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Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Effects of Street Hawking in Nigerian Society

Written by: Mathew Uguru Nkem


Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world with an estimated population of about 140 million people (2006, Census), is endowed with abundant human and natural resources like oil, tin, limestone, zinc, natural gas, good vegetation and climate which varies from being equatorial in the South, tropical in the Center, and arid in the North.

This great country, 3rd world largest producer of crude oil has about 5.3% annual growth rate but it is estimated that 70% of Nigerians live in poverty. The above features are legacies of decades of prolonged military rules coupled with mismanagement and corruption of civilian governments, which have daily impoverished the people and made them “beggars” of a sort amidst plenty.

This act of misrule has increased anti-social behaviours amongst the populace. Sadly, the quest for material wealth at all cost has introduced a new dimension of wealth creation into the psyche of Nigerians – which one of such is hawking.

Street hawking is rated as the third largest criminal activity in the world after arms and drug trafficking. Within the las decade and present era, the phenomenon of street hawking has considerably increased throughout the world and most especially in Nigeria. Every year, thousands of individuals, mostly females are misled or forced to submit to servitude.

Hawking according to the Oxford advanced learner dictionary, 6th edition, means moving to sell things by going from place to place asking people to buy them. However, one can identify two main types of hawkers which are; the hawkers that carry goods in the wheels or on their heads, and the side walkers who sit with their ware besides the road.

Accordingly, the capital outlay for types of trade is determined by the nature of goods traded. The hawker builds a cart to suit his or her purpose. The hawker employs different media of advertising their wares and enticing customers. They use all kinds of convincing manner to sell their goods.

The UN convention against transnational organized crime (2000), defined street hawking as follows, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, of abuse of power, giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include at the minimum, the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. By looking at the items mentioned here under this UN convention, we can see the similar issues or resemblance of street hawking; like the mention of servitude.

ANPPCAN (2012) see street hawking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of male or female by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments, benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over the adult or child for the purpose of exploitation.

Street hawking in the Urban metropolis of Nigeria is part of everyday life. Children, mostly boys and girls aged between seven and above, are involved in the practice, oftentimes chasing moving vehicles in traffic on highways. While adult men rarely carry trays on their head, they usually settle for newspaper vendors, deal on sports articles, and fashion wears.

Most women are full-time hawkers selling all sorts of fruits and food under the sun and sometimes in the rain, on the street corners, on bridges and along junctions. There is no reason for such business is purely economic hardship. However, many are of the view that they constitute a nuisance to the society. Because it is both an economic and environmental issue, it calls for reflection on how to solve the problem.

As a matter of tackling this problem, some state government have initiated various programs to stop street hawking but always meet with strife confrontation from the hawkers themselves. For example, an attempt by the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPB) to clamp down on hawkers in Abuja I November 201 led to the protest by a group of about 250 hawkers. The protesters marched to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to register their complaint about the incessant harassments by government officials who sometimes hide under the cover of illegality of the trade to extort and abuse hawkers.

In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the state environment agency made law in some years back to stop street hawking but the same thing happened to the members of the board. They were often being ambushed by the hawkers who inflicted injuries on them. At a time, the board had to boycott the arresting of street hawkers.

Street hawking is very dangerous, especially when you see some young men and women dashing across the expressways at the detriment of their lives to offer goods to the customers. It is true that street hawking cannot be possible in a conducive atmosphere where everybody has something doing but for me is an illusion. It is better to seek for a better alternative of sustaining one’s self.

There is what seems as a general consensus that street hawking is a result of economic hardship. However, within this reason, some other contributory factors abound; such as –

1. Rural-Urban Migration.
In most of our developed cities and state capitals in Nigeria, street hawking is on increase as a result of some people trooping out from the interior part to urban areas. When these desperate people come out and eventually have nothing doing. The next available work is to go into street hawking, however, I am of the opinion that we can survive even within the so-called interior places by seeking alternative handwork instead of exposing oneself to the hazardous nature of street hawking.

2. Child labour.
In this sense, child labour is considered as the situation when one uses any child as a means of getting money by using that child as a street hawker. Hence, most traders are not sent by their biological parents, as some of them have been sent away from their families to faraway climes as hired help.

Sometimes, they are taken away by a relation on the pretext of helping them out but end up in the streets selling one thing or the other. Some people use the same pretext of helping poor families take these children and traffic them to other cities.

But the reverse is always the case when such child is mandated by her guardian to be hawking wares along the street. Such as child oftentimes never got admitted into any school. Statistics have it that greater number of children hawking along our streets are victims of this kind of condition.

