Precisely two months ago, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode directed all law enforcement agencies to start full-scale enforcement of the State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003 after floating the N25 billion Employment Trust Fund, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

Recently, Mrs.Tosin Olowoyeye-Taiwo, Founder of Street to School Initiative, shared an unpleasant account of a street trader on a social media platform. She boarded a public vehicle, heading home. Just before the Third Mainland Bridge, she said two commuters inside the vehicle she boarded beaconed to a street trader and ordered for bottles of water.

Dogged to meet his target, Taiwo said the street trader, perhaps in his teen, “ran after the vehicle, though in a moving traffic. Initially, I was not bothered until I saw much effort the boy put in to catch up with fast-moving vehicle. He ran so hard, but could not catch up with the vehicle. Yet, he did not give up on the highway just before the Third Mainland Bridge.

“When I could not hold it any longer, I had to wave him to stop running, almost screaming. Next day, I was passing through Oshodi expressway. I saw the remains of a street trader by roadside. His bowl of commodities: bottled water, la camera, coke e.t.c. were placed by his side. It is sad. Now, the question is when are we putting an end to street trading in traffic?”

Conservatively, hundreds of such cases occur annually on Lagos roads. For successive governments, ending hawking, trading in the traffic and street trading was challenging. The danger it portends for the country spurred the administration of former Governor Bola Tinubu to seek enactment of Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003.

Even though his effort to end hawking and trading in the traffic was widely disputed as anti-people, Tinubu’s successor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola fought the trend all through his tenure. At different fora, Fashola had explained his anti-street trading stance, noting that no country that desired real growth would allow its youths engage in unprofitable venture.

Fashola, truly, acknowledged the drive of these young Nigerians, citing the way they were meandering through gridlocks diligently and marketing their products to motorists with passion. But he asked: what does their effort contribute to our GDP? He said the traffic traders, largely in their teenage, were just misdirecting their youthful energies and risking their lives in the traffic.

Aside the rate at which the street traders lost their lives, rising incidents of pilfering, robbery and even armed attacks became an issue of public discourse when the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode resumed office. Then, intelligence from the State Police Command revealed the complicity of the youngsters who were hawking and trading in the traffic.

For Ambode, street trading does not project Nigeria as a serious country considering the large army of its youths that hawk and trade in the traffic. Aside, he believed these youths should not be left alone because hawking and trading in the traffic was not a viable occupation, which no government – national or sub-national – should encourage for any reason.

But the death of Nnamdi John, a 22-year-old indigene of Ebonyi State, really radicalised Ambode’s anti-street trading stance. Nnamdi, who was selling eye-glasses in the traffic between Maryland and Ojota, picked his wares and started running after he received a message that operatives of the Kick against Indiscipline (KAI) had arrived at Maryland for an operation.

But unknown to him, Nnamdi ran into an on-coming truck and died right there. His death sparked anger among the street traders, which eventually culminated in mob action. The mob, largely street traders and miscreants from motor parks around Ojota, started attacking high-occupancy vehicles operating on the CMS-Ikorodu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

At least, consequently, 25 commuters sustained varying degrees of wound – some fatal and other mild. Also, 48 of such high-occupancy vehicles operating on the CMS-Ikorodu BRT corridor suffered varying degrees of damage. Likewise, Primero Transport Service Limited, the Ikorodu-CMS BRT operator, put financial cost incurred due to the outrage at N139 million.

Contingent on diverse concern arising from hawking and trading in the traffic, Ambode made a rare pronouncement, which proscribed the trend in all parts of the state in line with the State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law, 2003. And the reason for this pronouncement, he said, is to save our youths from untimely death like what happened to Nnamdi.

Also, according to him, the pronouncement is to rescue our youths from street trading and bring them into dignified labour. He pointed out the odds about traffic trading and hawking. First of all, Ambode said such venture would not give desired future and fulfilment, which he said, explained the reasons some of these traffic traders “go into all sorts of criminal activities.”

If what the traffic trading cannot guarantee their future, also, he said continuing in the same business “is a real threat to our country. What does their input add to the national economy? What does their energy contribute to our GDP? So, hawking and trading in the traffic should not be encouraged. It is not good for our youths. It is not good for country.”

