Joy Ofuonye writes on the gains and pains of street hawking, especially in the urban areas; and concludes that the risk involved is not worth it.
All the nooks and crannies of our urban areas are flooded with street hawkers who eke out a living from selling their wares on the busy highways. They overlook the fact that they are exposed to the danger of fast-moving vehicles on a daily basis. Their prospective customers are the motorists and their passengers who are often trapped in traffic jam that lasts for hours.
In Lagos, for instance, it is estimated that about 100,000 street hawkers are engaged in the trade across the metropolis; but with concentration on the mainland and the central business districts on the island.
Highways like the Agege Motor Road; Lagos-Abeokuta, Apapa-Oshodi, Mile 2-Badagry, Oshodi-Oworonsoki Expressways are crowded with street hawkers. Their presence is more visible in the morning and evening rush hours when residents are going to their businesses or returning home.
Items on display include edibles like gala, plantain chips, bread, popcorn, sachet and bottled water and various brands of soft drinks. Others are inedible items like eye glasses, hand napkins, motor vehicle accessories, newspapers and magazines and many others.
The hawkers are both male and female usually in their youth. The middle- aged and a few elderly ones occasionally engage in this age-long trade.
One noticeable trend about street hawking is that the number of those involved in it increases by the day. As if there is a notice of endless vacancies, new entrants join the ‘business’ of street hawking either introducing new items or selling existing ones.
Observers say that the phenomenon has considerably increased in the last decade. This is attributed to rapid urbanization and population increase for which most urban areas are known. This may not be far from the truth. For instance, Lagos has witnessed rapid expansion in the past decade. As a result, areas that were either not inhabited or sparsely populated, are now filled with people who live in both decent and make-shift accommodations.
The pressure this mounts on existing infrastructure leads to raid dilapidation noticed on the major roads and feeder-streets. From Alagbado through Agege, Iyana-Ipaja, Dopemu, Ikeja to Oshodi, for example, one sees clusters of street hawkers where traffic is heavy. They shout, sing and sometimes squeal as they draw attention to their wares. A mode of campaign?
Drawing close to one’s car windows and pushing their wares through to the motorist or his passengers, is their practice. This happens under rain and sun, meaning that the hawkers are both resilient and stubborn.
Efforts by Lagos State government to proscribe street hawking because of its menace have not been successful. A law made by the government some years past, prohibiting street hawking and prescribing penalty for offenders and those who patronize them, failed to yield the desired result.
Two schools of thought offer varied opinions on street hawking: Those sympathetic to street hawkers’ cause argue that the ‘business’ would not thrive if there was no demand for it. In other words, the operators have their clients: Simple Economics – no supply exists without a demand.
However, those opposed to the trade argue that it exposes the operators to danger because a number of them are knocked down by moving vehicles resulting in serious injury, permanent disability or outright death. “How much will a young man make in a day that warrants his being exposed to the reckless drivers in Lagos?” asked a visitor who expressed surprise at the high rate of street hawking in Lagos.
Perhaps, this is one area that not many people consider – the risk. Much as the ‘business’ could guarantee immediate cash to the operators, especially those selling sachet and bottled water, it is very risky too. In a bid to rush to customers in moving vehicles, some hawkers lose sight of oncoming vehicles on the same lane. In some cases, they do not observe the change in the traffic light when it signals “Move”.
Added to this, is the colossal waste in man-hour which also translates to cumulative waste of one’s productive years. The teenagers and youths who engage in street hawking should be in school. Alternatively, they should be learning some trade. That way, he or she gains knowledge or acquires skill that would help him or her earn a decent living in future.
Poverty and unemployment have been mentioned as reasons young men and women engage in street hawking. This is true to some extent. Apparently, for lack of something better to do, these citizens in their prime, find themselves on the streets hawking items that earn them a living, at least for now. They expose themselves to both rain and sun because, they believe in the common saying that “man must wak”, that is man must eat.
But must man “wak” at the expense of man’s health, safety and life? Should these young men and women not find something better that will earn them a meaningful living? This question is important because it will get to a time they can no longer do what they are doing now?
Another side to it is that some of them are said to engage in street hawking as a cover-up. That is to say, they have some other questionable means of livelihood which they engage in, only to use street hawking to deceive those who know them. Reports say some of them are involved in crime and other forms of misdemeanor.
For instance, some motorists say they have been robbed by the socalled street hawkers. Their method is to approach the vehicles brandishing items for sale, only to bring out short guns or knives and quietly rob their victims.
Our streets are becoming too congested as a result of activities of street hawkers who often run and interfere with moving vehicles. Many a time, they offend the motorists by causing obstructions on the way, tasking the motorists to begin to manipulate their way out. This is not commendable.
Investigation shows that most of those who engage in hawking lack the means to rent shops. Again, the trade requires little capital for a start. Additionally, little or no apprenticeship is required to become “expert” in hawking. It also requires no permit from the authorities. In other words, it is a trade that enjoys easy entry and exit. There is also no “specialization”; however, every trade has its trick and hawking is no exception.
Despite the hazards of street hawking, it is amazing how more and more people opt for the trade. Some of them who spoke to The UNION explained that they do not have a better alternative.
For instance, a middle-aged man who identified himself as Mr. Okoroafor from Ebonyi State, said he was compelled to go into street hawking to fend for his family. In his words, “I have been hawking cups for two years now and this is what I use in taking care of my family. Sometimes, I go for my bricklayer job. My wife sometimes hawks pure water to assist the family. Although the profit is small, I don’t have a better alternative for now. I cannot sit and watch my family die of hunger.”
Another hawker, Adewusi, who said he is a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, explained that he went into street hawking after years of unsuccessful job-hunt. He said he had to take to hawking when the frustration became unbearable.
The gains and pains of street hawking make it akin to what builders call “coarse aggregate” – that is the ratio-mix of soft and hard materials; like cement and chips. So, it has its ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sides. Everything put together, the gains of street hawking cannot be compared to the pains. It is a trade that offers temporary financial relief without a guarantee of lasting gain.