It is no longer news that the Lagos state government has begun the enforcement of the law banning street trading in the state. Expectedly, this has continued to generate lots of controversies across the state and beyond. While some have commended the state government for the action, others, however, perceive it in bad light. This, of course, is the beauty of democracy.
It is, however, important to state from the outset that the state government has not enacted any new law concerning street trading. What it has merely done is to enforce a law that has been in existence before now. Thus, the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law, 2003, which prescribes a punishment of N90, 000 or a six-month jail term, for both the buyer and the seller of any goods or services on the streets, predates the current administration.
Globally, formulating laws and enforcing same for the good of the society is one of the cardinal tasks of governments. A major difference between human society and the animal kingdom is that the earlier is regulated through set rules and regulations for the preservation of law and order while the latter thrives on jungle code which gives rise to anarchy. It is in order to ensure that human societies don’t descent into chaos that laws are enacted to guide human conducts.
Globally, human societies are roughly classified into developed and developing nations and one of the major indices used in arriving at such categorization is ability to live by set rules. In developed nations, conducts of the citizenry are largely guided by set rules. But then, same cannot be said of developing nations where deliberate acts of lawlessness and disorderliness are often the order of the day. It seems one of the unwritten codes, here, is gross disdain for the law. In such nations, drivers, riders and other road users behave without recourse to the law. It is not that they are ignorant of the law. No! They recognize the law. They just don’t care about the law. Ironically, when same people find themselves in climes where the law is revered, they readily stoop to the supremacy of the law.
One of the recurring arguments from the stable of those who are against the Lagos state government’s recent enforcement of the law on street trading is the poverty angle. The basis of this argument is that since street traders are poor people with no other source of livelihood, they should be allowed to go on with their street business. But then, this line of argument is rather too simplistic. It is akin to asking the police to ignore a petty thief because he stole out of poverty. It is equally similar to demanding that KAI officials should not reprimand someone who was involved in open defecation just because there are no public toilets along the route. A society can’t simply work that way!
Before the Lagos state government decided to sanitise Oshodi, the place was the ultimate center of pandemonium. The old Oshodi was a reflection of the rot and lawlessness that has pervaded our society for long. The Oshodi Master Plan did not make provision for roadside trading. But then, over the years, a few people took advantage of the ‘weaknesses’ of the law to turn the place into one hell of a place. Oshodi was to become the albatross of the metropolis; a symbol of commotion where commuters were held up in avoidable traffic gridlocks for hours. What the state government eventually did at Oshodi was a question of upholding legality against illegality in order to create an environment beneficial to millions of other lawful citizens. Today, thanks to that singular intervention, Oshodi has become saner and safer.
Many commentators have argued that the state government ought to have provided an alternative for the street traders before getting them off the streets. To me, the logic in this argument doesn’t seem right. It is like the police asking you to provide a robber who had invaded your home with a job so that he wouldn’t come visiting again! In the first place, turning the roadsides and the streets to trading arena is illegal. Just try to imagine what Lagos would look like if everyone turns every available space across major roads and streets into trade centers.
As previously affirmed, a major responsibility of governments across the world is preservation of law and order. A disorderly society cannot attract much development. This is partly why we remain where we are as a people. Our compatriots flout traffic laws and other such flagrantly. One moment, they out rightly disregard public officials whose lot is to uphold the law, the next instant they complain of not being treated courteously by same officials whom they treat with disgusting contempt.
When government abdicates its duty of preserving law and order, the society simply becomes a jungle. To ask the government to provide job for everyone that comes to Lagos is a tall order. A recent data reveals that over 25,000 people move into Lagos on a daily basis from several parts of the country for various reasons. This is aside hundreds of others that daily troop into the state from neighbouring West African countries. Sadly, when their aspiration for economic salvation becomes a mirage, most of them readily take to anti-socio path.
What government could do to encourage wealth creation in the state is to create a conducive atmosphere for regulated economic activities to thrive. Towards this end, government is upgrading infrastructure across the state as new roads and bridges are being constructed just as existing ones are being re-habilitated. Likewise, the Light up Lagos Project has improved security for all at nights. The proposed Oshodi Transport Interchange, the audacious plan for a 4th Mainland Bridge, the Lekki Free Trade zone among others are projects that would clearly enhance economic activities in the state
Perhaps, the most creative and strategic step taken, thus far, by the state government to create wealth and tackle unemployment in the state is the establishment of an N25bn Employment Trust Fund, ETF. The major aim of the Fund is to address unemployment and promote wealth creation through entrepreneurial development. The Fund is to be given out as loan with moderate interest rate of 3% per annum (the lowest rate in the country presently) to Lagos residents with innovative business ideas. It should be stressed, however, that the management of the Fund is strictly a private sector affair.
As I draw to a close, let me clarify that street traders do not belong to the Informal sector. The sector consists of mainly skilled artisans who work as transporters, vulcanisers, mechanics, battery chargers, fashion designers, hair dressers, barbers, traders (not street ones), painters, welders, carpenters, bricklayers, farmers etc who have one service or the other to render. Their activities are being properly coordinated by the state’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives which meet regularly with their leaders. On a final note, as painful as the ban on street trading might look, as the Oshodi experience has shown, it is meant for the good of the larger society.