A law isn’t one until implemented. It gets knottier when supposed enforcers are the aiders of those breaking the law. BOLA BADMUS and OLATUNDE DODONDAWA dug into controversies trailing Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s efforts at ridding the streets of the unwanted.
When the Lagos State government rolled out punitive measures to ‘kill’ street trading within the ‘Mega City’ in 2016, many had feared that no single hawker would be patrolling the Lagos highways in near future. Nine months after the ban, street trading continues unabated.
Exactly nine months ago, the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode commenced the enforcement of Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Markets Prohibition Law, 2003, that prescribes a N90,000 fine or a six-month jail term for sellers and buyers of items in traffic.
While trying to re-echo the importance of the law that prohibits street trading, Governor Ambode had said: “We will be watching out for buyers and sellers. All we need is just a scapegoat. Don’t buy plantain chips or any other items in traffic from July 1. Buyers beware. The issue is, we need to enforce our laws because we already have a law in respect of that and then there is a clause in it which says the buyer and the seller are both liable and that we are going to fine them either N90, 000 or a six-month jail term.”
Sections seven and eight of the law give jurisdiction and power to a special court to order the seizure and public auction of items impounded from street traders and hawkers.
Section 10 of the law also prescribes a N5,000 fine or three months imprisonment upon conviction. As punitive as the penalties are, the law has been hardly observed and loosely applied 13 years after and this has made street trading in Lagos to grow exponentially at the expense of human lives and public good.
The law (Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Markets Prohibition Law, 2003) was enacted by the administration of former Governor Bola Tinubu but was never strictly enforced until the sad incident in which a street trader who was attempting to evade arrest by officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) on 1 July, 2016, was knocked down by a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle and killed him immediately.
Why ban is floundering
When Saturday Tribune went round the Lagos metropolis, it was discovered that it was still business as usual despite the ban on street trading. From Lagos Island down to Lekki, noncompliance with the law was conspicuous.
From Ikeja, along railway lines to Agege, Abule-Egba, Iyana-Ipaja, Mushin, Ojuelegba, Surulere, Yaba, Oyingbo, Fadeyi, Berger, Onipanu, Ikorodu and Mile 12, activities of street traders were going on even in the presence of KAI officials.
One of the typical spots is Maryland junction, where a KAI vehicle is always stationed during the daytime. Yet, hawkers usually have the boldness or courage to trade their wares in the presence of KAI officials.
When asked why they defied the presence of KAI officials at Maryland, one hawker who refused to mention his name stated that they found “something” to give the officials before they were allowed to ply their trade on the road. By “something”, he meant plain bribe.
According to him, “we contribute N100 each daily to appease the officials not to arrest us. You know that it is very expensive (capital intensive) to get shop now. Even if you raise money and rent a shop, how am I sure it will sell market?
“But here, people are hungry when coming from work, they are thirsty, they are tired and need something to chew or to fill their stomach until they get home. Some are very busy throughout the week and may not have time to go to the market and buy things they need. That is why we are always here to meet their needs,” he said.
KAI as culprits
Investigations further revealed that even close to the seat of power in Alausa, Ikeja, particularly around the Government Secretariat, young boys and girls are there plying their trade in the traffic and sometimes engage officials of KAI as “watchmen” to ensure that they are not caught by another set of officials or other uniformed law enforcers in the state.
While it is mostly the “tip game” in Alausa, the scenario at Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, is a bit different, as observed by Saturday Tribune.
KAI officials are always not around at the designated enforcement points at Ikeja to enforce the law and, consequently, the street traders always have a field day. It is also the traders found in the streets that sometimes stray into the Government Secretariat premises to sell mainly groundnuts.
Beyond breaking the law, hawkers even extend their “freedom” to auction illegal wares like pirated copies of both foreign and local movies, including the ones still in the cinemas, thereby adding the illegality of piracy to the law-breaking act of selling on the streets. This set can be mostly found under the Otedola under-bridge where the three famous statutes of Lagos elders are sited. Even when there is a traffic jam and KAI officials join other colleagues to restore sanity to the highways, both the lawbreakers and enforcers literally rub shoulders around the vicinity, without one disturbing the other.
