‘Cleaning up’ Lagos streets (or removing street hawkers) is the real cause for an increase in traffic robberies


Last month, the Executive Governor of Lagos state, Nigeria, Akinwunmi Ambode, expressed concern over traffic robberies in the state. Following this, last Friday, he made a statement that his administration will unleash a crackdown on motorcyclists and hawkers in the state. The statement was sparked by the increase in crime within the state, especially in terms of traffic robberies.

“The next hawker could be a robber or terrorist. You are now well-advised. If we all cooperate and decide not to buy, gradually and collectively, the hawkers will not come to the highways and streets anymore. Our roads will definitely become safer. Our security agencies have been directed to increase their presence on the roads and highways to ensure greater safety. Once again, I am committed to a safer, cleaner and more prosperous Lagos; a Lagos that works for all”, Ambode said.

The issue of traffic robberies is not exclusive to the Ambode administration as it has always been an issue in Lagos state. At the very least, the way Mr. Solomon Ikhioda recalls his experience is proof of this.

In 2005, during the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration, Mr. Ikhioda had just picked up his wife from the airport, when young men brandishing weapons targeted their vehicle. The first thing they did was break his wound up glass with a sharp object before they proceeded to threaten the Ikhiodas, grabbing all they could from his vehicle before fleeing on an Okada. This happened in broad daylight in the full glare of other commuters who were rendered helpless to the plight of the Ikhiodas, crippled by fear.

The outstanding factor of this one out of many experiences by Lagos motorists, is the fact that the victims were not purchasing anything from street hawkers when the criminals struck. Blaming the traffic robberies currently plaguing the state on street hawkers alone may not be the best way to begin tackling the problem. First off, crime has always been deeply rooted in poverty and unemployment, two factors which abound in a place like Lagos.

In a 2004 book on street trading in Lagos state, Adebayo Lawal explains that the menace of street trading and hawking has been a problem in Lagos from as early as the 1920’s, a time which marked the beginning of overcrowding in the state. He went further to explain that the government has employed the use of task forces to remove the presence of street traders in the past but all to no avail as the traders vanish at the sight of them, only to resurface when the uniformed men have moved on from their location.

Instead of viewing traffic robberies as the fault of street hawkers (who mostly use their proceeds to feed their families), the government (federal, state and local) is better off providing alternatives to the economic crisis the society’s poor is forced to go through every day. The young people, who are perpetrators of traffic robberies, have no jobs and their need to fend for themselves will always drive them to choose options like stealing from innocent motorists. Until they are presented with viable alternatives we may continue experiencing traffic robberies. The government needs to identify traffic robberies as an economic problem, this way, permanent solutions can be implemented and sustained.

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