Can Technology Save Street Hawking In Lagos?

Lagos traffic can be insane, and it very often has ridiculous causes, like a danfo (public service van) stopping to pick passengers on the road, or two people parked in the middle of the road shouting at the top of their voices for no reason. Thanks to the captive audience that this traffic has created, a mobile market has emerged, with hawkers selling anything from sausage rolls, popularly known as gala, to learning toys for children.

Now, there are some who accuse the hawkers of causing the traffic, rather than vice versa. The task of getting them off the roads has been given to the Law Enforcement Unit of the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment, known as KAI, or Kick Against Indiscipline.

KAI was established on November 3, 2003 by the then Governor of the State Asiwaju Bola Hameed Tinubu, and it has become infamous for “harassing” street hawkers, roadside vendors and persons who “illegally” cross wrong roads.

It's common knowledge that these environmental law officials demand money to let their victims off the hook. If they fail to meet this demand, they face indefinite detention.
This was why a male street hawker ran for his dear life and pocket when KAI officials allegedly accosted him while selling at Maryland, Lagos on Wednesday last week. Unfortunately for the young man, he ran into a moving vehicle that killed him instantly.

His death was the talk of the town for days. Lagos residents along Ikorodu took to the streets, damaging 49 BRT buses in anger.

Days later, the Lagos State government announced that it was going reinforce a Lagos hawking policy that had been created by the previous state government starting on July 1. The law forms the first part of the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003, and restricts street trading and hawking in the metropolis. To ensure that people take the law seriously, the state government has added that sellers and buyers who engage in street trading are liable to a N90,000 fine or a six-month jail-term.

Sounds tough right?

Now, if you Google Lagos hawking policy, you’ll see how many times Lagos government has said it would enforce this policy.

July 2016. January 2016. July 2015. October 2015

Needless to say, it’s going to take a higher power to permanently ban street hawkers.

Street hawkers/roadside vendors form a better part of the informal economy – a diversified economy that comprises mainly self-employed individuals and small-unregistered enterprises. In North and Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 72% of employment is informal

This informal workforce contributes greatly to some organized industries around the world. Street traders provide a valuable service by supporting organized industries as marketers of their products.

Companies such as UAC Nigeria, Nigerian Bottling Company, Chi Limited Nigeria would be the first to suffer for the ban, as street traders have been their major marketers since inception.

Lack of well-paid employment and curiosity will continually cause people to move from rural areas and smaller towns to cosmopolitan Lagos in search of better opportunities and with very few income-generating options in mind.

If you remember clearly, Olajumoke Orisaguna, the Nigerian bread-seller hawker who photobombed her way to success, originally lived in Osun State before moving to Lagos to make a living.

In an open letter to the Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on the ban of street hawkers, Digital Strategist and Content Lead at Anakle, Chidi Okereke suggested that the Lagos State Government should create a body that registers street traders for free and provides them with identity cards/permits and vests to wear while they work.

But considering the recklessness of some Lagos bus drivers under the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), the co-ordination and maintenance of street hawkers under one body may not be viable.

However, there is one option the state government has not explored, which is the technology angle. How can existing and emerging technologies be used to help organize street vending businesses?

One concept that may help the situation is creating “drive-through markets”. Originally, a drive-through is a type of service provided by a business that allows customers to purchase food and other goods without leaving their cars.

The concept, which originated and is popular in America, can be re-created in Lagos in the same fashion as bus stops. Instead of the government funding a regulatory body, drive-through markets that take more than 10 sellers each can be spread across Lagos.

It would look something like this, except with more humans:

This is just one random idea that came up while I was discussing the ban with a colleague. I later out found that plans to establish drive-through supermarkets in other countries were underway.
Now imagine if officers of the government had a brainstorming session with social and technology entrepreneurs in Lagos or across Africa, better and well thought out ideas could definitely spring forth.

Technology has disrupted many businesses; from local taxi business to recharge card selling. This can happen with street trading if the right heads are put together.

Cover photo via Akeem Salau

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