Caught in the act
When the total ban, as announced by Ambode, first came into force last year, KAI officials were seen to be up and doing, moving from one illegal trading point to another and making street traders scamper in different directions. But it wasn’t long before it was discovered that the perceived strict enforcement was nothing but a gold mine for many unscrupulous officers within the system. A couple of the KAI officials were, in the course of this report, caught demanding ‘tips’ from street traders who were ‘arrested’ around 7up Bottling Company building, Ketu Market and other mushroom illegal selling points along the axis.
They were seen asking petty traders like hawkers of banana, illegal CDs, vegetables, bread among others for various sums of money and promptly rejecting offers considered too little for the traders’ sin.
Interestingly, where the “dirty” KAI officers parked their operational vehicle containing the seized items was just a few steps away from a police patrol van with occupant officers watching the haggling between KAI officials and traumatised traders with bemused smile.
It could not be established if both groups had any ‘working’ relationship.
The raid was on a Friday. Though the names of the affected KAI officials are being kept from public knowledge, they were disclosed to the leadership of the paramilitary agency upon consistent pressure.
Spokesperson of the agency, Mrs Ramat Alabi, assured our correspondent that internal disciplinary measures were being taken against the affected officials.
The outcome of the said measures was not made known to our correspondent.
In the tape recording, the KAI officials flatly rejected N1,500 from a trader who was billed N4,000 for hawking illegal CDs. With his pleas and those of others rejected and their inability to meet the KAI officials’ demand, the trader, a male, who was appointed by others to speak for them, contacted the media.
The illegal trader claimed that one of the KAI officials was his “good friend and customer”, meaning that he was paying constant ‘bribe’ to the official to watch his back. In the presence of our correspondent, the trader tried to speak with the said official with deep familiarity. Though the official didn’t disown him, he said his “ogas” were involved in the raid and there was little or no help he could render.
An old woman selling banana by the roadside around 7up was asked to bail herself with N3,000 when all her wares were obviously less than the demanded bribe. When it was eventually reduced to N1,500 after hours of pleading, she cursed all through the period of moving around to source the bribe money.
From one of the officials, it was also discovered that a token of N1,500 is given the officials as recharge card allowance. When a trader begged to pay N1,500, the officer retorted, “for wetin? Recharge card? Abeg, government dey give me that.”
The Ketu “discovery”, according to findings, isn’t an isolated case. In fact, it is believed to be the norm rather than an exception.
Ambode’s fresh resolve
With the resurgence of street trading, Ambode is said to have given a new mandate to the KAI to commence work and rid the state of the menace.
Mrs Alabi, who made this known to Saturday Tribune, disclosed that the state government has given a new mandate to the KAI towards stricter enforcement of the law, disclosing that the agency would go all out to do just that as from this week.
Alabi said the new mandate would include arrest of both the seller and the buyers, who patronise the street traders.
“We have been given a new mandate to also arrest buyers who patronise the street traders in the traffic. Hopefully, by next week (this week), we will begin the enforcement of this law as contained in the bill passed into law by the State House of Assembly,” she said.
Our plea –Trader
Speaking with Saturday Tribune on the proposed renewed clampdown on street traders by KAI, a street trader who sells fruits and groundnut at the CONOIL/Ikeja General Hospital pleaded with the government and KAI officials to help them
The trader, who gave her name simply as Mercy, said the planned fresh onslaught would spell doom for their families.
“I went into trading and hawking when my husband became sick. I cannot go back to my village in the East. I learnt catering but business was slow hence my decision to go into street trading.
“I try my best not to be a nuisance. I also pick up littered trash around dropped by motorists and passersby who buy my wares. We are appealing to the government to be lenient with us. We have been cooperating with the KAI people here in Ikeja,” she said.