Goodbye gala

During Ndi Okereke-Onyuike’s American wonder stock boom, a childhood friend hooded me into farming out a princely sum into certain firms, including UAC. In the wake of the doom, he bolted. Even with her plus size, Onyuike too simply dissolved into our usual collective amnesia. But I still feel part of UAC, even though my shares are marooned in the middle-of-nowhere. So, the headline has nothing to do with the durable gala brand. It is used as mere staple symbolism.

Lagos CEO, Akinwunmi Ambode, had many times ordered traders off the streets, but there isn’t mistaking his seriousness this time. And as full enforcement began, what would be the most enduring memory of the disappearing tribe of Lagosians who wanted a honest living by being unlawful, is the imagery a young boy delicately balancing a carton of the sausage on his left shoulder, holding a couple of the roll in his right hand, serenading the appetite of those caught in traffic. A water hawker, right behind him, could be irresistible in a sweltering Lagos weather.

Are you cross with this romanticisation of a supposed mundane menu combo, which is even infinitesimal among the odds-and-ends items that add riotous colouration to Lagos highways and suburbs?

Apart from being arguably most popular on the streets, it is buyers’ dearest. Many also think it a life saver. But, is there truly anyone in Lagos not rescued once by gala plus any drink, especially whenever devil desires the traffic? I doubt.

Would that make street trading right? Not when there is a law, though observed in breach, until Ambode felt the state was unjustly savaged over the death of a street hawker and decided to incinerate everyone. Without doubt, the governor meant business now and could be said to mean well.

Rights are not absolute anywhere. It is a right inclination to seek honest livelihood but it can’t be at the expense of government’s good intent. Or of what use is a mega-city being pumped with billions, when its entry point is a mess of sight. Of what economic value is the investment when human contours impeding vehicular and human movement, with the attendant loss in man-hour, are even more than potholes on the roads?

Also, a law not well implemented is as good as non-existent. But doing it right must also come with well-headed considerations. Men are not made for laws. It is the other way round. That is why laws are subject to interpretation of both the golden and the mischief rule.

Judicial interventions, however, are a long shot in the matter. Even those with the financial muscle, who daily engage the street hawkers, won’t be advised to dare. Every government is tended towards repression. Their bigger commerce interest may become casualties. Any trade interest that wants to dare is likely to be tempered by a mere look at the rubles that used to be markets in Lagos. As for the civil societies that should ordinarily champion a redemptive move, their sources of funding have become a major consideration. Conserving and preserving, may prove such intervention, a suicide mission in the state.

So, where does this leave all parties? One, government must know the call for enforcement has become a bazaar for the enforcers. Days back, some uniformed men of Lagos creation, were caught on phone, conducting another trading by the roadside close to a police station at Alapere. Traders, whose wares were seized, were being openly billed without any receipt. I guess that wasn’t the enforcement Ambode had in mind, except the ban was just a meal ticket for sumptuous recipe.

These traders are also not ready to disappear without a spirited fight-back in diverse ways, including bribing corrupt officials, diving dangerously across highways to escape arrest, relocating to the suburbs when the highways become too hot to handle, clobbing back to the highways when officials retire for the day. And the ding-dong continues with all the associated dangers, economy losses and ill-feeling on both sides.

Some were also ingenious enough to stay on the blurred borderline of Lagos and Ogun at Berger, still cleverly desecrating Lagos entry point without fouling the law.

Also for every N90,000 fine that comes into government coffers, Ambode can be sure that N900,000 would have gone into corrupt bellies. And just like someone joked the other day, where is the prison facility that will contain the thousands of hawkers in Lagos?

Recently, Ambode’s image-maker, Steve Ayorinde told me that the state was working with a certain unnamed South-Eastern state with the highest number of street hawkers in Lagos. He didn’t elaborate on the collaboration. Is it that talks have broken down? If not, speed would be desirable in whatever scheme being packaged to get the numbers off the street. The success of the scheme could get other states on board.

I also have a simple way out of this suffocating corner. While more concrete schemes are being worked out, the state can apply the okada methodology by restricting the hawkers to the suburbs, where their sight won’t offend the mega-city sensibility. At least for now, no enforcement is taking place there and making it formal would take the corrupt officials off their necks. Those that breach the highway restriction can now be decisively dealt with. They may not have strong unions like okada, but they have God and their stomach to fill. If honest means are taking away, they may have to feed the stomach anyhow. The state should know better than adding to the number of criminals it is contending with right now.

But if Ambode is adamant because 48 buses belonging to a certain individual were destroyed, I will only say my goodbye to street gala and water. The call is his. But did someone just say Arab Spring?