A young man who appeared to be in his early 20s, firmly held a blue crate between his left ribs and armpit. The crate contained some bottles of cold table water. He was out for business, hunting for commuters and motorists, who were his targeted customers.
As he briskly manoeuvred in-between vehicles stuck in the traffic at Ikeja-Along Bus Stop in Lagos, his vigilance was akin to that of a hen guarding its chicks from a hovering hawk. Just as the traffic started moving, he heard a loud call for “bottle water” from a commuter. The hawker spontaneously increased his pace. He sustained the tempo until he caught up with the moving vehicle and sold his product.
And as soon he was done with the sale, he repositioned himself for another prospective customer. That is the ritual that hundreds of other hawkers in the state arduously partake in while in search of their daily bread.
Every day on the field, they are faced with daunting challenges, including those posing threats to their lives. Many of them have been knocked down by vehicles and sustained severe injuries, while some have died in the process. Some of the hawkers have been arrested by the Lagos State Special Task Force and their goods confiscated for flouting the law.
Despite the law prohibiting street hawking in Lagos State, selling of various articles in traffic has become a daily venture that all residents have come to live with. The trade has continued unabated on most of the expressways and other busy routes in every part of the state.
Day and night, from Iyana-Ipaja, Bank Anthony, Awolowo Way, Ikorodu Road, Agege Motor Road, Oshodi, Mile 2, Iyana-Iba, Agbara, Osborne Road to Ajah Roundabouts, vendors of assorted products have a field day at any slight traffic congestion.
A clearing and forwarding agent based in Lagos, Mr. Oscar Bisong, described hawking on Lagos roads as constituting a nuisance in the proposed mega city. He said it was regrettable that those given the responsibility to implement the law against street hawking were doing so in a lackadaisical manner.
“Anytime I drive through Dopemu or under the bridge on Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, one might think that the major road has been converted to a market. Different people display all manner of wares and run after vehicles for patronage. There are groundnuts, bread, plantain chips, oranges, bananas, minerals, shoe racks, hangers, pillows, even recharge cards for sale. I have seen a hawker selling cold canned beer in traffic at Ikeja Along,” he said.
Bisong stated that the hawkers also compound the traffic jam as they intermittently run in the middle of the road amid moving vehicles while making sales.
Investigations have revealed that there is an indescribable joy among the hawkers anytime there is a gridlock in any part of the state. It is a moment they hunger after. It is an answer to their prayers. It is incontestable that the heavier the traffic, the brighter their chances of smiling to the bank with more profit.
Nineteen-year-old Emmanuel, who hawks cold soft drinks in traffic at Ikeja Along, told the correspondent that he was doing the business for a while in order to raise enough capital to establish his provision shop.
“I started this business three months ago. It is not easy but when I consider the profit I make every day, the strength to continue will come from nowhere. The first few days of my coming here was like hell. I had to be taking drugs to relieve the body pain. I once sold in traffic at Iju-Ishaga area but that one didn’t involve much running. But my system is used to the running now. It even makes me fit. Any day I don’t come to here to sell, it will look as if something is wrong with my system.
“Thank God that I have not been involved in any major accident since I started selling here. But I have seen two of my colleagues (a boy and a young woman) hit by vehicles. The woman’s hand was dislocated, while the boy had a bruise on his leg. I heard that a little boy of about 12 years was killed here by a vehicle long before I joined them.
“On a very busy day, l make an average of N3,000. Some people make more than that, while some make less profit. It all depends on luck and the ability to run faster than your colleagues. Whenever it rains, there won’t be much activity because people won’t be thirsty. Another thing we watch out for are some dubious people who will pick your soft drink but won’t give you the money. They will target you and delay the money until the vehicle has sped off. That is why you need to be sharp and fit before coming here to hustle. I have been given a fake N500 note once. From that day, I have learnt my lesson,” he said.
When asked if he was aware that the trade was illegal and that he might go to jail or pay a fine of N90,000 if arrested, he replied in the affirmative. But he argued that the unlawful hawking was more acceptable than taking to robbery or fraud.
Said Emmanuel: “We watch out for officials of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC), who occasionally raid this area. But before they can grab one or two persons the remaining 20 or 30 must have fled. There is always someone, a Good Samaritan, out there to alert us that their vehicles are coming. I know God will help me to raise the money I need for my business in the next few months. I am an orphan, but it is not an excuse for disobeying the law.”
Another hawker, who didn’t disclose his name, said, as long as there was no other job for him to do, selling in traffic was the way to keep surviving in Lagos. He said, moreover, it was more profitable for him to sell in traffic because he doesn’t pay any levy to anyone.
“I don’t pay rent as shop-owners do. I don’t also pay any form of ticket (levy). All the profit I make belongs to me. The products I sell are what commuters need every day. Except I am given a high-paying job, I might not leave this hawking soon. From the profit I make, I pay a daily contribution of N2,000 and another N5,000 weekly. I don’t stick to a particular product; the weather determines what I sell. I sometimes sell in the morning, but night sale is constant,” the young man said.
He told Daily Sun that he had been arrested three different times but someone helped him to secure his bail with N5,000 on each occasion.
The third vendor approached for a chat told the journalist to turn his attention to those in public office and interrogate their maladministration.
In her words: “You (the reporter) will not go and write about the people in government that are stealing our money; it is we that are struggling and doing genuine business that you are running after. Go and tell Governor Ambode to come and arrest us,” and she disappeared into the traffic to woo prospective buyers.