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The dilemma of Lagos environmental laws

Irrespective of criminalising street trading, hawking and wheelbarrow operators, local governments in Lagos still issues tickets to ‘criminalised group’.

By Daniel Anokwuru

The pains Lagos residents go through on a daily basis in the hands of street traders cannot be underestimated. Street trading in Lagos State has remained a puzzle that has defied all solutions. Both pedestrians and motorists are caught up in this agonising trap.

The situation is very worrisome, owing to the fact that these groups of traders occupy mainly the major roads in most parts of the metropolis. They reduce a double lane road constructed by Government, to ease the flow of traffic to a single lane, forcing motorists to meander through the little space left. One wonders how these traders exhibit their power by occupying the government owned road unchallenged. The reason is simply because they are empowered by same government that tends to criminalize their activities.

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With the rate street trading has resurfaced round Lagos State in recent years, it seems the agency charged with the responsibility of tackling this ugly monster is not doing enough, or compromise is the order of the day. In the past, the state had commenced the enforcement of the law, banning street trading. The action generated lots of controversies. The Lagos State street trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003, provided a punishment of N 90,000, or six months jail term, for both the buyer and seller of any goods or services on the street.

Most people had argued that since the street traders are poor masses, whose only source of livelihood is the trade, they should be granted to continue with their business. But if they should be allowed judging from the argument, it must be done in a descent way, to restore sanity in our society.

Street trading is becoming very dangerous in the State. Lives are being endangered, owing to the kind of street trading that have resurrected in the state. Round the metropolis, it was observed that dangerous street trades have come to stay.  One of such trade is those involved in fried and roasted food. These vendors now make their fire on the expressway in some parts of the state, without giving regard to the risk such practice poses to the society. In most cases petrol laden tankers takes the risk of driving very close to the fire. The major responsibility of the Government is preservation of Law and Order. It is very clear that with such disorderly society like Lagos, chances of attracting much development is very rear.

In the past, Oshodi was known for lawlessness that defied many Government solutions. But the administration of Governor Ambode took a bold step by combating the menace of street trading in Oshodi. Today, sanity has been restored in Oshodi.

The traffic gridlock, caused by street trading is very annoying. In some areas, commuters spend hours to get to their destination just because of the nuisance being constituted by the traders. The Lagos situation has reached alarming stage, because of the recent decaying of infrastructures in the state.

As you are battling with street traders, so you are battling with wheelbarrow operators and cart pushers that have dominated the State. Cart and wheelbarrow operators now carry goods meant for vehicles, occupying the expressway, without giving regard to other road users. They embark on a long Journey that only someone under the influence of drug can accomplish with their heavy load.

On July 1, 2016, the State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, announced a ban on street trading and street hawking. Also, on Saturday, January 13, 2018, the State Government announced the ban of cart pushers and wheelbarrow operators from the streets of Lagos. This was disclosed in a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, (SSG),

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Mr. Tunji Bello, in line with the flag of the cleaner Lagos Initiative. But after the ban, it appears like the law backing the announcements is just a pepper tiger. Even if street trading should be allowed, because of the level of poverty in the country, and wanton demolition of properties by those in power, it must be done in a descent way. Not the way it is being witnessed currently in some parts of Lagos.

One astonishing thing is that both the wheelbarrow and cart operators that have dominated the environment actually obtains a ticket from the Local government to enable them operate freely.

A street trader at Oyingbo bus stop, Obinna Eke, told the reporter that they pay the sum of N 600 daily to Area boys. He said during the administration of Governor Fashola, they were sent out from the road. But when he left, they returned to their base. “We are not here for free. We pay N 600 daily. We have two shifts here morning and afternoon shift. You can see the large number of people doing business here on the road. It is very clear that the boys make a lot of money from us daily”.

Another trader, Rukiyat Bolanle, told the reporter that the street business is very profiting. She said she has been in the business for over 8 years. “I have been here for over 8 years. I was at the railway side before, I latter came to this position because of the park here. Once people close from work, they don’t have the time of entering market, so they do all their shopping on the street. We only come out in the afternoon. There is another group for morning sales”. When asked if they usually face harassment from Law enforcement agents, she said: “They disturb us sometimes. If they catch you, they will seize your market.  But the worst is the area boys collecting the daily payment. If you defy paying, they will also carry your market. Sometimes they will help us to beg the Task Force”.