Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Steve Ayorinde, tells TOBI AWORINDE that the recent ban on street traders in the state is in the best interests of Lagosians
Is the Lagos State Government satisfied with the reactions to its ban on street hawking?
Essentially, it is not a new law but an enforcement of an existing law. The law has been there since 2003 and it is important to cast our minds back to what led to the promulgation of that law. You will recall the indiscipline at the time Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was coming in for his second term (as governor) in Lagos. You will recall that it was at that time that a traffic law which people initially reacted vehemently against was enacted. That was the law against one-way driving, which required as of that time that such drivers who were caught would not only be fined heavily, their state of mental health would also be tested. People then reacted loudly, wondering if it didn’t infringe on their human rights. But of course, the events of the time required that such a law be promulgated in Lagos State because things were just going ballistic; people were behaving in a manner that was unbecoming of a megacity or a civilised city and the government of that time needed to put people in check.
The same thing applies to the law against street hawking and trading and illegal markets also promulgated in 2003. The law has always been there, It was there throughout the eight years that Mr. Babatunde Fashola spent in office and it’s been there in the one year that Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode has spent.
Why then hasn’t it been enforced?
The law has always been enforced one way or the other because it is also the basis upon which the Kick Against Indiscipline and even the police, who are also required to enforce the law, have always been drawing people’s attention to say people really can’t hawk on the streets, particularly on the highways; markets can’t be created where the government, either at the state or local government level, has not designated as a marketplace.
Last Friday, when Governor Ambode, was a guest on Television Continental, what he did in reaction to the question that was asked about the unfortunate incident at Maryland (which claimed the life of a hawker trying to evade arrest by KAI officers), was to draw the attention of Lagosians again to that existing law and to point out that not only does the law stipulate a certain form of penalty for the traders, but those who also patronise street hawkers as you have in other places: India, Dubai, Brazil, even in Ghana and South Africa. In those places, those who patronise either hawkers or areas that are designated as illegal market spaces would also be liable for some form of punishment.
In this case, it is either six months’ jail time or a fine of N90,000. That amount has always been there since the law was promulgated.
One of the concerns raised is that the ban takes away food from the mouths of Nigerians who do not want to resort to criminal activities. What do you say?
We had said the enforcement would peak after one week, when a sensitisation and advocacy would have gone everywhere in Lagos. Part of what we also did was to use that opportunity to sensitise people to say we were ready to enforce that law which had always been there. Our assessment of the reaction is that more Lagosians applaud that decision. Of course, there will be a whole load of other people who would either want to suggest different degrees of amendments or those who probably have not taken their time to properly digest the importance of the law or what it is trying to do and are only looking at it from a parochial angle of ‘what will happen to those who will not be allowed to hawk on the highways or those who will not be allowed to mount illegal markets where they are not supposed to be?’ Our answer to them has always been: ‘Read the law carefully, follow all the sensitisation and advocacy programmes that we are putting out and this government, which is people-oriented, and the governor, who is compassionate, will not enforce a law that will take jobs out of the hands of people earning a living. Rather, we are saying that we want to control and moderate it.
We want to have Lagos work according to the laws that determine what you are allowed to do in the metropolis, particularly on the highways. Failure to do that would be failure of the government in terms of urban renewal and development. And of course, it would mean that we are being emotional in considering just the untidy convenience of a few people as against the overall interest of more than 20 million people that want a state that runs properly. The intention is not to take the bread out of someone’s mouth. It is to make sure that a megacity like Lagos aiming to be a smart city cannot allow the level of degeneration that we have on our highways, either through okada, the shenanigans of yellow buses or through street hawking and illegal trading.
Street trading has become part of the commercial fabric of Lagos. Some would even argue that the activity has contributed to making the state self-sustaining. Why ban it, rather than regulate it?
There are three major ways we look at it. One is the safety of those who engage in street hawking and illegal trading. We have it on record—police and hospitals have the records—that over the years, there have been several causalities of people hawking on the street, people hit by vehicles and dying in the process. But because the government (owned vehicles) were not involved in those cases and these were cases between a driver of a private vehicle on his/her rightful lane and a hawker engaging in a convenient but illegal exercise, people just say ‘Oh what a pity. Another one has lost his/her life. He/she will be dumped at the morgue and then recorded as a casualty of illegal hawking or trading.’ But how many of such unfortunate incidents should the government close its eyes to? One is danger to themselves, another is the trauma to the owners of the private vehicles who would say ‘How can I be more careful when people are dashing left, right and centre in the name of illegal hawking?’ And it may even be a driver who is not patronising these people. But because this young boy or girl, or even an elderly person hawking on the street, wants to answer another person on the other lane, he/she dashes off and gets hit by somebody who didn’t expect anybody to be on the street. Consider the trauma to that person. We are also aware of the two-pronged dangers that the people who have infiltrated those hawking on the highways pose to Lagosians.
What sort of danger?
One is that the opportunistic traffic robberies that take place happen because these armed robbers mingle with street hawkers, particularly on the highways where there is traffic. From the analysis of security intelligence, the government believes that if the highways are devoid of street hawkers, the likelihood of people robbing in traffic would be reduced drastically. From security intelligence, we have discovered that these ones transform from hawkers between 4 pm and 7.30 pm to armed robbers between 7.30 pm and 8 pm, when darkness would have come.
What other security threat do hawkers pose?
The other one is destruction of public assets. We know for a fact that in many areas, particularly in the past, what street hawkers did was that if they identified that this was a high traffic density area, in the middle of the night, they would go and dig a couple of potholes in a road that had just been rehabilitated, so that when people were either going to work or returning during the rush hour, particularly in the evening, traffic was forced to slow down—all because they wanted to sell ‘pure’ water, sausage rolls and all sorts of things.
How soon will the effect of the ban be seen?
Our aim and intention will be on major streets, highways, expressways, which is why the first day of enforcement has seen people being apprehended on major highways like Oshodi, because we’ve got a major expressway going to the airport around that area; on Ikorodu Road, at Ojota; and in Ikeja. Certainly, Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Western Avenue, Lekki—these are major highways where, in the name of everything that is decent and tidy, we really shouldn’t allow this sort of shenanigans that we have in the name of street hawking. This isn’t about those who are forced to engage genuinely in this sort of thing and we sympathise with the situation. But like anywhere in the world where the economy is in a dire state, where the poor will always look for additional means of making revenue, what we’re saying is ‘Yes, we agree with that you’ve got a right to earn a living, but you must earn a living legally and not in areas where there are restrictions.’
In Brazil, this sort of law was enforced. Non-governmental organisations took the government to court and said, in enforcing this sort of law, there must be a compromise. They went to court and argued the case and the compromise was that all street traders must be organised into unions, so that we know that it is not armed robbers that are parading themselves as street hawkers and unions can talk to their members to say, ‘These are the rules. You cannot overstep certain boundaries. These are the parameters for selling on the street.’ Will the law get to that stage in Lagos State? I say, without a doubt. But that shouldn’t hamper the need, first and foremost, to restrict traders and okada from our highways because of the environmental nuisance and dangers they constitute, not only to themselves, but also to the well-being of the entire society.
Culled from the Punch