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Traders take over railtracks, bridges, walkways, blame multiple LG levies, costly rentals

Ayoola Olasupo examines the social effects of displaying wares for sale on roadside and public facilities 

A trader, Kingsley Azubuike, some years ago lost his five shops stocked with clothes and shoes to the demolition by Lagos State government at Oshodi market.

The trader said he stocked his shops with his life savings before the event occurred. The sexagenarian said after the demolition, constant taunts from neighbours, backbiters and relatives rekindled his determination to cope with the situation by sourcing for another means of livelihood to cater to his family.

He explained that high shop rent in the Agege area of the state and other places he combed frustrated him.

Azubuike, however, took to the railway beneath the Agege Flyover Bridge to display used clothes popularly called ‘okirika’ to continue his business. He added that since he did not have the wherewithal to rent a shop, he joined other traders at the railway line to display his wares.

He said, “I am a businessman and I travel to Ghana, Cotonou and Togo to buy goods. I owned five shops at Oshodi market but when demolition took place some years back, I lost the shops. I have been struggling since then. I bought shoes and sold them on the Island but unfortunately the place we used was also set ablaze and I lost everything I had. I am not happy that I am selling my wares at a railway line but there is nothing I can do about the situation. I can’t stay at home while my children suffer because of lack of money.’’

Our correspondent visited parts of  Lagos State including; Agege, Ikotun, Mushin, Isolo, Oshodi and Oyingbo and some areas in Ibadan, Oyo State, to assess activities of traders who have taken over facilities such as railtracks, walkways, pedestrian bridges and roadsides for trading activities. Public facilities are constructed by the government for public use ; such facilities are often directed at enhancing the wellbeing of the citizens.

One of the facilities is the railtrack in Agege underneath the recently inaugurated Flyover Bridge in the Agege Local Government Area, to other parts of the state. Traders displayed items such as shoes, clothes, make-up kits, food items, bags, among others on both sides of the track.

Another seller of second-hand shoes, Victor Moses, said it was his fourth year trading on the track, adding that many of their wares got damaged by the train especially when they were caught unawares. He noted that the horning of the train no longer had effects on him unlike when he started trading on the track.

Moses said, “We know that the blaring of horn from the train has an effect on our health but there is nothing we can do about that. Many people have really suffered, especially when they lost their goods to trains. We know it is dangerous trading on the tracks but we always run for our lives when it is coming and pack away the items from the track when going out. The tension is always high when the train approaches.’’

He revealed that to secure a space on the Agege railtrack, they pay a fixed amount to some members of the task force officials purportedly from the council before making daily payments.

He said, “One has to pay N15, 000 to get a space. There are people in charge of that but we do not know where the money goes to. After paying, a space will be allocated to one before one starts paying daily fees.”

He appealed to the state government to build affordable shops across the state for petty traders. “Some years ago, shop rent was not as expensive as it is now and it was easy to get one. If the government wants to help us they should build affordable shops,” he added. Traders who spoke with our Sunday PUNCH correspondent attributed their action to multiple levies by LG officials and huge shop rents.

Expensive shops

Aside from the rent fee, payments of electricity, water bills and agency fees are parts of the burden borne by the traders.

For instance, in Tejuosho Shopping Complex, Yaba, Lagos, after the state government upgraded it to an ultra-modern facility, traders refused to occupy the shops because of their inability to raise money for rent or lease. The General Manager, Tejuosho Property and Development Company Limited, was then quoted as saying, “a breakdown of N6, 966,000, which is the amount for a 10.8sqm space for 25years, comes to N280, 000 per year and N23,333 per month.”

In Ikotun and Iyana-Ipaja area of the state, the least amount a trader can get a  shop is N25, 000 per month amounting to N300, 000 per annum, while in Shomolu, a trader pays between N10,000 and N15,000 per month for a shop.

