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SPECIAL REPORT: How Empowerment Programs, Unclear Policies Failed To Reduce Street Hawking In Lagos (PART 1)

Unarguably, Lagos State government has created several beneficiary programs to support the artisans and traders, but these programs have not completely expunged street hawking within its metropolis.

Nineteen-year-old Mariam has been hawking on Lagos streets for five years. Without being ignorant of the inherent dangers of this job, she plans to earn N10,000 daily, as this will contribute to supporting her education and other household needs.

Mariam understudied her mother, learning how to convince drivers and pedestrians with appealing rhymes to buy her products. She would sing sweet songs or alternatively scream loud to get the attention of people.

“My favourite day is when we have road traffic. Since people are exhausted, we sell more. I have become used to running and shouting. In fact, I have friends and customers on the road who buy from me daily. This money would be used to cater for my school, get clothes and any financial assistance I need,” she said.

Mariam juggles hawking with schooling every day. She is fully aware of dangers on the street as she can recount several tragic incidents that have happened to her friends, but this does not stop her from going back to hawk each day.

Street hawking in Lagos State has become a visible alternative means of survival for low-income earners. This practice, however, has matured into incorporating the unemployed, some fraction of the underemployed and artisanal entrepreneurs.

These harmless traders will place their products on the head, running after buses and cars to sell to its passengers. With profound knowledge of imminent dangers on the road, the first instinct of a street hawker is to sell their goods, it has to meet the end returns.

Products sold on the street are determined by the demands of commuters, time and place as well as road traffic; the prayers of every hawker. 

Our findings revealed that the rapid growth to street hawking could be connected to taxes multiplicity, excessive billings, the process of shop ownership and sanctions imposed by officials to extort shop owners.

Reports state that 11 million micro-enterprises in Lagos, as estimated by the National Bureau of Statistics, rely on street hawking as a source of income.

Trading And Illegal Marketing Act

In 2016, the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, revived Section One of the Lagos State Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law of 2003. The law restricts street trading and hawking around the metropolis. 

This came after a street hawker, who tried to evade an arrest of the state enforcement agency, was killed by a moving truck. The incident led to the destruction of 49 state buses by hoodlums costing about 139 million Naira. 

To enforce this, the Kick Against Indiscipline unit was empowered to arrest defaulters with a fine of N90,000 or a six-month jail term. Multiple reactions trailed the governor’s order after hundreds of hawkers were arrested in just a few days.

As an alternative, according to an article in The Guardian, Ambode employed the hawkers to take advantage of the 25 million Naira Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) launched by his administration to provide soft loans for businesses.

LSETF will focus on promoting entrepreneurship by improving access to finance, strengthening the institutional capacity of MSMEs and formulating policies designed to improve the business environment in Lagos State.”

With an interest rate of 5 per cent and no collateral, the target of LSETF was to support 100,000 MSMEs within four years.

After one year of establishment, the agency reported a 7 per cent scoreline (7000 beneficiaries). In 2019’s Social Impact Assessment, the LSETF reported that it has funded 28,057 MSMEs adding over 150,000 new taxpayers to the state’s revenue. 

Between Empowerment And Hawking

Our findings revealed that the process of hawking in Lagos streets is seemingly very easy. Since hawkers require no certificate of ownership, business registration, tax payment or guarantor, it is almost easy for anyone to hawk on the street of Lagos.

However, to access funding from LSETF, “You must be a resident of Lagos, registered taxpayer and have business or entrepreneurship skills. You would be required to provide your LASRA registration number, personal or company tax registration number, what you intend to use the money for, how you intend to pay back and guarantors who can stand for you,” Mr Akin Oyebode, the Executive Secretary of the LSETF, said.

When our reporter spoke to random street hawkers, they confirmed that the complexity of providing necessary requirements defer them from accessing the loan.

“I would have loved to get a loan to start my drinks business but I do have all the provision required. To find a guarantor is very hard especially in this kind of economy,” Mrs Blessing Ejioma explained.

Lagos State, with N398 Billion internally generated revenue in 2019, still contributes to the 34.9 per cent of unemployed and underemployed youths in Nigeria. This is because the state is known for industrialization and, with its growing population of over 14 million residents, youths migrate into the state in search for jobs.

Despite being drastically low on the poverty benchmark of Nigeria’s 40.1 per cent scale, the state might need to formulate a scheme that generally addresses and meets the satisfaction of roadside hawkers.

This story was supported by the US embassy via the ATUPA fellowship by Civic Hive

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