Living on Street Trading

Street hawkers
Street hawkers

Callistus Aduba, a street hawker in Lagos recounts the ordeals street hawkers pass through to make a living

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Apr. 15, 2013 @01:00 GMT

AT 24, Callistus Aduba already wears the looks of a full grown man. His blood shot eyes, rough dreadlocks, and overgrown beards are sufficient proofs to convince anyone of his status as a Lagos street boy.  Popularly known as ‘Cali’ at his residence in Olajide Street, Agege, the Abia State indigene, who journeyed to Lagos in search of greener pastures, gets his daily bread by hawking pastries and soft drinks across Otigba, Olaniyi and other streets in Ikeja.

Street trader
Street trading

Since he began the trade two years ago,  Cali sets out at about 5.30am in order to meet his target of N1000 daily. Whatever he earns afterwards is spent on feeding and taking care of his younger brother who attends a local primary school in the neighborhood. Although his income per day is barely enough to meet his needs, he is optimistic that he will someday return to his village as a rich man.

“When I left Uturu (Abia State), I told my mother I was going to come back and build her a house. All this hustling will end one day. By the time I make enough money, I will rent a shop and start my own business. After that, I will return to my village and train my other siblings so that we will all fulfill the promise I made to my mother.”

Ambitious as he sounds, Cali’s dream of making life comfortable for himself and his siblings is threatened by the numerous challenges bedeviling streets traders in Ikeja and other parts of Lagos. Due to the government’s stance on street trading, he does his business with constant fear of law enforcement agents, who are usually around to arrest street traders like him. “You must be very smart to sell anything here. You have to look around and ensure that the task force people are not around. If they catch you, they will take all your money and seize your goods.”

Despite his boast of being ‘street wise’, he has been arrested twice and had to part with a better part of his earnings as settlement for the law enforcement agents on both occasions. “I am one of the few guys around who rarely gets arrested. I package my good in such a way that when I hear they are around, I run to a safe place. I have been arrested twice and on both occasions they collected almost all the money I had on me before releasing my goods”.

Street life
Street life

According to Cali, every minute in the life of a typical street trader is spent in fear and uncertainty. In order to reduce the risk of losing their goods to the police and other law enforcement agents who pounce on street traders without any prior notice, many of them now buy goods from distributors in small sizes. This makes it easier for them to take off when the enforcement agents come around.

“Before these people started disturbing us, we used to buy lots of goods that can last for a week or two, but these days nobody does that. Now, you have to buy what you can sell in a day, so that when they come, you can easily run with your goods”. As if running with goods, shouting at the top of his voice and walking in the scorching sun everyday is not enough distress for a street trader, they also have to endure the troubles of local government officials who impose certain levies on everyone doing business in the area.

Unlike the law enforcement officials who arrest street traders without many hassles, those who collect the levies on behalf of the local government are usually touts who use force to ensure compliance. Any street trader who refuses to pay, is first beaten before his goods are confiscated. Describing them, Cali said:  “Those ones operate like kings. Anytime they come around, you don’t wait to be asked before giving them the N200 we pay every day. If you ask them to go and come back later, they will beat you and seize your goods.”

If there is anything that brings tears to the eyes of a street trader like Cali, it is the insults and inhuman treatment meted out to them by the law enforcements agents and some members of the public. Some who are unable to tolerate such ill-treatments are the ones who fight with customers and any other person who steps into their bounds. “What I hate about this business is the insult we get from people. Many times you will see people you are older than insulting you just because you are hustling. Some people who cannot take all the insults usually fight with their customers and every other person”, said Cali.

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