Bus stop shelters were erected at specific locations in the Lagos metropolis for the convenience of commuters. The idea was that passengers alighting from, or waiting to board vehicles will find shelter from an inclement weather. Most of them were provided with hand rails or cement slabs on which Lagosians could rest.
But these structures, found at motor bus stops, hardly provide any shelter for those they were meant for. They have been taken over by traders, the insane and hoodlums (‘Agberos’).
At almost every major bus stop in Lagos, there is a striking resemblance at night- the ubiquitous of small gleaming lamps flashing at passersby as they move towards their different destinations; the sound of traders from all corners yelling or ringing bells to potential buyers for patronage. If we consider the fact that the struggle for survival is daily renewed among inhabitants of West Africa’s largest city, finding such enterprising and distinctive features would be no surprise.
The practice is perpetrated on Lagos Mainland and the Island. At Legico Bus Stop, Victoria Island, mad fellows display their sleeping mats and personal effects. Besides, the stench of human waste renders the whole place hostile to the commuters.
Another is at the Junction Bus Stop, Mafoloku, Oshodi, where the traders have established a mini-market to serve the commuters and Okada riders. There are wooden kiosks, tables, benches, shafts of unwanted property. They are the property of the traders and their customers. Besides, attachments are constructed at both sides of the bus stop shelters to serve traders who are not lucky enough to occupy the front building. The environment is also serving the hoodlums who have erected canopies to serve their own purpose, which most times is illicit.
At Ikeja Roundabout, when the traders are yet to resume their business, the shelter is a parking space for dozens of traders’ dirty sacks, chairs, stools, tables and baskets which make it dirty and filthy.
At Ikeja Central Bus Stop, the environment is too small to accommodate multitude of traders who spill on the roadsides to display their wares.
The story is the same in almost all the bus stops. And the commuters have no choice but to return to the roadsides to wait for commercial vehicles.
On why the commuters do not use the bus stop shelters provided for them, a cross-section of Lagosians said the shelters are not conducive, as traders and the insane have taken over. But other Lagosians described the environment as dirty. Yet, others said that they cannot use the bus stop shelters due to the rush in boarding a commuter vehicle.
A commuter at Legico Bus Stop, Victoria Island, Okechuwkwu Okonkwo told BDSUNDAY, “The mentally-retarded people are making the whole place uninhabitable. They are all over the place. They have their loads displayed, coupled with the human waste that litter the place. No sane person would want to go and risk his life there.”
A regular feature of these bus stop markets is that the traders do not make use of conventional stalls. They, however, place their goods on an open sack on the floor known as bend down select stores; this makes them mobile, as they usually pack away all their goods after each night trade. Including food staples, almost everything could be found in such settings- books, clothes, jewellery, watches, film DVDs, fruits, colognes, and shoes. They are there. Though not legal, the market has served as a means of livelihood for many citizens, apparently because it caters for the need of the many low-income earning Lagosians.
“My things don come down, na small, small money,” a seller yells at me as I approach him. I had just alighted from a bus coming from Yaba moving towards the Ojota pedestrian bridge. He sells film DVDs. The DVDs were scattered on a cardboard on the floor. Like the other customers, I bent down and began to survey the movies he was selling to see if there would be any that interested me.
I saw a recently released Nollywood movie. The movie grossed highly in the box office but was not yet officially being sold on DVDs to the public. I ask him for the price; “500 naira,” he said. I tried persuading him to sell it for 200. He refused, explaining that the movie is very interesting and still new.
While haggling, we started talking about night markets. I asked why people preferred night markets. He disclosing his name as Michael, saying it is for convenience. However, he said, not all the traders were solely night traders as some had actually been there since morning and just wanted to partake from the influx of customers who patronise the areas at night.
Michael further explained that he was still a student and was preparing for his senior secondary school leaving certificate examination (SSCE). He said he goes there after school hours, to trade in order to make ends meet and provide for his family.
At Olosha Bus Stop, Mushin, where rainwater has flooded the whole place, Philemon Adeyemi complained of the leaking roof.
“It is really dirty and messy. It is a terrible place. The government should not expect anybody to go and stand there while waiting for commercial vehicles. If it is conducive, commuters will surely use it”.
At Ikeja Central Bus Stop, yet another commuter, who preferred to be anonymous, said: “You can see for yourself the number of traders occupying the small place. They have fenced the whole place even up to the roadside. Those who are selling cooked food have put benches at the back for their patrons. Dirty plates are displayed everywhere. The shelter is not serving the commuters, but the traders and their patrons.
At University Bus Stop, Akoka, some part of the walls have started falling off but the traders are not concerned if it poses danger to their lives, as most of the traders use the wall to support their make-shift kiosk.
Night market, as it’s fondly called, serves as a base for most working class Lagosians who find it difficult to go to regular markets during the day.
I approached another trader at the other side of the Ojota Bridge. His marketing song was ‘fine fine trouser, fine, fine trouser.’ He asked me what I wanted chinos or trousers. I replied, chinos. All his goods are displayed on the floor of the shed. They are placed on a sack. He began to select some chinos and showed them to me. I asked him for the price. He said 700 naira. I replied, “Is it not 500 naira?” pretending I knew the prices before. “The way the economy be now, we no fit sell am for 500; a bale wey dem dey buy for N100,000 before don increase to N150,000,” he explained.
“People wey dey buy the clothes from warehouse dey sell am to us now for 500; how we go sell am for the same price?” His question made sense.
Prices have gone up generally, however, people still flock to these points to patronise the traders. From young ladies who look glamorous during the day, to men and women in suits, Lagosians are still attracted to night markets for several reasons. For some, convenience and flexibility; for others, the relatively cheaper prices of products in relation to structured markets, while for a set of ladies and guys, it is an opportunity to hide from the shame of buying fairly used products during the daytime.
I remember meeting an old acquaintance of mine in one of these spaces. Surprised to see me, she ignored the trader and jumped at me with a hug, and then we started chatting. She, currently a banker, was someone I had truly admired for her beauty and fashion. It was quite awkward and funny, though understandable, to discover that this was one of her sources of style. We left the place without her purchasing anything. However, afterwards, it became evident to me that the impact of these markets could be felt among most Lagosians, including her.
For most middle and low-income earners, night markets serve a great deal in providing affordable lifestyles for them. The low prices and the variety of materials help make these citizens blend into the Lagos culture; a culture of style and highlife which could be very expensive to adapt to. As the boutiques and supermarkets are for the rich, the night markets cater for other classes of residents of Lagos.
In a similar Research conducted by BusinessDay Research Unit on Lagos night market, the report answered why these markets continued to strive because night trading activities meet up with the needs of millions of the working class Lagosians who couldn’t shop in the regular shops during the day because of their work schedules. And you need to grab a copy of that research; it’s a useful compendium.