Isaac Anumihe, Abuja
Although there are laws prohibiting street hawking in Abuja, those in the business believe that economic realities have continuously forced them to break those laws.
Some hawkers told Daily Sun that they have been in the business for about 29 years, while others said they have spent two decades in it.
For most hawkers on the Nyanya-Mararaba Expressway, the business has come to stay.
Emma Egwa explained that, since he came to Abuja in 1990, he has not done any other business in except street trading. Egwa, a middle-aged man, said he came to Abuja from Makurdi in 1990 to stay with his uncle who was equally a trader. Then, it was a joint business, he said. He separated from his uncle when the business grew. Egwa deals in all manner of items, but he specialises more on car accessories such as caution triangles, pedal locks, side mirrors, etc.
“I have been hawking since I came to Abuja. After my secondary school, I came to stay with my uncle, who then was a trader. So, I was helping him to hawk. But after a while we had a misunderstanding and I decided to be on my own. God has blessed me in the business to the extent that I have even built my own small apartment,” he said.
Reminded that it was an illegal business, he quipped: “Forget that thing. Our main customers are the government officials. Very soon, you will see one of them here.”
Another trader, Abdulraman, sells torchlights in traffic along the highway. He claimed to have a shop in Nyanya Market, but in the evening he closes his shop to hawk on the highway. According to him, he makes better sales at close of work than in his shop, and, if not for the hawking business, his business would have folded up in the market.
“I have a shop in the main market but nobody can locate me in the market. So, in the evening I come out to join them to ‘hustle’ on the highway and I make a lot of money. I came from Kano but I was working as a securityman before I was introduced to the business by my friend. Since then, I make a lot of money daily,” he said.
Uche Okorie, 25, is an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) graduate. He told Daily Sun that after searching for a job to no avail, he decided to settle for street trading. He said that his friend who was into the business accommodated him in Abuja. But as he could not continue to search for paid jobs, he joined him in the trade and the business has been growing in leaps and bounds. He has spent 10 years in the business.
“I finished from IMT, Enugu. I could not do my HND because of lack of money. So, I decided to search for jobs. I came to Nyanya and stayed with my friend, who was a hawker. When I could not get a job, I asked him to introduce me to the business. The business is good because, through it, I take care of my parents and I look after myself,” he said.
As the activities of the hawkers in the Nyanya-Mararaba corridor intensifies, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) seems to have given up on the matter because the act establishing the agency was weak regarding curbing the proliferation of hawkers in the FCT.
According to the board’s head of information and outreach programme, Joe Ukairo, the agency arrests about 150 street hawkers daily but the punishment stipulated for the offence in the AEPB Act of 1997 is not strong enough to serve as deterrent to offenders.
However, Daily Sun tried to find out from different quarters why hawking persists in Abuja despite several arrests and prosecution of the offenders.
Barr. Iwu Jombo said that the proliferation of hawkers was a reflection of the level of poverty in the land.
He reasoned that no man in his right senses would put his life at risk on the highway, if had an alternative way of survival.
But Mr. Erikewe Jones linked the situation to failure of the FCT authorities to provide affordable marketplaces to accommodate the teeming Abuja low-income street traders. So, to survive, the traders seek customers on the streets and open spaces of the city.