“Street trading acts as a crucial source of income for large numbers of the urban poor but the management of street trading activities by constituted authority is typically hostile, therefore hampering their ability to operate.”
Urban designer and researcher Kolade Akiyode asserts the virtue of inclusive governance for street trading and the informal economy.
By Ayo Denton
Just to give our readers some background, can you talk about your work on street traders in Lagos?
I am primarily interested in how and why street traders choose the location of their workplace. In this regard, I mean factors of the built environment that influence such informal economic activities. This is informed by a larger research interest of mine, concerned with how the dynamics associated with the design and management of a city is linked with the appropriation of space by its inhabitants.
My research in Lagos aims to provide a platform for policy guidance and decision making in the management of informal economic activities (street traders inclusive) in order to achieve an inclusive and sustainable urban environment.
Can you sort of walk me through what your research was and what it found?
I can not provide definite conclusions at this moment with regards to my findings, because I am still in the process of analysing the data I collected. There are however some inferences that I can draw at this stage. These are related to how urban planning and management practices have failed to address some of the contextual issues which facilitate the street trading phenomenon in Lagos.
From data I gathered from eight (8) case study sites (identified as localities with high concentrations of street trading activities), I found that the urban management strategy (both past and present, where existent) have not recognised spatial requirements of street traders as a priority. Inevitably street traders have had to improvise to fulfill their spatial needs, and this has been done by them using any available (suitable or unsuitable) space to conduct their activities.
Can you elaborate on this?
For the inhabitants of Lagos, the ubiquitous activities of street trading are components in their daily lives. It is almost impossible to navigate through the city’s incessant traffic congestion, or to be in close proximity to busy places (bus-stops, places of worship, office complexes, hospitals, schools etc.) without encountering street traders, as they seek to take advantage by the virtue of specific, busy locations within the fabric of the built environment to provide options to access all sorts of goods and services. Many of the spaces where street traders operate are not formally designated for trade, therefore conflicts of interests are generated between STs and the government (and in some case other city inhabitants).
The Lagos state government (LASG) has on several occasions outlawed street trading activities. This ban is enforced by the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), who employ numerous palliative measures to ensure compliance to the laws, including public engagement and advocacy sessions with traders. These efforts however have not achieved much success in restricting street trading. Consequently, far reaching actions such as forceful displacement or relocations are carried out. The street traders are however resilient, and resurface perpetually at similar locations from where they had been displaced from. This vicious cycle continues to play out with no avail in sight.
It is obvious these strategies do not work. The pertinent question is; why is this the case?
Recent events which occurred at the Owonifari market in Oshodi might give a good insight into the situation. In my opinion, it is a necessity to understand the motivations of locational choices for street traders before a solution can be proffered.
The Owonifari market is located at a strategic location close to one of the busiest public transportation interchanges in Lagos. The market has over the years morphed from a large concentration of traders who used temporary make-shift stalls, to one with permanent structures, right inside the Oshodi expressway cloverleaf interchange. As such, it became a designated market, giving it a pseudo-legal status. An indicator to its status, is that the initial relocation of traders from the Oshodi Market area a few years ago did not affect it, as this was more focused on temporary structures which had encroached on vehicular rights of way.
In line with the ‘sanitisation’ strategy by LASG for Oshodi, its traders were provided with a resettlement location, which till date has been largely ignored. So the recent demolition has not come as a surprise, as the LASG on its path has fulfilled its duty by providing an alternative location for these traders, which they had refused to take up.
Why have they refused to take up these locations?
This is because these new locations do not provide the traders with the sort of “locational value” they gained from their current locations. The general consensus garnered from traders was that these new locations they are expected to relocate to are too expensive, destroy social capital/networks with customers they had built over years, are too far from new customers,; and does not allow for tenure flexibility, to name a few issues. In some cases, it was also discovered that some of the street traders actually had shops within these newly designated locations, but still chose to sell their goods on the street close proximity to customers walking on the street.
The bottom line is that the shops in the resettlement locations provided by LASG are not suitable for the nature of business most of these traders engage in.
What do you think the solution is then?
Instead of getting rid of these traders who in the first place opt to undertake such activities as a means for survival, the LASG needs to implement sustainable urban management policies which are inclusive and sensitive to street trader’s activities.
This can be achieved by providing conditions for resettlement which provide similar attributes to the spaces these traders are being relocated from. A vital component of this strategy should involve engaging the street traders in the decision-making processes, and also by employing creative and innovative urban design solutions.
This might be regarded as being a simplistic description and solution, because there are other factors which influence street trading, but the menace of the inappropriate utility of space, can be tempered to an extent with adequate engagement and planning inclusively to accommodate street trading activities. I feel this can be done. Warwick Junction in Durban is a very good example of how such inclusive collaborations can be successful.