By Magnus Eze and Samuel Bello
Before e-commerce debuted recently, buying and selling of goods were generally carried out in markets and shops in various parts of the country. While street trading has long been a common feature in Nigeria, another form of commerce entailed the vendor visiting offices or homes.
Another style introduced by those involved in office sales, for instance, was the use of vehicles as ‘shops’ in towns and cities across the country.
This feature, which has become very popular in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), especially in places where there is high concentration of civil servants and artisans, is prevalent at the Federal Secretariat car park, Old Secretariat, Area 1, PHCN/INEC headquarters, Maitama and the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Area 11, among others.
The highest concentration of these vehicles-turned-shops, mobile shops, if you like, is at the public car lot at the Federal Secretariat, where Daily Sun counted about 27 of such ‘shops’ on Friday. The owners usually sell directly from the trunk or inside the vehicles.
Prior to this period, it was a common method for see bread vendors to sell their wares using cars or buses, but today virtually everything could be bought from a vehicle in the precinct of the Federal Secretariat: confectionaries, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, belts, phones, electronics and electrical appliances, name it.
Some butchers also sell beef from their cars, while some food vendors/caterers take their cuisines to places with high concentration of banks and and corporate establishments, particularly around Wuse 11 and the Central Business District.
Our correspondents discovered that some of the vehicles were parked in permanent locations for some reasons, including a bid to save money on fuel, since their owners may be living in any of the satellites towns of Abuja or the neighbouring Nasarawa and Niger states.
But why would anyone convert his vehicle to a shop? Mrs. Obi Ejeagbasi, who retired as an assistant director in the National Planning Commission (NPC), said she got into the business because her gratuity was nothing to write home about while the cost of owning a shop of her own in Abuja has remained prohibitive.
She would rather continue trading with her vehicle than stay by the road side and get arrested by the task force. Obi said that she sometimes drives to her former office to sell goods to her former colleagues at the NPC.
Unlike Obi, her counterpart, Mr. Eze Akpa, said he had a shop but that mobile trading was more profitable or would provide additional income for his family upkeep: “Meeting up with the standard of living in Abuja is not easy because of the dues, all manner of bills that you have to pay, like house rent, shop rent, electricity bills and others.”
Akpa also stated that he paid monthly salary to his sales girl at the shop and complained that he faced a lot of challenges during the rainy season because he would have to use umbrellas or suspend the mobile trade till the rain stopped.
Another itinerant trader who claimed that the business was lucrative was Mr. Jude Amekhame, a clothes dealer at the Federal Secretariat car lot.
He said he was a victim of government demolition in Gwagwalada, where his shop was destroyed because a shopping plaza was to be built there.
Amekhame explained that he could not wait aimlessly for government to finish building the complex, so he had to adapt with his car becoming a shop without much ado, to make ends meet.
Another trader and dealer in food supplements who refused to disclose his name told Daily Sun that he had a shop somewhere in Abuja but he moved out because he could not pay the rent.
Although he started the mobile trading last month, when compared to when he maintained a shop, he said, “I am now making double of what I used to make and the management of the Federal Secretariat are really encouraging us and other traders because the fees they demand from us is not outrageous or discomforting.”
A widow, Mrs. Ijeoma Okeke, who lost her husband two years ago, said she did various menial jobs until she discovered that trading with the family car was the best she could do under the circumstances she found herself.
Most of the traders told our correspondents that they did not sell on credit; however, it was gathered that those who had developed long-standing relationships with some customers sometimes sell on credit, particularly as civil servants would want to pay at month end.
Investigations showed that some of the traders lock their goods in the vehicles where they are parked and go home after the day’s sales. One of such persons was a lady who sold unisex wears between PHCN and INEC headquarters, Maitama.
Aside from not spending money on fuel, her reason was that there was adequate security in the place and nobody would tamper with the vehicle and her goods.
Mrs. Okeke also confirmed that some traders leave their products locked in their vehicles at the Federal Secretariat car lot till the next morning because of the tight security in the place but said she would not do the so because, “I am not ready to wait for the vehicle that I am still managing to get stolen.”
There are also some vehicles that are immobile, which are packed in some strategic places and turned to shops.
For many of those who have turned their vehicles to shops, their common reason is the high cost of rent in Abuja.
A good number of these traders on wheel, we gathered were those who lost their jobs prematurely and needed to cater for their families.
and large, Daily Sun confirmed indications that the trend of cars playing dual roles; serving as means of transportation and as ‘shops’ for its owners will continue to be on the rise because of the current economic crunch.