Aside the needless loss of some traffic traders to road accident, Ambode objected to traffic trading due to what he ascribed to a grim image of Nigeria such misdirected effort painted. With this ugly trend, he said foreign investors “will not take us seriously; neither can we earn the respect of international community. With threats associated to the trend, we will lose foreign investments.”
Citing the huge implication of traffic trading, therefore, Ambode said it “is not in our DNA to allow someone to just die by road accident or the way it happened in respect of violence that erupted in Ojota due to the death of a traffic trader. So, the State Executive Council has resolved to enforce the law, which makes both the hawker and the buyer liable of the offence.”

By implication, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem emphasised the need “to enforce our laws. Already, we have a law that proscribes hawking and trading in the traffic. Under Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law, traffic trading is proscribed. It is not a new law. The law has been in place since 2003.”

Section 1 of the law, according to Kazeem, restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis. So, he said, the regime empowers the KAI operatives to get rid of traffic hawkers and traders in Lagos metropolis. Kazeem, also, cited section 8 of the law, which he said, empowered Special Offences (Mobile) Court “to seize and auction items from these hawkers.

Aside, section 10 of the law lists different punitive measures against any suspect found guilty hawking and trading in the traffic and other related offices. Under the regime, the attorney-general said the clause specifically “prescribes that both traffic traders and their customers are liable. If found guilty, they can be fined up to N90, 000 or face a six-month jail term.

“What we are doing on traffic is that we are introducing new strategies to eliminate traffic but Lagos being a cosmopolitan city, you cannot totally eliminate it but now this is the case, in the next few days, you will see on the street of Lagos signs that will be warning you that buyers and hawkers should be aware that there are consequences,” Kazeem explained.

“A whole lot of people, who are hawkers, are real criminals and their activities are not acceptable. From intelligence, I understand that there is a cartel using these young Nigerians. Some people would buy fake products and then bring the products in. They would give the products to boys to sell on the street and come back to make returns in the night.”

But Ambode said his administration did not proscribe hawking and trading in the traffic without creating alternative means for them. For those who have developed their skill, the governor said the establishment of a N25 billion Employment Trust Fund (ETF) would serve their interest. He said the fund could provide up “to N1 million for any applicant, whose proposal sails through.”

He said N6.25 billion “is annually available for young Nigerians with distinguished business proposals irrespective of their ethno-religious backgrounds. The Board of the Fund has been constituted. It is under the leadership of a former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru. It has commenced operations.”

For the teenagers, Ambode said the state’s public schools “are free for all residents irrespective of where they come. Governor Bola Tinubu started it in 1999. Under my immediate predecessor, our public schools are free. Till date, the state is still running free education. The parents and guardians should take advantage of our free education policy.”

Apart from free public education, Ambode said the state government had five Technical Colleges and 21 Vocational Training and Skills Acquisition Centres, which the Executive Secretary of Lagos State Technical and Vocational Board (LASTVEB), Mr. Olawumi Gasper said, were strategically established “to develop required manpower for the country at large.”

Citing the report of Odu’a Educational Trust Fund, Gasper puts the value of jobs lost by artisans and technicians from West African states at N960 million annually. He said foreign nationals “are taking up the jobs that Nigerians should have done. But we do not have required manpower in such areas as plumbing, bricklaying, carpentry, tiling, painting and electricals.”

Under different administrations, therefore, Gasper said the state had been working to reverse the trend. But the Ambode administration, according to him, has specially focused on technical studies, vocational training and skill acquisition to create wealth; pull out thousands of youths from poverty and make them contribute meaningfully to the national economy.

Olowoyeye-Taiwo, who has been developing the manpower of the youths at the grassroots, truly acknowledged what the state government had been doing to end street trading in the state. But she canvassed a review of the state interventions, which he said, was key to realising Ambode’s vision of creating wealth, ensuring security and developing strategic infrastructure.

She canvassed strategic partnership with community-based organisations (CBOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which she said, would signal a new beginning in Ambode’s quest “to redefine the future of the youth, especially those risking their lives in the traffic. There must be a paradigm shift for these young people for us to achieve more result.”