More traders bemoan huge rentals

At Ojodu-Berger area of Lagos State, Victoria Nwankwo, told our correspondent that the inability to get an affordable shop forced her to become a roadside trader, adding that she was asked to pay N500, 000, N700, 000 and N800, 000 annually for shops at different locations in Ojodu before she resorted to roadside trading.

The seller of food ingredients added that she could not afford the amount demanded, stating that it was enough to start a business hence she took to the road to display her wares.

She said, “Shops are too expensive in Lagos. By the time one pays for a shop, agent and agreement fees, one will realise that one has spent N500, 000. In Ojodu-Berger, one will have between N700, 000 and N800, 000 to rent a shop.

“LG task force officials levy us whenever they come here. Some pay N100 and others pay N400 depending on the location one chooses to display one’s wares.”

Also, Abiodun Lawal who sells phone accessories under a high tension cable at Ojodu blamed high cost of living in the state for the choice of his business location.

He said, “Shops are too expensive in Lagos State. Other fees like agency, agreement and commission also contribute to it. Within Ojodu, shops are not meant for petty traders like me because we can’t afford them. I moved a little bit away from the road because there are task force officials that disturb people trading at the roadside. They collect certain levies from them. I only pay for the space I’m using.”

Pressure on public facilities

In Ikotun, our correspondent observed that the traders had extended their wares from roadsides to walkways.

A motorist, Tife Adeolu, complained that pedestrians were forced to walk on the road since the walkways had been taken over by the traders. He added that the effect was the regular gridlock along the route.

He said, “The roadside is no longer enough for those traders. They now display their wares on the main road. Pedestrians are not able to walk and that is why everywhere is always blocked.’’

On his part, a commercial bus driver, Shina Babaloye, stated that the drivers plying the road were more careful in order not to hit pedestrians, adding that there were chances of likely accidents on the road.

Babaloye said, “We are always careful when we drive here because one can also see how chaotic everything is. If care is not taken, accidents will be a regular thing here. Government needs to do something before it gets worse.”

Meanwhile, the Oyingbo Bridge under construction at the time our correspondent visited the axis; massive trading activities were observed which forced motorists to drive slowly.

Also, commuters and commercial drivers were deprived of the use of walkways and designated terminals provided by the state government at Iddo and Atto bus stops. Traders selling different varieties of food items occupied the space with different sizes of bales. The result of this was visible on a part of the terminal at Iddo bus pummelled by the weight of the sacks.

Moreso, the traders did not care about the worsening state of the terminals as they continued with their trading.  One of them identified only as Iya Ope who spoke with our correspondent said, “I don’t know why you are disturbing yourself about the terminal. We do not care at all inasmuch it is not affecting our business. This is the only place we find suitable for our business because shops are too costly.”

In some places in Ibadan such as Iyana-Church, Iwo road and Agodi Gate, our correspondent observed how traders’ wares hinder traffic flow as pedestrians and commercial drivers struggle to use the pathways.

Academy, Iyana Oja bus stop was characterised by rowdiness as pedestrians and motorists manoeuvre their ways through the road linking to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, trying to avoid destruction of items which poured into the belly of the road.

Commenting on the situation, a pedestrian, Olumuyiwa Tunmise, said the struggle for daily livelihood and poverty level in the country contributed to the problem. He said, “When we blame the traders, we should also consider the fact that they are only struggling to get their daily bread. The country’s situation, poverty and exorbitant items are also affecting their conditions.”

Inflation and poverty effects

The World Bank noted that in 2018, 40 per cent of Nigerians lived below the poverty line and 25 per cent were vulnerable. It further explained that as the country’s population growth continued to rise, 7.7million of Nigerians living in extreme poverty was set to increase between 2019 and 2024.

In 2020, a report by the United Nations put the nation’s population at 206, 139,589 by the middle of the year with the number contributing to 2.64 per cent of the world’s population.

But a USA-based world statistics website, Worldometer, stated that as of November 24, 2022, Nigeria’s population rose to 218,353,759 with 52 per cent urban. It added that inflation rates rose to 16.47 per cent in January 2021 such that the effects could be felt as the higher rates continued to increase unemployment, panicky spending and consumption among the populace resulting in debt and poverty.

