Christy Ayanwu, Olakunle Olafioye and Henry Okonkwo
The time was 5:25p.m, about the same time many workers in Lagos State head for home to rest after the day’s work. But for traders at the popular Kollington bus-stop, along the ever-busy Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, the early evening hour is a time for brisk business.
One after another, they line up the walkway with their goods in anticipation of patronage from those returning home from their offices. The setting is indeed a convergence of convenience for intending customers as they get to buy anything they need by the roadside without having to stress themselves any further.
The resurgence of trading along major roads and streets in Lagos has again raised the question on the seriousness of the state government’s fight against illegal trading activities in the state. From Iyana Ipaja to Oshodi, Mile 2 to Ketu, Shomolu to Mushin and every other part of the state, traders dot the major roads with goods ranging from food items to household appliances, particularly at close of work, when people are returning home and at about the time when operatives of the state environmental task force on monitoring patrols must have closed for the day.
Determined to rid the state of illegal trading activities, the Lagos State government had promulgated the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003, which restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis. But successive administrations in the state have failed to demonstrate sufficient commitment in the implementation of the law, especially during electioneering process when politicians are believed to curry the votes of the electorate.
But almost 16 years after the enactment of the law, street trading has continued to thrive with its attendant menace. Investigations by Sunday Sun revealed that while the implementation of the law has not been without its own challenges, the government, besides showing penchant to lowering its guard during electioneering periods, has continued to fuel illegal trading in a subtle manner.
Some traders who spoke to Sunday Sun blamed their resort to trading along major roads on the prohibitive cost of hiring shops in the state and the harsh economic situation in the country. “The government must understand that there is no place in this country where there are no roadside traders. This is due to the country’s terrible economic situation,” a roadside food seller at Mushin who simply identified herself as Iya Ruka said.
“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 rents became unaffordable after they introduced developers. Before then, I was paying N3,000 per month, but after they brought in property developers, the rent was increased to N10,000 per month. The developer also demanded two-year rent, together with N100,000 commission. When I calculated everything, it totaled N340, 000. Where will I get such amount? Even if I am unable to build a house from this business, I don’t have any cause to beg or borrow and become a liability to other people,” she said.
Chijioke Nwanna is one of the roadside traders, who deals in women’s wear in Marina, Lagos Island. He said hiring a shop is highly exorbitant, “so I decided to devise a means of survival. I stay here every day to sell my wares. I pay 1,000 daily to the touts who collect the levy and remit to the local government.”
According to him, all traders who operate without shops in the Marina, Apongbon axis pay a minimum of 1,000 each day.
“For the people selling fruits, drinks and all that, they pay the sum of N200 to these touts, who remit it to the local government,” Nwanna said.
It was further gathered that a good number of traders who resort to trading along major roads in the state are largely traders displaced from various markets across the state under the guise of redevelopment by the government. Until few months ago when she was displaced along with more than 200 other traders from Ajetutu Market located at Aminkanle, Alagbado area of Agbado-Oke Odo Local Council Development Area, Mrs Florence Ihesiaba, conducted her business within the market where she owned a stall. Ihesiaba, a mother of four, who now operates along the busy Ayobo/Ipaja road, said she relocated her business to the place because she could not afford to pay the exorbitant rent for a shop in the market.
“Some months ago, we were served notice to vacate the market because they said they wanted to help us rebuild it so that it would be more conducive for business. In fact, we were given a seven-day notice, but we begged them and they gave us enough time to prepare ourselves. I was paying N42, 000 yearly rent for the place I was using in the market then, but now that they have completed the first phase of the market, a shop of nine ceilings (12ft by 12 ft) now sells for N1.4 million. Where do I get that amount of money? The total value of my business is less than N250, 000. Majority of those who were doing their business in the market before now said they couldn’t afford to buy shops in the market again. Everybody is scattered now,” Mrs Ihesiaba said.
Multiple sources claimed that the authorities of Agbado-Oke Odo LCDA contracted the market to a developer who promised to re-construct and resell at affordable rate, but findings by Sunday Sun, however, showed that the completed first phase of the market was not only priced beyond the reach of the majority of the original traders in the market, a few others who could afford it said the first phase was sold to the “high and mighty” in the area, contrary to the promise that the traders would be given right of first refusal when the market was completed.
“The only option left for us now is to rent the shops from those they sold them to. By implication, they want us to become tenants in the same market where we were landlords some months ago. Not only that, before the reconstruction of the market, those who rented the shops paid average of N3,000 to N4,000 monthly, but now the monthly rent for a shop is N10,000,” a source, who craved anonymity revealed to Sunday Sun.
A similar development played out at Ile-Epo Food Market where over 5,000 traders were reportedly displaced in April 2018. The developer and Managing Director, Total Value Nigeria Limited, Mr Chris Onyekachi, had told journalists at the time that the original traders would be given preference upon the completion of redevelopment of the market.
“When completed, the existing owners will be given the right of first refusal at a discounted price. Nobody is taking the market from them,” Onyekachi had said at the time.
But when our correspondent visited the market last week, sources claimed that the cost of buying a shop at the market is far beyond what the majority of the initial traders in the market can afford. It was gathered that a small shop in the market goes for N1.2 million even as many of the original traders at the market claimed that a good number of the shops in the new markets have ended up in the hands of highly placed individuals, family members and cronies of influential political office holders in the state.
Curiously, however, arrangements for redevelopment of markets in the state are often shrouded in secrecy, a development that often leaves the displaced traders in the lurch when it dawns on them that they have been shortchanged. A case of reference was the development in which both the authorities of the LCDA where the market is located and the state government denied knowledge of the demolition of the market last year.
Trading along major roads and streets, according an environmental expert, Dr Oseni Popoola, is one of the major impediments to free flow of traffic in Lagos State.
“Human and vehicular movements in most parts of the state are impeded by activities of traders who display their wares along the roads without any consideration for other road users. Until the administration of former of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, it was hellish for both pedestrians and motorists to move in and around Oshodi. It was the Fashola government that restored the sanity being enjoyed in Oshodi and its environs today. But we have started witnessing similar scenario in several parts of the state because traders are being displaced from markets across the state in the name of remodeling and redevelopment.
“Government must realise that the majority of the traders in these local markets cannot afford to pay for their so-called modern markets which sell for millions of naira. So, if you dislodge them from where they do their business legitimately, they will definitely seek alternative way out, which in most occasions could be illegal. This is exactly what we are witnessing around the state because they must also survive,” Popoola said.
Apart from constituting major nuisance to the public, roadside traders are faced with a lot of dangers. But the dangers inherent in conducting their business along busy roads pale in significance in relation to the motive behind their decision.
Ms. Biodun Atorishe is one of the many roadside traders along the busy Isolo road in Mushin area of the state. From 10:00a.m to 10:00p.m every day, the single mother of three, displays her wares by the side of the busy road to attract patronage from pedestrians and motorists. However, she appears oblivious of the risks she exposes herself to on daily basis.
“Life is not easy, especially when I have children to cater for. I left my abusive marriage, and since I parted ways with my husband, he has refused to play any role in the upkeep of our children. If I had another way of earning a living, I wouldn’t risk my life on the highway for less than N3,000 a day,” 38-year-old Atorishe said.