Street hawkers in Lagos State have called on Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to go back on the decision of his government to strictly enforce the law prohibiting hawking in the state. A few weeks ago, Ambode announced his government's readiness to fully implement the law banning street hawking and six months imprisonment or N90,000 fine as the penalty for hawkers or patrons.
The announcement immediately sparked impassioned social media debates, which excluded the hawkers from participating.
Despite the strict laws put in place, hawkers are seen throughout Lagos State. At Ikeja-Along (around the railway line), our correspondent saw bottled drink hawkers chasing after commercial buses, trying to sell to as many customers as possible. At the same location, hawkers of groundnuts and other products also went about their businesses despite the presence of policemen and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials around the agency's vans parked at a corner.
The officials were busy with other businesses unrelated to the enforcement of the “no hawking” policy.
A drink hawker, accompanied by her two young children, told SaharaReporters that the policy is injurious to her chances of earning an honest living.
“Help us beg the government. Some of us here are the breadwinners in our homes. We have children for whom we will pay school fees. They have to be fed and clothed. If we don’t sell our goods, how will we be able to cater for our children? We don’t have money to rent shops. Government should pity us. This is our only source of livelihood,” she said in Yoruba.
Another hawker expressed a similar sentiment. “As you probably know, some of us have husbands that are best regarded as dead because they have abandoned their responsibilities. It is from hawking that the governor wants to ban that we are trying to make ends meet," she said to unrestrained cheers from her colleague who had earlier spoken.
Waving a sausage roll he had just bought at the camera, a man described the policy as barbaric. "So, I will pay N90,000 because I want to eat? Our government can be funny. Have they provided an alternative for the hawkers? If we stop buying from them, how will they survive?" he said with barely disguised irritation.
Felix Onuwa, a passer-by, however, applauded the government, arguing that the enforcement of laws against hawking was long overdue. He explained that hawkers endanger their lives and the government has a duty to protect them, even against themselves.
He, however, expressed doubts that the enforcement of the law can be successful.
"The police and the KAI are not doing anything. I don’t think the government can enforce the law with the crop of enforcement agencies that we have," he said dismissively.
At Tinubu Square and CMS on the Lagos Island, the reactions were similar. But some of the hawkers said they were not aware that they could end up in jail or pay a hefty fine for defaulting. Though Ambode announced that a massive sensitization campaign will accompany the implementation of the policy, banners and billboards enunciating the policy are conspicuous only by their absence. A large percentage of Lagosians remain ignorant of the full specifications of the law, while those who are aware remain defiant and are demanding from the government an alternative if they are to get off the streets.
There are suspicions that the government may not be particularly keen on full implementation. Those who hold this view saw the announcement as a knee-jerk response to the riot that arose from the killing of a hawker by a bus a few days before the announcement. The hawker was trying to escape arrest by a chasing KAI official when he was hit by a moving vehicle, sparking a mob action that resulted in the destruction of numerous BRT buses.