The Government of Oyo State through the
Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, days ago, gave street traders across the state 7 days to vacate the streets.
The Governor had earlier assured residents not to force these vendors off the streets, not before his government provides alternatives.
Unfortunately, eight months after this promise, nothing concrete has been put in place, no policy or infrastructure in that regard, yet, the administration is going ahead to compound their poverty by making them jobless.
Forcing these poor traders off the street by guns and boots is repeating the Nigerian mistake of trying to treat effects without addressing the causes.
The cause of street trading in the State is simply lack of gainful employment and poverty. We will only continue to impose avoidable hardship on traders if these two are not addressed before enforcement.
Oyo is not the first to face this challenge. States in countries like Singapore and India also faced it, even in greater magnitude, but it was managed by their governments.
It took the Singaporean government years to achieve the level of street vending they now enjoy.
Today, Singapore has over 100 hawker centres and 6,000 stalls, giving vendors no reason to risk their lives and obstruct the flow of traffic. This wasn’t achieved in 7 days.
Like Oyo State, they also tried, but failed in enforcing similar street trading laws, not until the fundamental causes were addressed.
By the way, it is inappropriate for the Commissioner to address people’s legitimate means of survival as “uncivil”, as he did in his last radio interview.
Civility can not be forced on a society by the government, became a society’s level of civility in the context of this matter is a function of the standard the government creates.
If he still thinks of street traders as public nuisances that must be ruthlessly dealt with, he is alone, because the world has long abandoned that perspective.
Governments across the world have since realised the importance of street trading as a part of the informal sector and are giving needed attention to it.
In fact, street trading is responsible for more than 70% of urban employment in Nigeria. So it’s a sector no government can afford to be reckless with.
As a citizen, I’m also eager to see a ‘civil’ Oyo state where sellers don’t display their wares indiscriminately on streets, and hawker don’t market their goods under harsh conditions. But this level of ‘civility’ can not be attained overnight. We can’t force it.
I advise that before we chase these traders, the government should create opportunities to employ those employable in the sector, formulate policies like India, and develop infrastructures like Singapore.
Without these three in place, no force on earth – within democratic means – can keep traders off the streets, permanently.
God bless Oyo State.
Asubiojo O. Marshal