Related News

In a 2022 Nigeria Poverty Map by the National Bureau of Statistics, it was revealed that nearly 133 million people accounting for 63 per cent were poor. Out of the estimation, 86.1 million lived in the North, while the remaining 47 million represented people living in the South showing that more people were deprived in many aspects.

Previous ugly incidents

On October 13, 2022, two persons were identified as roadside traders out of the three that lost their lives along Zaria Road in Jos, Plateau State when a wedge used for an articulated vehicle parked on one side by the driver gave way and the truck rolled down to the end of the road. The truck rammed into some of the shops and killed the two traders selling by the roadside.

A 55-year-old trader, Patience Ugbana and her 10-year-old daughter were inside their shop situated opposite St Peter Clavers, Nnewi-Nnobi road in Nnewi, Anambra State sometime in May 2020, when a high tension wire suddenly snapped from the pole and fell on the roof of their shop. The mother and her daughter lost their lives after they were electrocuted.

Also, in September 2020, a shoe merchant was crushed to death while attempting to save his son in his Toyota Highlander parked on the railtrack around the Nigerian Army Shopping Arena in Oshodi, Lagos.

The victim was awaiting the opening of the mall when he saw a train moving towards his vehicle parked on the track. He was said to have rushed to rescue his son sleeping inside the vehicle but the train crushed him to death, while his son was injured.

In Agege, Lagos, it was reported in July 2018 that there were two casualties and injured persons after a train crashed into a stationary commercial bus parked close to the railtrack. The driver parked the vehicle close to the railtrack and proceeded to an uncompleted building to defecate, On arrival, he moved the vehicle away from the spot when a fast approaching train collided with the bus.

In February 2018, there was panic among traders under the popular Mile One Bridge in the Mile One area of Port Harcourt after an unidentified middle-aged woman selling roasted plantain and fish beside a railtrack was hit by a moving train. Though there was no casualty, the victim, according to eyewitnesses, lost her legs to the incident.

Extant laws on public trading

Walkway at Ikotun

In Nigeria, state governments have imposed laws on hawking, street trading, roadside and highway trading.

A 2003 enactment by Lagos State government prohibits street and trading on public facilities across the state. The Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law Section 1, titled ‘Prohibition of Street Trading,’ stipulated a fine of N90, 000 or a six-month jail term for both buyer and seller.

Some other sections of the law include Section 10 (1) which states, “A person who contravenes the provision of the law is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction: (a) as a first offender to a fine of N90, 000 or six months imprisonment; (b) as second offender to a fine of N135, 000 or to nine months imprisonment; and (c) as a third offender to a fine of N180, 000 and one year imprisonment.”

Section (10) 2 also criminalises patronising street traders in the state. It states, “A person who buys any goods exposed or offered for sale from any place or street specified in First Schedule will be guilty of offence and liable on conviction to a fine of 90, 000 or to imprisonment for six months or both.”

States including Osun, Ekiti, Oyo, Anambra, and Abuja among others have also enacted such laws but despite the provisions, traders continue trading across public facilities unhindered.

Stakeholders, experts suggest solutions

In his contribution to the issue, a property lawyer, Olukayode Sanni, noted that proper implementation of state laws on trading could be helpful to curtail the menace.

He said, “The issue is not the matter of the law being in existence but it is not properly implemented and when they are enforced, it is done in a weak manner.”

Sanni stated that the public, especially traders, should be more enlightened on extant laws guiding their activities, adding that ineffective enforcement of laws embolden traders to trade in prohibited places. He noted, “Most times people don’t know about all the laws backing the establishment of these agencies and they believe that the implementation of those laws is weak.”

Also commenting, a Professor of Economics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Temidayo Akinbobola, stated that traders contributed to a huge percentage to the informal sector, adding that most of them lacked the opportunity of other means of livelihoods.

