Anyone who has spent a full week in Lagos will have no difficulty in confirming the notorious activities being perpetrated by officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) with impunity, particularly on the Island area of the state. KAI is a Law Enforcement Unit of the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment, established in 2003 under former Governor, Bola Tinubu.
One of the vision statements of KAI Brigade reads thus: 'By eliminating all forms of Street Trading and Hawking.'
The above quote clearly depicts the insensitiveness of the Lagos State Government. Whilst street trading and hawking may indeed constitute environmental eyesore like the Lagos State Government is desirous to make us believe, these street traders and hawkers are the direct product of successive corrupt government administrations that have left them with no feasible alternative of surviving on their own soil. The ever increasing state of unemployment in the country and the skyhigh prices at which shops are rented in Lagos leaves these people with the only option of storming the street with their items on their heads, striving for survival. It is therefore disdainful, villainous and spiteful that the government nurses no modicum of concern about the harsh conditions that reduced these citizens into this state of despondency. It is my personal view to assert here that a government that has no place for its indigent citizens is irresponsible and has no right to exist.
These KAI Brigade officials, empowered to compound the woes of these hapless hawkers and traders, resort to brutalise, intimidate, steal or rob from these unfortunate people, as well as arresting them arbitrarily. They have become so notorious that it would not be hyperbolic to state that they now have striking similarities with robbers, except that the traditional robbers do not clad in attires made possible by tax payers' money.
In late 2015, KAI officials arrested a young lady who hawked popcorn and fried groundnut in Victoria Island; not only did they seize her items, they arrested and kept her in their custody for three terrible days before she was constrained to produce N16,000 as 'bail fee'! Upon her release, her items had vanished. It must be said that the degree of criminality that is associated with them is bred–in–the–bone. These days, they have notebooks containing all the names of those who trade by the roadside. The 'deal' is that each of these traders coughs out N500 every Monday and Friday just so that their merchandise might not be snatched. Those who pay have their names ticked, whilst those who decline face the wrath of these licensed desperadoes. To confirm the illegality of their actions, the KAI officials who go round to do the collection do so whilst on mufti. Can no one see the entrenched criminal conducts of these government officials? Can no one see how these agents of government now constitute nuisance across Lagos?
The act of brutalising, stealing and extorting from people is abhorrent to human nature and constitute a ferocious breach of people's rights. KAI's abandonment of civility in the discharge of their duties should be stopped. If the objective of KAI has turned into one which must dehumanise people for the 'offence' of street trading and hawking for survival, then the Brigade has no right continue to exist.
Disaster parades today with impunity through the length and breadth of much of Nigeria: Boko Haram, armed robbery, corruption, all kinds of social chaos; yet all that the Lagos State Government can do is to unleash unmitigated terror on innocent people whose only objective is the struggle to stay alive. This, needless to say, is outright failure on the part of the government.
Elias Ozikpu is a playwright, novelist, autobiographer, essayist, polemicist and a social commentator.