By Haruna Isa
Hawking or street selling in Nigeria and Africa at large is a unique phenomenon that arose out of the need to solve societal problems such as unemployment, poverty and consumer goods accessibility. It is a booming informal sector that has proved resilient despite various governmental efforts aimed at eradicating it.
Most African governments regard street hawking as a menace because it makes the streets untidy. Hawkers also exacerbate traffic jams at busy intersections, as motorists slow down to buy from them, and every once in a while a hawker will get knocked down. Although, as a result, there are bans on hawking in these cities, hawkers have not been deterred. In some cities, they bribe the police; in others, they simply price in harassment by law enforcement as one of the business risks.
Stopping, or reducing, street hawking in Africa will require innovative thinking. The authorities have, rightly, tackled it from the sell-side but have gone about it the wrong way. Telling hawkers to quit the streets without providing alternatives is like asking someone to hold their breath until they die. These people must earn a living, and hawking is how they do it.
Government at all levels have policies and prohibitions in place to ban hawking or street selling because they are seen as illegal, valueless and problematic—hence, a need to eradicate it from the society even though there is yet to be a better alternative. The various “street selling not allowed” “ hawking not allowed” signage that adorn our public places, the unending fining and arrest of street sellers, and the construction of shopping malls and ultra-modern markets across cities have had little or no effect on reducing street selling in Nigeria(Uchenna, 2018).
However, over the years, street selling has become very popular and highly sought after across all social statuses especially in urban areas.
It is a common scene nowadays to see middle and upper-class consumers purchase assorted goods in traffic jams and by roadsides on their way to or from work and other commutes. Hawkers have devised a number of ways to convey their goods aside from the traditional head porterage to include wheelbarrows, table-tops and mobile kiosks among others.
This reality is also dawning on both large and small businesses that unorthodox methods of selling such as hawking is a viable means of marketing and selling to more consumers. In the city of Lagos alone, it is estimated that about one billion Naira exchanges hands in hawking per month.
Street hawking provides employment for lots of people. Stopping it entirely will worsen Africa’s unemployment problem. WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising), a network of researchers and workers’ groups, estimates that hawking accounts for 12%–24% of employment in the informal sector in some African cities. Governments would do well to be more open-minded in tackling the problem, and come up with options, not just bans(Okey Umeano, 2018).
In its seemingly haphazard nature; the hawking informal economy has been observed to be highly organised with its own degree of norms and regulations and social roles that ensure it meets the needs of the majority of the populace. Recent studies have thus shown that hawking as a major activity in the informal economy is not necessarily illegal as hitherto generally believed. Instead, their activities of hawkers in developing economies like Nigeria mostly seem to be outside of formal regulations due to the ambiguity of policies and regulatory bodies’ activities. Hawkers sell their wares through major routes across cities and they even pay different forms of taxes to both state agents and informal tax collectors.
With regards to the organisation and channel of hawkers, Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and other local organisations have realised the efficiency of reaching consumers through the hawkers. Existing data confirm that close to 60% of what MNCs sell in Nigeria pass through the hawking channel before getting to the final consumer. With the growing number of informal entrepreneurs, hawking will continue to expand in size and prominence in developing economies. Formal organisations recognised this possibility and are strategically incorporating informal organisations into their selling operations. It is a win-win situation for both sides of the economy and for the society with an increase in job opportunities, better consumer reach, improved standard of living and increased product design innovation.
The government is still lagging behind though. All levels of government still largely regard hawkers as nuisances that should be eradicated. This perception continues to influence their policies which in turn make life harder for the average hawker on the street. However, at this stage in Nigeria’s economy, the government cannot continue to ignore the growing importance of street selling in creating a stronger economy. There is a need for a change in approach towards formulating policies that will formally recognise informal sector businesses including hawkers and their activities.
Haruna Isa, is a-Seasoned Journalist and Programmes’ Producer at SAWABA FM Radio, Hadejia, Jigawa State. And can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org