There is no gainsaying that enforcing the ban on street hawking and begging within the Federal Capital City (FCC) has remained a very long time struggle for the FCT administration especially the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB).
The AEPB, which is saddled with the responsibility of making sure the goal of having a beautiful city free from hawking and begging has been mounting pressuring on petty street traders and beggars carrying out their activities on major road corridors and pedestrians bridges across the city.
To this end, AEPB in collaboration with the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) last week carried out major raids on some street hawkers operating around Barnex Plaza and some streets in Wuse 2, as well as other environs of Abuja.
The exercise, which was part of the Board’s monthly sanitation programme, as part of its efforts towards to promoting a sustainable environment and city management, specifically targeted , at ridding the FCT of illegal traders and food vendors operating in restricted areas in the city.
Similarly, the Board dislodged illegal food vendors and other traders operating inside Jabi Motor Park, in Utako District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Expectedly, the exercise, was a horrible and very brutal day for illegal traders and beggars within the axis of Banex plaza and other malls in Wuse 2 , including those at the popular Jabi Motor park, one notorious for the menace in the FCT.
For the street traders, the timing of the exercise was wrong, as they were taken unawares by the AEPB officials, who stormed the area. Indeed, it was horrible day and very brutal for some of the traders.
To avoid being apprehended by the AEBP task force, many of the petty street traders took to their heels as if it was a rat race competition they were involved in. While some abandoned their wares and ran, wishing they had wings to fly, a few looked for places to hid their wares before running for cover.
Narrating his ordeal, one Aminu Suleiman , selling Dobino along the corridors of Banex plaza, said when he noticed the arrival of the AEPB task force, he had to abandon his goods and ran for safety, to avoid being caught and taken to court.
Suleiman, an indigene of Katsina state , said he came to Abuja , because of the hardship he was passing through in his state , feeding his wife and 12children was a great challenge .
According to him, “the only problem in achieving my plan is the AEPB task force, they are very brutal when discharging their duties. They do not give breathing spaces at all to sell anything , so am very careful , as I don’t want them to take me to their court.”
Another, hawker, Miss. Nneka Ejike, selling banana along the street of Wuse 2 , who expressed her anger and frustration about their fate in the city, decried that the constant pressures being exerted on them by the Board is too much to bear, as they keep recording huge loss.
“Environmental people usually mounted pressure on us, as if people working in the organization don’t have human sympathy for the poor just trying to cater for themselves.
“They are very wicked, as they destroy peoples items that some of them bought on credit. So, when we see the task force na so run; but what do they us to do when have to eat.” she expressed.
Similarly, one Sandra Jacob, pointed out that she sells ground nut on the street, in order for her to pay her school fees.
“I know is wrong hawking things along within the city centre , but because my major source of income is realised from on what I’m selling , I find it difficult to stop.
“AEPB agents always chase us from selling on the streets, and most often we abandoned our goods, which they take and pour all on the ground or into a refuse dump, because if caught, we will be prosecuted before returning the products.
Also, the presence of the task force at the Jabi park, made some hawkers and other roadside traders to be on their heels, soaring with what they could, while some were seen crying for loosing of everything they had.
One of the victims, Mrs. Bola Baba Tunde , who was crying and shouting on top of her voice after her goods were taken away by the officials , saying” I’ m a widow, what kind of thing is this, am fending for my family ,Environmental enforcement team ,came and parked everything and burned them.
“And their oga sai may dey carry us go office, God is seeing us all, and he will judge us.”
“I’ m afraid of environmental officials ,because when they come, they will collect what one is selling and the end of day ,you look for money to pay them before they could release you, that’s is why when I saw them from far, I went into hiding,” one of the lucky traders, who manage escaped arrest during the exercise Usman Kashim , said.
On his part, the Chairman of the park, Muhammed Salihu, pleaded with the AEPB, to assign its officers to constantly visit the park, so as to ensure that the rules are not violated by traders.
Speaking to journalists during the exercise, the acting Director of the Board, Baba Shehu Baba Lawan, said “open spaces in the park are not meant for food vendors and hawkers, as it is for passengers and motorists”.
According to him, “many hawkers and baggers use the park as their tourist area.”
He however, urged the management of the park to cooperate with the AEPB reinvigorated goal of sanitising the nation’s capital.
Reiterating that hawking and begging remains banned in the FCT, he said the board has zero tolerance for such activities in the capital city, disclosing that the Board has identified 17 beats and five flash points, adding that it has already received an approval of 128 personnel from the FCT police command to support its enforcement drive in the city.
“We don’t want to see them (hawkers) on the street; this is a clarion call to the traders and their associations in the markets, as they should desist from giving goods to the hawkers to market and sell for them. They not only constitute nuisance to the motorists but deface the beauty of the city,” he stressed.
He therefore emphasized that residents and business premises that shield and aide the proliferation of hawking activities in the city will be sanctioned.
“Abuja is a clean city that begging, hawking or any form of environmental nuisance on our streets would be allowed to thrive, therefore owners of residential and business premises, like plazas are warned against encouraging and shielding hawkers.
“It is a punishable offence, which the Board would not hesitate to act accordingly; in fact any business premises found harbouring hawkers will sealed off,” he stressed.
He added that there are designated shops for every form of business in the city, urging business owners and hawkers to find outlet suitable for their kind of business, than giving goods to people to hawk around the city for them.
“We are now on duty arresting hawkers and the business premises with their guards that are trying to protect the hawkers and we are not going to take it lightly with them.
“Any business premises that we found to be harbouring hawkers, we have every right to seal such premises and we can’t condone any hawkers and those companies that are giving articles to the boys to be hawking on the street.
“If they wish to sell their product let them go appropriate market but certainly not on the street, this is completely illegal and I must clean this city within the shortest possible time and any person caught would be prosecuted,” he explained.
Similarly, the AMMC Coordinator, Mr. Reuben Okoya, said the new law implies that both the hawkers and that patronize will be prosecuted.
According to him, “we will not condone any street begging and hawkers, it will be serious enforcement, monitoring and sustaining the pace and the tempo to ensure a clean city free from dirt and diseases.”
Not left out, a civil servant, Mr. Samson Dominic , told Peoples Daily, that begging and hawking is a menace to city ,especially at the malls and junctions with heavy vehicular traffic , where hawkers of all sort of items trade on.
According to him, “they (hawkers) are praying for traffic light to stop, in order for them to go in between vehicles to advertiser those products, thereby competing with drivers at traffic light, and if they drivers are not careful they can easily crush them, which also slow down movements at the traffic.
“It’s the same with the beggars and sick individuals who want to attract sympathy from those driving.
“But, the social welfare officers, who should arrest the beggars and other sick people, and take proper of them by taking them to the orphanage home or relevant facility for such purpose.”
As a way out, he suggested that ‘the AEPB, should create an open market, just like the GSM village,so that their customer will patronise them, or what is happening in the developed country where there are seasonal markets for such people to come and do their business ,after they clean the environments it is as if business didn’t take place there.”
This, he said, the government should do, if it wants to succeed in its quest to rid Abuja of hawkers and beggars.