The don added, “The effect of the prices of shops is that most of them must have tried to source for money to get a shop but the attempts must have failed because of the cost. They make a major percentage of the informal sector. You cannot tax them because the little they have is what they feed on and what they make from those items they sell is so minute that they may be living from hand to mouth.”

Also commenting, a social commentator, Joe Agbro, said that carrying out trading activities within public amenities was a social problem. He stated that when traders took over the roadsides and walkways, pedestrians would be forced to walk in motorways thereby hindering vehicular movement.

He noted that the use of enforcement agencies to curtail such a practice would have sustainable effects.

Agbro said, “It is not a new thing in Nigeria that traders take advantage of enforcement of social problems. It is a menace because pedestrians are now forced to walk in motorways competing with vehicles and this is not appropriate. It is still the responsibility of the government to sensitise those people. They should make use of those enforcement agencies properly. The only reason traders do that is because they want to maximise sales. They see it as an avenue and they want to capitalise on it. It should be discouraged.”

On his part, ex-President, Nigeria Institute of Building, Kunle Awobodu, noted that the pressure put on such facilities would affect their architecture and distort traffic.

He identified inability to pay high rents on shops as the major cause of the problem, noting that traders needed more enlightenment and awareness.

Awobodu said, “At Isolo, it has always been a battle clearing the sellers displaying their wares on the road. This is mostly caused by lack of funds to pay for shops and at the same time exposure is another problem. The bottom line of the problem is their inability to secure shops.”

In his view, a structural engineer, Adaramola Olatunbosun, suggested that there was a need to consider the effects of the gradual damage of the facilities.

Olatunbosun said, “The first question we need to ask ourselves is why they are in those facilities. It’s a major issue because we need to consider the damage to those facilities. It might be small but removing the bolt, nuts, etc will cause gradual damage. It can also lead to loss of lives sometimes. This problem is a sectionalised one in society. The local and state governments also need to work hand in hand to sensitise the general public to it.”

Govt reaction

Contacted for his view on the matter, Chairman, Agege Local Government, Ganiyu Egunjobi, stated that he was not aware that some levies were being collected by the council officials from traders occupying illegal spots across the council area.

He added that it was the responsibility of the state environmental task force to look into the matter rather than directing it to the council.

Egunjobi said, “That can’t be true. There is nobody from the local government collecting levies from them at the railtracks. I am not aware that there is a task force. We have written to the state task force. They are in charge of sending them away from there. It is not the duty of the local government to write the task force regarding its responsibility and that is what we have done. No council official is collecting money from the traders.’’

Also, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said that the state government frowned at trading at roadsides, walkways, railtracks and so on, adding that such traders only proved unconcerned to the dangers inherent in such an act.

He said, “If people trade where they are not meant to be, they cannot claim it is because they cannot afford shops.  That is not the reason they are doing that. They also trade on the highways and put their lives in danger. I do not know how much the rent costs but if you go to markets you will find out that there are those who have shops but still come to the road to trade.”

According to him, preventing such is the reason the state government initiated a disciplinary agency to arrest such traders.

“I understand that some of them do that because they pay some money to the local government and displaying their wares on government property is not because they do not have money. The state government is clear that trading on the street is not good and it distorts traffic because they risk their lives and that of their customers and the state government frowns at that. That is why we have KAI to ensure that people don’t trade on the street.

“I do not know the price they are talking about. The prices of shops given out depend on the location. It’s a universal phenomenon. People are just finding excuses. The state government does not ask any task force to go around and collect money from any traders,” he noted.

Commenting on road trading, the commissioner said such activity was illegal and posed a nuisance to the environment, adding that traders should rather find conducive market centres for their business activities.

Omotoso added, “The ones we have are meant to curb street trading which is illegal and constitutes nuisance. They should learn how to balance between life and livelihood because when you have to choose between the two it is better to choose life because many of them have lost their lives while some have been disabled.

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