July 25, 2021

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Wike’s Fight Against Street Trading

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Street trading in the city of Port Harcourt has been a thing of concern for decades now. Successive governments have also tried in their own way to fight the menace, with very little and in many cases, no success at all.
The traders on one, and the government on the other, have different reasons why the fight has not been won. The traders will either say they do not have the needed funds to rent shops, or there are no shops enough for everybody in the state capital.
The government is always quick to say that the traders are not willing to get into the available shops, as they prefer to sell on the streets. This argument goes on and on.
Recently, the state government came up with a legislation banning street trading. Last week, chairman of the task force on street trading, Mr Bright Amaewhule told journalists that about 300 people have so far been arrested and that the mobile courts have been trying defaulters.
Among those that were arrested was a vendor. The task force has been going about harassing newspaper vendors. The vendor that was nabbed by the task force was unlucky and was detained for days.
This came at a time that the Nigeria Union of Journalists, newspaper distributors association in the state and other critical stakeholders had met with and secured promises from the task force to allow newspaper vendors ply their trade on the streets, as is done everywhere in the world.
The vendors even threatened to embark on a strike, as a way of protesting the actions of the state government against them. But after the vendor was freed, the vendors suspended the strike. Now, they have asked the government of Nyesom Wike to grant them permit to enable them operate freely on the streets.
It is not clear if the government is playing politics with the newspaper vendors. But from the body language of the government, they do not know exactly how to handle the situation. Or, it may just be that the government is not aware of what the task force is doing. Afterall, a few days after the task force was empowered to get into the streets to chase away the traders, some hoodlums started their own thing, impounding people’s vehicles and making money from the venture.
We agree that the fight against street trading is very necessary and should be supported by every right thinking resident of the state capital. But we believe that the government did not do the needful before pushing the boys into the roads to fight street traders.
The question is, how many markets and shops have been provided to take care of the population of traders? Even the available markets, how transparent are the processes for allocation of shops? The Rumuokoro market is an instance. there have been allegations that some people within and close to the government allocated the shops to themselves, thereby denying genuine traders the opportunity of having spaces for their business.
In a few days from now, the Mile One market will also be inaugurated. Again, how transparent will the process of allocation be? Will those close to power not hijack the system and give the shops to themselves?
Our stand is that the governor needs to have more than a passing interest in the allocation of shops in some of the markets. The cost is also another issue that the government needs to look into. More markets should also be built to enable the traders have better alternative to street trading.
It is also our considered opinion that the traders should begin to see government’s action as a move to sanitise the state capital and return it to the garden city status that Port Harcourt was known for. So, their support is needed in this direction. It is wrong for the traders to insist that they must sell on the road. In developed climes, you cannot find traders on every street. A situation where people convert every little space on the road to a shop or market cannot be tolerated. We condemn this.
We also urge the government to stop harassing newspaper vendors on the streets. Everywhere in the world, nobody stops newspaper vendors from selling on the streets. If the government feels otherwise, it needs to sit with the vendors and discuss how else they want them to operate. One of such could be the construction of stands in all parts of the state capital where people can go and buy. And it has to be on the streets. That is what obtains everywhere. Newspapers are never sold in supermarkets.
Government needs to wear a human face in the fight against street trading. Enough of the harassment of newspaper vendors.

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