Street Hawking: I Should Be In Jail And So Should Governor Ambode [MUST READ]
I should be in jail. Not once but many times over. More than half of the population of Lagos should also be in jail. And I think Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would not have had the chance to be our governor because he would have been an ex-convict. Proof? This picture right below the next paragraph. That is, provided the street hawking law had been effective since 2003 when it was passed into law.
I can’t count how many times Gala and LaCasera have saved my life inside Lagos traffic and especially on Third Mainland Bridge. The response of those boys hawking gala is faster than that of the Rapid Response Squad. Lagos can never be Lagos without Gala and LaCasera. Let them try it. More people will have need of emergency response services.
Has anyone eaten the plantain chips hawked on Third Mainland Bridge? They are of two varieties- there is one that is made from unripe plantain and is very crispy while there is the other one made from very ripe plantain. My choice has always been easy: I buy 2 packs of the unripe and 2 packs of the ripe plantain chips.
I love varieties. It is the spice of life and makes it easier for me to endure the horrible Lagos traffic. And then, you have those boys selling Bobo, a milk drink popular with children. How will children endure the endless traffic without Bobo or Fan Ice? Won’t they think Apocalypse is here? Those chaps selling Pringles have a way they display them. My daughter loves the onion flavour. She calls them ‘Splingles’.
A short while ago, I migrated to buying shortbread. I must have been taken in with the way those boys (I hate to call them hawkers) arrange their wares. Even Ebeano Supermarket does not arrange the shortbread and MCVities biscuits like these folks. What have I not bought from Lagos traffic? I’ve bought clocks at amazing prices, several wristwatches, beautiful photo frames, car jump starter kits, handheld suction fuel funnel, standing mirror, toys, towels, games and several other items. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve bought on Third Mainland Bridge. Those boys have some very good titles and they are cheaper than the normal bookshops. I call those boys mobile bookshops and I even recommend them to people. In Lagos, I buy all my music CDs from traffic. All. As you descend the Bridge around Muson Centre, you will see those boys displaying several music CDs. It’s just that in some instances, you will see Ron Kenoly doing duets with Yinka Ayefele on some CDs. ‘When was that CD released?’, I sometimes ask cheekily. ‘Oga, this is new release ooo’, the boys will chuckle in response. I once bought one Asa CD thinking it was her latest only to realize they just changed the sleeve. One thing I don’t buy from those boys are video CDs or movies. I still cannot explain how the American movie ‘Central Intelligence’ that I watched last week at the cinema is now available on Third Mainland Bridge.
The best bananas in the whole of Lagos are sold on Falomo Bridge. They are fresh, firm and very filling. Some of them are so big you wonder if they are hybrid. And you can also top it up with bottles of groundnut. If you want locally roasted cashew nuts, you can get that as you ascend the VI bridge from Bonny Camp opposite Ecobank. Now that we are in the season of roasted corn popularly called ‘mouth organ’, you can find the best ones by the roadside around Ajah axis. There is a corner that is not far from Lagos Business School where you will not only get the best roasted corn in the world but you will get the local pear along with it. No, you don’t stay in your car to point at roasted corn. You get down and wrap your hand around the various cobs on the seller’s fire. There is something about wringing your hand as you select the hot corn. There’s quite no pleasant sensation like it. And the tapping sound that a corn on fire makes should qualify as one of the sweetest sounds in the world. That is the pleasure Ambode wants to deny us.
If you want the best yam, just come to Otedola Bridge as you approach Omole Phase 2. Or you can visit Oregun Road where Daystar Church is located on Sundays. That entire stretch is filled with hawkers on Sundays. One fellow who does ‘asun’ by the roadside once told me he kills two goats every Sunday. Will newspaper vendors also be affected by the law? How are we supposed to buy newspapers now? From supermarkets? The best vendor in Lagos is by the traffic light at Opebi not far from Adebola House. The guy knows his customer even more than some bankers practice their KYC. Once you start buying newspapers from him, he already knows the newspaper you buy. The moment he sets his eyes on your car, he has already pulled out your favourite newspaper. He will never give you The Punch when you want Vanguard.
Now, seriously speaking, I understand the problem Governor Ambode is trying to solve. But I don’t think the best way to solve one problem is to create several other problems. So many times, I’m also agitated especially when I see boys who should be in school cleaning windshields at Opebi axis. I also know that criminals also mingle with those street hawkers to unleash havoc on motorists in traffic. But then, there are fundamental issues we should consider before a law is enacted and subsequently enforced. Why do we have so many street hawkers? What alternatives do they have if they don’t engage in street hawking? I’ve read some people say they will be restricted to some inner roads but we all know such sales are supported by traffic density. That explains why emergency hawkers spring up when there is a traffic hold-up anywhere including Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
When my first book, Champions Football Devotional, was released, one of the marketing strategies I adopted was selling the book on Third Mainland Bridge. I can’t forget two of the ladies who hawked the book in traffic – one of them is a student of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and the other is a student of Ekiti State University. Both of them sponsor their education by themselves largely from whatever they sell. These are the kind of people that will pay N90,000 fine or go to jail for six months? What is the total value of wares they are hawking sef? And what is the minimum wage? I also know an amputee who sells handkerchiefs under the bridge as you approach Victoria Island. He told me he would rather do this than beg.
So here’s my solution: Why not encourage the street hawkers to be properly registered by Lagos State Government? Let them also wear aprons or uniforms like the ‘okada’ people. When they are registered, they are easy to deal with and it is easy to spot those who are not part of them or are unregistered. Registration shouldn’t cost an arm and leg- something like N500 or N1,000 monthly should do. This is an informal internally generated revenue that the state is not even thinking of. Give them a code of conduct that will include anyone within school age should not be caught hawking at certain times. Also identify certain spots where they can stay and hawk their wares so they don’t add to the traffic gridlock. For example, they can stay at the Adekunle intersection on Third Mainland Bridge because of the width of that area. If the Governor knows the value of the informal economy that goes on on several highways, he will rather want to put a structure than totally eliminate it. In my estimate, several millions exchange hands inside traffic in Lagos daily.
In my opinion, it is better to accommodate them than to push them to crime. When those street hawkers ply their wares and sleep very well, then the society can also sleep very well.
Bayo Adeyinka is a journalist. This article was originally published on his blog, Bayo Adeyinka. Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.