles to sell their wares. Reports have also shown that female hawkers have been raped, leading to unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sometimes death.
Given the menace of street hawkers, some state governments in recent times have established special task-force to restrict or outright ban of the activities of the hawkers.
Lagos state for instance had threatened a total enforcement of ban on street hawking and street trading, but the enforcement had not moved beyond arresting and detaining of the offenders by the task force, while most of them will eventually part with some amount of money, gained freedom and returned to the streets.
Report has revealed that some people buy fake products and hand them to hawkers to sell on the street and come back to make returns in the night. And consumers or people patronizing hawkers have been advised to desist from buying products from the hawkers to avoid being victims of fake and dangerous products.
In the case of Lagos state, government has urged unemployed youths in the state, who have taken to street trading and hawking to access the N25bn Employment Trust fund (ETF), that was launched few years ago. But from all the indication, the government had not disclosed how the fund could be accessed and the street hawking is fast becoming a boom in different parts of the state.
Rotimi Kehinde, a street hawker, who sells wristwatches around Maryland, Ikeja, disclosed that unemployment is the major force that has driven many young people to street trading or hawking. He asked: where does government expect us to get money to rent shops?
“I sell wristwatches and I offer quality products to my customers at a reasonable rate in order to retain them. This street hawking is the source of my income that my family feed from. I lost my parents seven years ago and stopped going to schools at JSS 3 in the year 2000. I’m married with three kids, if I don’t come out to sell, my kids and wife will be starved as I can’t steal to feed”
In Rivers state, hawking is prohibited. Indeed, sections of the Environmental Sanitation Authority Law of the state clearly spells out penalties for offenders.
However, street hawking has had a long historical presence in Port-Harcout and its environs. Since it has provided essential services to a lot of people, and direct employment to others, reactions to government’s decision to ban it has remained mixed.
But in PH, most of the products sold on the streets are fake. The items such as wristwatches, household utensils, doormats, fruits, belts, and sausages. Some residential areas such as the new GRA has been converted to places where food items are openly displayed and sold to customers
Reports have shown that over 80% of Nigerians live below poverty line and street hawking has become the easiest route to survival, especially among the lowest class.
However, the approach often adopted by the law enforcement officers to deal with the street traders sometimes appears draconian, which of course some concerned human right activists have vehemently kicked against and in most cases consider it as a breach of their rights to earn a living.
A human right activist had once argued that hawking and street trading started since the end of the Nigerian Civil War, and had provided essential services to most of the population, as well as, provides direct employment for a lot of the people since the government has abdicated from its responsibility of making infrastructure such stalls or other dedicated places for their commercial at affordable rate.
However, Lagos state government has been blamed for deploying force to end the menace of street hawking, without deeply looking at the cause, and broader social implications.
The policy has been tagged anti-people as KAI officers do not only loot the hawkers’ wares, but inflict injuries on the hawkers during forceful arrest. Policies should be founded on research and evidence based practices. Nigeria is urged to learn from countries like Tunisia, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Uganda, as these countries have been found to have failed in deploying force to evict street hawkers.
It has been noted that Street hawkers are transient, resilient and adaptive. Threatened with eviction, they will change their strategies, location and mode of operation. They could also resort to crime when forcefully evicted.
Incidentally, government officials have complained in several news reports that street hawking promotes child trafficking, misuse of public space, environmental degradation, lawlessness and violation of human rights.
And because most of the people involved in hawking are children, there is a great need to protect them (children) and other young people from being exploited. Evidence shows about 40% children that hawk on streets are victims of child labour. This amounts to child abuse, according to United Nation Convention on the Right of the Child. Although Nigeria promulgated the Child Right Act in 2003, it has not been implemented effectively.
Public education for primary schools is not free too. This speaks to the high out-of-school children that Nigeria presently has; which one of the highest in the world.
Reports have revealed that in most cases, parents, in order to generate sizable income for the family sent their children to the streets to hawk whatever they could lay their hands on. And this act has negatively affected few that are able to get school enrollment where children are forced to hawk early in the morning before they go to school and are made to continue after school as a way of subsidizing their fees.
And over time, as money exchange hands, children are more committed to hawking and show little or no interest in education, an act that leads to poor academic performance and eventual drop outs. They are at risk of being hit by a vehicles on the busy street while some are subjected to sexual exploitation and introduced to drugs either as a courier or as an addict or even both.
A report contained in an online news site stated that children are trafficked from neighbouring states or West African countries. And that some of these children were given away by their parents on the premise that they would receive food, shelter, good education and care. But they end up being exploited.
From all indications, children and young people are vulnerables of street hawking, and its time state social protection services is activated to protect children from the negative impacts of street hawking.
In the case of Lagos state, the state has the responsibility to protect the vulnerable by responding effectively to street hawking, using both a structural approach and one that focuses on individuals. Parents who use children to hawk for income should be given jobs to help them provide for their families and meet their economic needs.
Schools should ensure adequate monitoring of children and summon parents to schools to explain the whenever his or her children found to have absent from school. And if children are found not being interested in conventional school system, basic training should be provided to acquire skills to help them lead a successful life.
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