Nwabueze Okoli rushed out of the house like a man who was being chased by a monster. With an important presentation to make at a general staff meeting ahead of him that morning, the 31-year-old had less than two hours to wriggle his way through the chaotic traffic from hishome in Owode, a small but densely populated town along Ikorodu Road, to his office in Victoria Island, Lagos’s m ain hub for corporate entities. Forty minutes later, at the Alapere end of the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway – a section notorious for inexplicable daily traffic snarls at that time of the day, Okoli realised a big problem. The Enugu State-born father of one had forgotten to pick up his shoe while hurriedly dashing out of the house. His fears mounted.
“I was almost running mad,” the young economist said, flashing back to that tension-soaked moment. “How could I make such important presentation at a meeting where all the staff and directors of the company were going to be around without putting on shoes? For several minutes I was confused, nothing good came to my head aside the calamity that I had been thrown into at that moment. Going back home would compound my misery, it was not an option. I was in dilemma,” he added, before sipping from the bottle of cold beer in front of him at the bar our correspondent engaged him recently.
Confused and stuck to the steering wheel of his car, Okoli’s absent mindedness at that moment soon got to other road users who out of rage, constantly honked the horns of their vehicles for him to cover the space in front of him. Time was running against him. A career-threatening embarrassment stared him in the face. There must be a way out.
“Just as I approached Ogudu, I sighted a guy from afar in the traffic holding different pairs of male shoes,” the 31-year-old said, a warm smile suddenly emerging on his bearded face. “They were in different sizes and colours. I couldn’t scream or cry but I remember that the excitement I felt inside of me almost led to an accident that morning. At that moment, the guy seemed to me like an angel.
“I bought a pair of brown shoes from him for N4000. Even though the quality isn’t something I would go for ordinarily if it wasn’t an emergency situation, the shoes looked nice and saved me of the embarrassment I could have suffered that day at work. Each time I look back at that experience, smile fills my face,” he said.
Like Okoli, Gbenga Adamolekun, a bank worker in central Lagos was also saved some embarrassment recently when he mistakenly put a pair of black snickers in the trunk of his car thinking it was a pair of black shoes. For convenience, the 35-year-old prefers to drive without shoes, only wearing such when he gets to his office’s car park. But one morning two weeks ago, Adamolekun nearly collapsed from the shock that seized him when he stopped at a filling station to drop off a gas cylinder he hoped to pick later that evening on his way from work.
“Immediately I opened the boot of the car, it was as if a strange hand grabbed me by the throat. The shock of not finding the pair of black shoes as I carried the gas cylinder up was that severe,” he recalled. “I was in complete shock, not knowing what to do next as time was not even on my side to start looking for a boutique around to buy a pair of shoes. Luckily for me, as I drove towards Fadeyi bus-stop to connect Western Avenue enroute CMS, I saw a bunch of guys hawking different types of male shoes right there in the traffic. It was a big moment of relief for me.
“Without minding the quality or price I quickly bought one. Just before climbing the bridge at Jibowu, I also realised I was not putting on a belt. I forgot to pick that up too while rushing out of the house that morning. But before I could panic further, another set of guys selling belts, stockings, singlets and shirts appeared in front, advertising their wares to potential customers in the traffic. I bought a black belt from one of them immediately. In fact with what I saw that morning, one could completely dress from head to toe by buying everything needed in the traffic on that stretch. I can never forget that funny experience,” he said.
But apart from shoes, belts, stockings, shirts and singlets, a lot of unexpected items are today sold in traffic across most parts of Lagos, too. This form of street trading, which started as a way of providing light refreshment like water, soft drinks and sausage rolls for road users stuck in traffic, has grown in sophistication over the years, introducing into the mix, a host of other items including things traditionally found in shops and open markets. It is an industry that grows by the day.
“I was alarmed recently when a guy approached my car in traffic at the Obanikoro area of the city with a 21-inch LED television,” Andrew Memudu, a Kogi native and public relations executive, told our correspondent during a friendly chat. “I had never seen anything like that since I have been in Lagos, so the sight came to me as a rude shock. How can anyone think of selling a television set in traffic, I imagined to myself. But the guy, who was not going to be discouraged by the strange looks on my face, told me boldly that the product was a new brand in the country and that they were advertising it everywhere to create more awareness about its quality and affordability. He was not the only one; his colleagues were all over the traffic marketing the item to other road users that afternoon too. I counted at least four people who patronised them as I drove along in the heavy traffic. It was really shocking,” he said.
