If you are a motorist or passenger entering into the oil city of Port Harcourt from either the Aba Road or Ikwerre Road axis, you are bound to meet some of the city’s mobile sellers pushing their wares and goods into your vehicle and sometimes even cajoling you into buying them.
The scene is not unique to Port Harcourt. In Lagos, Onitsha, Aba and Kano, traffic hawking has become a common sight. One passenger even enthused that you can equally find them in the streets of Accra in Ghana and New Delhi in India.
In most cities of Nigeria, street hawking is taken for granted such that people who have stalls and shops also consider it a good business to engage.
So, apart from the menace which young men pose by trading on the streets and highways, there is also the nuisance constituted by urchins who carry various sizes of wares in search of buyers.
The irony of the situation is that despite the risk involved in hawking on highways, motorists and passengers still partronise them. It is such that it is easy to put one’s head out of a car window and hush a pure water peddler for a chilled sachet water or a can of soft drink.
Perhaps, it is because of the patronage that the business has continued to boom in and around the metropolis. Immediately there is a slight traffic jam, the hawkers swoop in their numbers, invading motorists with their wares.
These hawkers can be seen in areas like Garrison, Waterlines, Eleme Junction, Woji-slaughter Bye-pass and Artillery junction all in Port Harcourt.
One of the hawkers who gave his name as Sunday Michael told The Tide that he has been in the business in the past five years.
Young Michael sells popular snack, “Gala”. He disclosed that he sells not less than one and half cartons per day, especially on days when the traffic is heavy.
Another hawker, Emmanuel John who hawks handkerchiefs and towels at the Garrison junction said he started the business last year January.
He told The Tide that he was not happy that his business was not growing because of the activities of the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority Task Force on street trading. He stated that the agency impounds their goods at will.
Despite the activities of the sanitation taskforce, Mr. John still manages to sell four to five packs per day. As he was talking to our reporter, a sweating passenger signalled him, and he ran after the slow moving bus with his wares.
He told our reporter that he dropped out of school few years ago in JS3 due to lack of sponsorship.
When he was asked whether he would encourage other young lads to join the business, he retorted, “I would not encourage them but instead of them engaging in criminal activities, they can manage with it.”
The same view was expressed by Godwin Sunday Akpan who has been in the business for four several years. Because of the activities of the sanitation taskforce Akpan said he sells more in the evening from the hours of 4pm-6pm.
Aside the sanitation authority, the Rivers State Road Traffic Management Authority has equally evolved measures to rid the road of street hawkers. It is believed that their activities pose dangers to motorists who try to avoid hitting them on the highway.
Most times, the hawkers are not lucky meandering the traffic to sell their wares. Mr Akpan recalled an incident that occurred at the Artillery junction involving one of the hawkers.
The incident was confirmed by Michael who told our reporter that about two hawkers lost their lives to the accident.
In the process of selling their goods, hawkers sprint distances to obtain money from passengers through the vehicle’s window. The unlucky ones lose their good, and money or sometimes lose money only.
One of the hawkers who had lost his goods before, Mr. Okparabe Ope said”, if you lose your money, you take it as one of those things in the business.”
There are other times the reverse is the case,” said Ope. Motorists lose money as well in the process, most especially when the vehicle in which they are in, suddenly gets the green light to pass the traffic.
Ope said he had sold on the highway for four years. He sells gala snack and was not happy that since the year began he had not made much profit.
He declared, “we buy a carton of Gala for N1,050 and by the time you finish selling it you will discover that you made small profit because people are returning from travel.”
On whether the business is risky he replied,” I think it depends on the hawker. If you come from your house with God you will make it and go back safely.”
One other issue that has cropped up over the years following the booming business is that of child hawking. To be sure, street hawking has been an age old practice for children and adults. It is noteworthy that most of the hawkers on the street are not sent by their biological parents some children have often been sent away from their families to far away places as house helps.
Sometimes they are taken away by relations on the pretext of helping them out but end up in the streets of Port Harcourt hawking sachet water.
These days, it is common to see children between the ages of six to eight years meandering through the traffic with heavy load, of sachet water begging motorists to buy.
The Federal Government has vehemently opposed this form of slavery through agencies like the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons.
Recently, the Child Rights Bill was passed by the National Assembly. His, however, yet to be signed into law.
In Rivers State, fortunately, the bill has been signed into law and is now a crime to engage any child below 18 years as a house help.
The law also seeks to eliminate street hawking not just by children but by all and sundry. There is also a law against street trading. How has this law impacted on the people, and what does street hawking mean to them?
Nedd Tamuno, a businessman observed that “street hawking is an abuse on children. Most times you find out that these children are not the biological children of the ones who sent them out hawking”.
A motorist who refused to give his name remarked, “It gives me hot flashes each time I see these children in between cars on the highways all in the name of trading.”
He noted that the risk of accidents was inevitable, and therefore threw his weight behind the ban on hawking. For street trading, he added “leave those ones alone, as it is an affordable space they could find to earn a living.”