Dilemma of roadside traders

PHOTO: ANN GODWIN

As Lagos State government continues in its stride to transform the commercial hub into a megacity, the exercise is taking diverse forms. Expectedly, as some structures are being demolished to pave way for wider roads and space to erect new and more befitting facilities, residents are affected in different ways.

With widening of some major roads, as well as construction works going on in Oshodi, it is no longer business as usual for roadside hawkers and petty traders without stalls in the area. Not only have they been forced to leave familiar spots, but sales are also being affected.

This is really not a new development, as the cat and mouse battle between these traders and the state government has been quite a long one. But it became more pronounced, when government embarked upon its megaproject, leading to a declaration of zero tolerance for all sorts of illegal roadside trading activities in the state.

Measures to tackle the problem were, therefore, established. Former Governor Babatunde Fashola launched several crackdowns on unlawful trading, especially around Oshodi, which the current administration is taking up.

Under current administration, the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) brigade of Lagos State Ministry of Environment, saddled with the responsibility of keeping Lagos clean, is forever harassing the traders and many times, taking away their goods. But many of them, after being chased away, would always find their way back.

And though subjected to daily physical and psychological hazards, all in a bid to make sales, ‘man must survive’ is their anthem.

But do they really enjoy doing their business this way? How are they coping with all the projects going on? How can government help to ease their plight?

A roadside trader selling hair accessories at Oshodi, who simply wished to be identified as Iya Shop, narrated her ordeal in the hands of developers, who she accused of increasing rents recklessly, resulting in her being forced to go to the roadside.

She said: “There is no money to rent a shop. Governor Akinwumi Ambode should please have mercy on people like us. They should allow us to return to our former places, so that we don’t hinder movement of motorists and passersby. Though it is not our wish to sell by the roadside, but at least we are feeding and training our children from whatever we get here.

“The governor should understand that there is no place in this country now, where there are no roadside traders, which is due to the country’s terrible economic situation. They cannot successfully stop us from selling goods this way; they can only give us limits.

“The cost of renting a shop is too high. I was previously selling in a shop, but the rent became unaffordable, after they introduced developers. Before then, I was paying N3, 000 per month, but after they brought in developers, the rent was increased to N10, 000. And he said he would collect two years’ rent, together with N100, 000 commission. When I calculated everything, it totaled N700, 000. Where will I get such amount? Even if I may not be able to build house from roadside trade, but at least I don’t have any cause to beg or borrow and I also make daily contribution from it.”

Rofiat Quadri sells matches, razor blade and sweets, among others at Oshodi. She told The Guardian all her goods do not amount to N10, 000 and so, she can never dream of renting a shop, when the price is astronomical.

“Is it the person whose goods are not worth more than N5, 000 or N10, 000 that would think of renting a shop that costs N500, 000 or even N1m per year,” she queried. “And the person would still have to buy goods, aside from paying for the shop. Or maybe they want the person to borrow money from Cooperative banks, which is not advisable. We know what happened to those that got involved in it. If government could provide shops that wouldn’t cost more than N2, 000 per month, that would be okay, so that people at my level would be able to afford it.

“Governor Ambode should please help us, because it is from the proceeds we make here that we pay house rents, send our children to school, as well as feed them. The government should also ensure that after constructing affordable shops for people at our level, developers’ activities are monitored, so that they don’t start collecting high amount from us. Government can do this, if it wants to. Government should include people like us in its plans.”

Idris Olatunji, a wristwatch repairer, who also sells the item, said not every goods could be sold in the shop.

“For instance, you cannot because of sausage roll (Gala) rent a shop. The thing will just expire, as you might not have many customers coming to the shop,” he explained. “You have to be in the open, where you will commodities will meet people’s immediate needs. The kind of services and items I sell don’t require being in the shop.

“Okay, what if you take a loan to rent a shop and then nobody patronises you, what would one do? I think government should just tell us to move away from the walkway, so that we don’t hinder cars and passersby.”

Madam Aishat Jimoh, who sells bitter-kola, kolanut and sweets said: “We cannot say government should not make laws, but they should have mercy on us because the citizens are hungry. What I sell are not goods that can be sold inside the shop. My target audience is the passersby. If government does not want us on the roadside, it should ensure that we are taken to another place, where people can easily have access to us.”

Chibuzor Ebe, who sells belts, also pleaded with government to consider their plight and put in place measures that can give them means of livelihood.

He said: “We are not thieves or robbers, we are only trying to make ends meet. The government should help provide affordable shops for us, if it truly wants us off the road. The reason I came here is because of outrageous shop rent. I came here to struggle and raise money. Governor Ambode should please be patient with us.”

However, Diekola Babatunde, a pepper seller, commended Governor Ambode for his effort in trying to turn Lagos into a megacity, though he urged him to consider the elderly.

“The governor should create incentives for struggling old people by building shops that are not expensive, where we can sell our goods. We thank Governor Ambode, former governors Fashola and Tinubu for what they are doing for the state. There is no money to rent a shop, which is why we are beseeching Governor Ambode to have mercy on old people. It is because there is no other means that we came here. I have no husband and the children must be taken care of.”

Recently, scores of Lagos State residents stormed the state secretariat, which houses the Governor’s Office and the Lagos State House of Assembly, demanding an immediate end to all demolition in the state.

The protesters, who came under the auspices of the Federation of Informal Workers Association of Nigeria (FIWON), accused state government of using its megacity dream as an avenue to rob hapless residents of their land, markets and businesses. The group comprised mechanics, traders, farmers and other artisans.

The General Secretary of FIWON, Gbenga Komolafe said: “The state government has been trespassing on the informal sector’s rights. They use officers of the task force to intimidate residents, who are going about their normal businesses. They harass and lock them up in prisons. We understand that due to lack of space at Kirikiri Prison, those arrested are now being taken to Badagry.”

The Special Adviser to the governor on Transport, Mr. Olanrewaju Elegushi, promised to convey their message Governor Akinwumi Ambode, and that their plight would be looked into.



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