In addition to this interesting development, young men and women dangling cartons containing decoders, antennas and other items used to receive satellite television signals are now a common phenomenon in most parts of the city today. During the European Championship staged in France in June and the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, last month, our correspondent observed how several brands of decoders, their dishes and antennas were displayed at strategic sides of roads where heavy traffic occurred. While one or two watched over the stocks where they were positioned, a handful fanned out into such traffic, canvassing and trying to convince road users into buying one of the items.
“The GoTV I am using at home now, I bought it in traffic just before the European Championship in June,” Kabir Usman, a dealer in fabric materials at the Agege area of Lagos told Saturday PUNCH. “It had always been on my mind to buy the item so that my family could enjoy it at home but I never found the time to do so. One afternoon while I was driving out, I saw some young ladies advertising GoTV in traffic around Pen Cinema, so I quickly bought one. They were running a promo at the time. If not for that opportunity, maybe I would still not have bought it till now because the time to look up and down for it wasn’t just there.
“Before that time I had also bought a DVD player, pressing iron and electric kettle in traffic. To be honest with you, I have purchased quite a number of important electrical items in traffic,” he said.
For two weeks, Mrs. Sandra Bibite, a school teacher in the Orile area of Lagos, was constantly on the lookout whenever she drove past Mile 2. Since visiting a friend and finding one of her portable gas cookers attractive, the 42-year-old woman had been searching everywhere for that particular product, hoping to find it in traffic like her friend, Kike, did.
According to her, the cooker which is built in the size of a stove, burned faster but consumed far less gas than the normal ones used in most homes today. After looking for the product in the market without success and constantly monitoring every corner of the road while driving along the axis for two weeks, she finally stumbled upon the item one evening as she was returning from work.
“I could not believe it when my friend told me that she bought that gas cooker in traffic around Mile 2. I fell in love with it and immediately searched for it in the market the following weekend but never found it. Since that period I had always been on the lookout for that particular gas cooker until I found it recently in traffic just before Orile.
“I was surprised to also see some other guys selling pots, fry pan, kettle and other kitchen utensils in traffic that day. It is something I had never encountered when I was living in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, with my husband before he was transferred to Lagos,” she said.
A trip round most parts of Lagos metropolis earlier in the week by our correspondent revealed just how much a lot of ‘crazy’ and unexpected items have found their way to traffic these days. For example, at one section visited, ironing boards, wall hangers, huge mirrors, pillows and bedsheets could be seen being moved in between rows of slow-moving vehicles while in another part of the city, men of different ages could be seen dangling cutlasses, hoes, rakes and other farm implements before road users as the traffic dragged. Catapults, horse whips known in local parlance as koboko, hand fans and mats were also spotted. The list is endless.
“I have lived in Lagos for a long time but last week I saw something really strange in traffic around Ojuelegba area. I was sitting in the front seat of a commercial bus when suddenly a guy appeared from nowhere carrying female pants and brassieres, asking me to buy that they were very good items. I just hissed at him and had to eventually shout at him when he kept pestering me to patronise him. I even thought he was the only one selling such unusual item in traffic until I saw others like him as we progressed with our journey. It was a bit shocking to me,” Folake Adepitan, a fashion designer, told Saturday PUNCH.
Donald Bassey was constantly left in awe during his first three months in Lagos after relocating from Abuja, the nation’s capital, to join his elder brother, Mark, a stockbroker. Used to the less chaotic nature and lifestyle of Abuja, the 27-year-old told Saturday PUNCH that most of the items he had seen sold in traffic from where he was coming from were mostly cold beverage drinks and snacks to refresh exhausted road users but that he was surprised to discover that in Lagos one could get to buy mobile phones, MP3 players, power banks and chargers of all kinds plus other related accessories in traffic.
“It took me time to adjust and get used to all the unexpected things I was seeing in Lagos traffic after relocating from Abuja earlier this year,” he said. “Throughout my five years in Abuja the strangest items I found in traffic was bathing towel and umbrella, otherwise most of the things I usually came across in traffic were just things to eat and refresh yourself while sitting in the vehicle.
