• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Shutting markets and displacing street traders will hurt the Lagos economy

On the 29th of September 2023, the Lagos state government banned street trading and hawking in the state. In October 2023, the state government began shutting down markets. The government claims its actions ensure that Lagos maintains cleanliness and staves off criminality.

Street traders and hawkers form a vital part of Nigeria’s informal sector. According to International Labour Organization figures, the informal sector accounts for 93 percent of Nigeria’s employment. Similarly, the International Monetary Fund estimates that Nigeria’s informal sector contributes over 60 percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. Therefore, shutting down markets and displacing hawkers and street traders due to environmental infractions or criminal activity would seriously damage the state’s economy and further impoverish its population. This practice also infringes on the fundamental rights of people simply trying to make a living honestly.

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Instead, the state government should tackle criminality using neighbourhood watch and address environmental concerns by encouraging proper waste disposal through intensified awareness. The Lagos government should also partner with the private sector to help street traders improve their businesses. Ultimately, the Lagos state government needs to formalise the informal sector.

Market traders and hawkers are themselves victims of criminality. Displacing them does not solve the problem; instead, it victimises a class of people trying to earn an income through legitimate means. Instead of displacing them, the state government could encourage neighbourhood watch programs in and around commercial areas and markets. Traders could mobilise these street traders and hawkers to form a neighbourhood watch. Traders should be responsible for the well-being of the neighbourhood watch by contributing designated amounts monthly to pay for their services. The neighbourhood watch could make citizen arrests and hand over apprehended criminals to the police. This would significantly reduce crime and create additional employment opportunities for street kids, who are more vulnerable to violent crimes and have a higher risk of becoming criminals themselves.

Rather than shut markets for environmental infractions, the state government, through the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), should liaise with market leaders to create awareness about the implications of dumping refuse indiscriminately. Heads of market units should mobilise their colleagues to enforce proper waste disposal strictly; in turn, these market heads should encourage traders to station waste bins near their places of business and ensure that customers dispose of their waste in the bins.

The Nigeria Police Force is set to inaugurate the Special Intervention Squad (SIS) – a team of trained officers responsible for rapidly responding to and preventing crimes. Once inaugurated, the SIS will operate in all thirty-six states of the federation, addressing each state’s most pressing security issues. Lagos will benefit from this development, as it will have additional security personnel to address crime in high-risk areas. Furthermore, the SIS and the neighbourhood watch can collaborate, with the neighbourhood watch providing the SIS with intelligence. This collaboration will further enhance security efforts and contribute to a safer environment for all citizens.

Rather than shut markets for environmental infractions, the state government, through the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), should liaise with market leaders to create awareness about the implications of dumping refuse indiscriminately. Heads of market units should mobilise their colleagues to enforce proper waste disposal strictly; in turn, these market heads should encourage traders to station waste bins near their places of business and ensure that customers dispose of their waste in the bins. To ensure compliance, traders who allow waste to pollute their environment and refuse to clean it up immediately could be fined.

Street traders and hawkers exist in Lagos because of the high unemployment rate and rising poverty index. A good number of these traders are underaged, out-of-school children. Hence, the Lagos state government must intensify awareness of its free education policy. The government should also waive the ₦8,100 tax levy that parents must pay, as it deters them from enrolling their children in the state’s public schools.

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The Lagos state government should equally partner with private sector players to equip the older street traders with skills, mentorship, and resources to help them upscale their businesses. The government should collaborate with business institutes to train them in business management. The government should then provide beneficiaries of the training with grants and institute a system of accountability to ensure that the beneficiaries use the grants judiciously.

Finally, the Lagos government needs to give proper attention to the informal sector. Instead of treating members of the informal sector as castaways, the government should formalise the informal sector by initiating more inclusive policies. Many workers in the informal sector already pay taxes to the state government while the federal government is working on collecting value-added tax from traders. If workers in the informal sector are good enough for tax collection, they also deserve to be treated with dignity.

 

Yvonne Okhaifoh is a writing fellow of African Liberty.