The Abuja Environmental Protection Board recently declared an all out war against street hawking and other roadside miscreants outlawed in the FCT. It is now common sight to find AEPB officials in a rat race with? hawkers who have refused to vacate the streets, and are asking for alternative means of? livelyhood. CHIBUNMA UKWU examines the current situation.

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Passing through the roads surrounding Wuse market among other places in the FCT, one is greeted by the sight of makeshift tents located in some strategic junctions. Inside the tents are officials of the AEPB, Nigeria Police, Civil Defence Corps and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP). They all have one mission and that is to rid the FCT metropolis of traders who hawk their wares illegally on the streets. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY investigation reveals that the Abuja Environmental Protection Board has been winning the battle against the hawkers.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, a photographer who plies his trade by the roadside, Mr. Taiwo? Adebayo, disclosed that for over two weeks, members of the Abuja Environment Protection Board, have been preventing them from running their businesses in their usual manner. Acknowledging that the Board embarked on the task with the intent to keep Abuja clean and free from unauthorised persons, he, however,? argues that the aim could still be achieved without stopping them from running their roadside businesses.

“Though we hawk by the roadsides, we are still humans and know what is good. It is for this purpose that we do not litter the little portions of lands where we use for our businesses. We see to it that the environs are kept clean”.

He further reveals that most of the street hawkers engage in such activities to survive with a claim that majority of them are graduates of various higher institutions who could not get good jobs for themselves and therefore resorted to hawking to make ends meet.

“I am a university graduate and have worked in two companies here in Abuja but they have not been favourable to me, that was the reason why I opted for photography. I could get established through this business and contribute to the nation’s development by employing two or more youths to assist me in this job.”

For Mrs. Abigail Emmanuel who sells clothing materials, Does not think that chasing them around with the intent to make Abuja clean is just. She explains that she and other graduates in the illegal hawking business are pushed into the roadside trade because there is no job ready to absorb them, and for some of the women who have opted to hawk, their husbands are jobless thus, it is through this trade that they try to sustain their families.

She, however, pleaded with the government to provide them with alternative and less expensive places where they could stay and continue their businesses.

“The manner in which the Abuja Environmental Protection Board pursues people from the road is not good. They ought to have given us alternative places where we could stay for our businesses since they could not provide us with means of survival such as good jobs, and some of us cannot afford renting shops as they are very expensive, especially in Wuse Market. Anybody who wants to rent a shop should have up to N1.4m to N1.5m, depending on where the shop is situated. So it is quite difficult.”

On how the environmental protection board handles defaulting street hawkers, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY learnt that they are prosecuted in mobile courts set up in various places.???
Another peddler who simply gave his name as George narrated to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, his ordeal in one of the mobile courts, when he was apprehended recently.

“Members of the AEPB caught me when I was taking pictures and took me to their mobile court in Berger. When we got there, they read the proceedings to me and others arrested on the same day and asked if we were guilty or not. We pleaded guilty? and were given a fine of N20,000 each. We could not afford the fine but with much pleading and the services of a lawyer, we were relesed on bail after paying N10,000 each. Those who did not meet up with the payment were taken to a nearby Police station or the prisons in either Kuje or Suleija where they were detained for two days”.

Highlighting the activities of the AEPB mobile courts, the head, information and outreach programme unit, Mr. Joe Kairo explained that the mobile courts sittings have been so effective in curbing the activities of the street hawkers.? Acknowledging how challenging the task has been, Mr. Kairo stated that lots of people do not understand what they are doing and so are reading sentiments into it.

However, reminded that the existence of hawkers and street peddlers does not mean that it is legitimate as the law had abolished such activities in the Federal Capital Territory.

On the errant street traders, Mr. Kairo asserted that the government is not insensitive to the situations of the hawkers.

“We are not insensitive to the plight of the street hawkers, we understand that they are looking for their daily bread but we are out of terms with what is happening in the society. We would prefer that they do it in a dignified manner and within the provision of the law.”

Reacting to the plea of the street hawkers for alternative arrangements, Mr. Kairo assured of the government’s efforts to ensure provision of more markets to accommodate them.

“Government has been working with tele- communication industries such as MTN, GLO and others on the need to provide one-stop stands that could serve as bus- stops, vendor/recharge card stands, sim registration spots, in addition to sale of sachet/bottle water, soft drinks and snacks. By this, hawkers will be taken out of the streets and placed in more decent environment as it is degrading having mothers and elderly women peddling sachet water and other items on the roads. You even find children crisscrossing the roads to make sales. It is dangerous”.

Another staff of the AEPB, Mr. John Gideon revealed that most hawkers on the streets were not just hawkers but hoodlums who capitalise on the situation to perpetrate dubious activities, such as ‘pick-pocketing.’? He also stressed that most of the children who hawk on the streets are children brought from their various villages to Abuja with the promise to train them in schools,? whereas adult hawkers are taken to the mobile courts or prisons as the case may be. Mr. Gideon revealed that the children are taken to the rehabilitation centre in Bwari or are taken back to their people in the villages.?

He also urged street hawkers to limit their hawking to satellite areas.

“This is a capital city and some of these hawkers prefer coming to sell here instead of going to the satellite towns where their buyers are easily located. Besides, there is no difference in price as it is still what they sell their wares in the satellite towns that they sell here in the cities”.