“But in Lagos it has been a different and crazy experience. I have seen people selling and buying mobile phones, tablet pc, power banks and other similar items in traffic. These are things that ordinarily someone should expect to only find in stores or in the market. To find these in traffic is really strange to me,” he said.
Many housewives and in fact individuals frequently travelling through Owode to the Ojota area of Lagos have indeed found a new and easier means of shopping for food items especially ingredients needed to make tasty soups and stew while on the go. From tomatoes to pepper, vegetable, onion, smoked fish and grinded beef to other vital spices – everything needed for a complete pot of soup could be bought in the traffic along the axis. Those familiar with the route have been utilising the opportunity quite well.
“Most weekends whenever I am returning from Ikorodu after visiting my mother, I usually get cheap tomatoes and pepper to buy on the Mile 12 Bridge while in traffic. If I need to buy other items to make soup or stew, I could always find them in that traffic as well, thereby saving me the time and energy I could have used to go to the market. In fact I even have customers now at that place who I always call ahead once I am leaving Ikorodu. For me, it has been a very easy way of shopping for these items,” Obiageli Martins, a housewife, said.
Once described as the “Street Supermarket” by Time Magazine, an international news publication, Lagos traffic indeed harbours some of the strangest items any market could even have. Apart from items such as television, gas cookers, cutlasses, brassieres and soup ingredients, puppies and live chicken are also now advertised to potential customers in traffic.
In July 2016, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, declared during a television programme that the administration would enforce an existing law banning street hawking by metting out punishment of N90, 000 or a six-month jail term to any buyer or seller of any goods or services in traffic caught in the act.
The governor’s declaration followed a tragic incident where a young trader fleeing from officials of the Kick Against Indiscipline, an agency of the Lagos State Government saddled with the responsibility of instilling discipline and social order in the society, was crushed to death by a speeding BRT vehicle during a hot pursuit.
The incident, which sparked the fury of an angry mob at the scene, resulted in the vandalisation of 49 BRT vehicles – a damage Ambode said would cost his administration around N139 million to fix. Incidents of this nature have become a regular occurrence in recent times and despite such stiff warning from the Lagos State Government, much hasn’t changed as different items continue to find their way into traffic by the day.
According to a sociologist, Bimbo Davies, the rise of street trading and hawking in traffic is largely connected to the high cost of renting shops in a city like Lagos.
He said with the large influx of people into the city from other parts of the country each day and only few jobs to cater for their needs, the quest for survival would always push such individuals into devising all sorts of means including risking their lives to sell various items in traffic.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, Lagos’ traffic provides us with great and easy access to a lot of goods and services. While still sitting in the traffic that sometimes runs into several hours, we could easily look out the windows of the vehicles we are trapped in and purchase whatever item that could have carried us to the market, thus bridging an important gap.
“But one of the biggest significances of this industry is that it provides a lot of employment opportunities for many individuals who lack proper education, and or skill needed to compete in the real sectors of the economy. Many of these guys who cannot afford to rent a shop turn to the endless traffic across the city to find a means of survival.
“I am not against the ban of street trading or hawking in traffic, what I am simply saying is that for such practice to be completely eradicated, we must first address the factors giving rise to it. A lot of these guys who sell in traffic get killed every day, so it is not as if they are also having a fairy tale ride, no. But because they have no other means of genuine survival, they must sell one or two items in the market Lagos’ traffic provides to live. It is a big industry and care must be applied in dealing with it,” he said.
Interesting as it is, Lagos is not the only place where ‘crazy’ and unexpected items are sold in traffic, in other parts of Nigeria, the line up is equally attention-catching.
In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for example, kerosene turned into empty table water containers are hawked alongside other items like smoked fish, shrimps, fufu and palm oil in traffic. In Sapele, Delta State, freshly killed games like alligators, tilapia and catfish are all dangled before motorists who drive along the military checkpoints on the expressway linking Edo State.
In Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states, South West Nigeria, it is a similar story – items ranging from bean cake popularly known as akara in local parlance to bags of cassava flakes are all advertised at almost every stop caused by traffic. For sellers and patrons, these ‘traffic markets’, regardless of its good sides and evils, would remain one big part of their daily lives.