Child labour according to UNHCH encompasses the use of children as a medium of trading. Child labour is more pronounced in states with educational backwardness. They often send their children as house helps to help I survival of other children in the family. They also send them out to live with another person as a way of getting the children trained by benevolent guardians.

In some cases, these children are given out so that when the parents are in needs, the guardians of their children can come to their aid. In this sense, they are not officially sold but partially one can claim they did.

3. Unemployment.
Among those hawking along metropolitan streets in Nigeria are graduates who have nothing doing. They are not employed neither are they employable. It is very disheartening that most of our graduates are wallowing about without having anything doing, the reason being that the labour market is not ready to employ them; thus resorting to street hawking to earn their living.

Sometimes some graduates’ do have jobs but continue trading to keep body and soul together. They are seen in busy areas where the traffic does not speed too fast, hawking electronics, electrical appliances, handsets, bread, bottled drinks, plantain chips, towels and other items.

What motivates them is that some buyers prefer to buy from street traders because they sell at cheaper rates than those in the market or stores. This is because those selling in the supermarkets would like to maximize profits in view of what they pay as rent for the stores. But street traders who have nothing at stake sell at cheaper prices with little gains and keep life going.

Their concern is a high rate of turnover. Even at night, these traders are seen on highways and express roads carrying on with the day’s hustles. Most of them retire too late at night.

4. Poverty.
Nigeria is indeed one of the richest countries in the whole world in terms of natural endowments, but the fact remains that the citizens are poor virtually in all aspect. It is in this mind of poverty that some people resort to selling many items along the street. They endanger themselves all in the name of survival.

Many people hold the opinion that hawking is a dangerous venture but instead of staying ideal; they better engage themselves in hawking items.

Street hawking at a closer look has many disadvantages than what we think is the case. First, is the hazardous nature of this Job. Many people have lost their lives as they were crossing the highways to sell their goods to the customers. Oftentimes some driver never cares to take the victims for treatment; they will just abandon the person to the detriment of his life. Accidents is in no doubt a regular occurrence to street hawkers.

Most often, the girls who are underage are defiled by the boys who sleep at the same place at night with them. These street hawkers sleep in slums or uncompleted building with the girls. Girls who do not agree to have sex with them are often forcefully defiled one after the other and they have no one to report or complain to.

Those who sleep along the pedestrian lanes at night are sometimes defiled by street gangs. Most of these defilement cases result in pregnancy. How do they cope with the pregnancy? There is nothing like going to the hospital for a medical advice since they cannot afford the hospital bills. Most men who impregnate these girls do not accept the pregnancy because they cannot virtually care for themselves let alone cater for a pregnancy. In most cases, they do not know who really impregnated them.

On the other hand, some of the matured women among the hawkers graduate from street hawking into prostitution, all in the bid to make money for living. This kind of case is obtainable, especially among the highway night hawkers. In the same vein, street hawking can lead to arm robbery, picking of pockets, and vandalizing of personal properties. Many people have been victims of this menace of street hawking.

Street hawking also deprives some people of going to school. Even among these teeming hawkers, some of them are there just to make their personal money, not as a cause of anyone forcing them to do that. They wholeheartedly get into such behaviour because they want to make quick money.

The aforementioned disadvantages are just a few among other numerous consequences of this problem. What is now left for us is to seek for a solution to this issue.

There is nothing like education, developed countries make policies that provide free education for children, but here in Nigeria though with much resources and wealth, education is left for the rich. Poor folks prefer to send their children to the street to hawk with all the inherent dangers associated with it. Street hawking that was once taken for granted is now accepted as part of life in Nigeria while the dangers of street trading is becoming an issue only to a couple of people who feel that government should have taken a better step to address this ugly phenomenon.

In this background, I strongly believe that if the government should provide free education or at best make school fees affordable to poor people; many of our children will be in school and thereby reduce this high rate of street hawking.

Nevertheless, as a way of curtailing the issue of child labour in street hawking, the government should sign the child rights bill so that the authority will start enforcing the child right act that was passed by the National Assembly. If such should be done, it will help to prosecute the offenders and those masters, mistresses or whomever that will be using children as street hawkers.

It is also a call to parents to be more serious and masterful in family management. It is far better to have few children and train them properly than raising multitude without proper training. This issue of sending of sending one’s children to another place as house help should be condemned entirely. As a personal opinion, I think if any child is found hawking as some state governments initiated before now, they should be taken to their family and question their parents.

However, these entire suggestion panaceas may not work unless our government provides a level and corruption-free society to accord citizens what is due for them. It is when government performs her own duties that people will be held responsible for their misdemeanours. Outside this, we are all bounded by our conscience to do what is right.

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