Abuja residents, motorists panic over hawking of sharp cutlasses in traffic
THE indiscriminate sale of sharp cutlasses in traffic at some bus stops and junctions in parts of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, is causing panic among residents, motorists and passengers.
The ICIR discovered that the presence of menacing-looking hawkers clutching handfuls of sharp cutlasses is fast becoming a common sight during peak traffic hours at some bus stops in the FCT. The development is more prevalent at junctions in the outskirts of the FCT, particularly along the Kubwa expressway.
Traffic usually builds up on the expressway in the evenings, especially on weekdays when workers, who have closed from work, are returning to their homes. Usually, hawkers take advantage of the heavy traffic to sell various items at bus stops and junctions, as the delayed movement of vehicles at such points give motorists and passengers enough time to take a closer look at the wares that are on display.
Over the years, all manner of goods and products have been sold in traffic by street hawkers but a recent, bizarre development in the FCT is the hawking of sharp machetes in traffic.
The uneasy feel associated with the development is heightened by the fact that, in most cases, the hawkers selling the cutlasses are able-bodied young men.
Some residents, motorists, and passengers who voiced their concerns at the development said they usually feel frightened and unsafe at the sight of the cutlass-wielding youths who hawk the implements.
A civil servant, Emeka Onyekwere, who voiced his concerns in an encounter with our correspondent at the Phase 4 Junction on the Kubwa expressway, wondered whether the FCT authorities and the security agencies are aware of the development.
“I was afraid the first time I saw youths wielding cutlasses in the traffic, I thought they were bandits or hoodlums who were attacking unarmed motorists and passengers. It was quite shocking because I never expected that cutlasses would be openly hawked in traffic. I wonder if the (FCT) authorities and the security agencies are aware of this,” Onyekwere said.
Although the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) has been clamping down on street trading, the agency’s activities have been concentrated mostly in the FCT metropolis, where its operatives are usually seen pursuing street hawkers in a bid to arrest them and seize their wares.
The AEPB is not very active in the satellite towns
Mike Muonye, also a civil servant, noted that inadequate attention on satellite towns by the FCT authorities was responsible for the indiscriminate activities of street hawkers, which has now led to the open sale of sharp cutlasses in traffic.
But Muonye further observed that the sale of cutlasses in traffic was a security risk as the situation could easily be capitalised on by terrorists and other unsavoury elements to unleash terror in the FCT.
“Whenever I see these boys with their cutlasses, the first thought that comes to my mind is ‘I might come under attack’ and as a result of that, I feel uncomfortable and unsafe. If I have my way I will not pass through this junction (Phase 4 Junction, Kubwa expressway) but this is my route and I don’t have any choice,” Muonye said.
He added, “On some days there are many of them (cutlass-hawkers) moving among the traffic displaying the cutlasses. Imagine how easy it will be if, for any reason, people feel the need to disguise as matchette hawkers and then suddenly start attacking motorists and passengers. As far as I am concerned these people (hawkers) are armed, they are heavily armed and they operate unchallenged in the traffic. It is not right.”
While stressing that he does not oppose street hawking, having made some purchases in traffic on various occasions, Silas Okunbor, a businessman, observed that it is not every item that should be sold in traffic.
According to him, the type of cutlasses being hawked in traffic in parts of the FCT could as well be classified as weapons.
“Those are the type of cutlasses people buy for security reasons. They are not for cutting meat or yam or such purposes. Even the hawkers selling them will try to convince you to buy by telling you that you need to have such cutlasses in your home in order to protect yourself. So they are clearly weapons, not just ordinary household utensils,” Okunbor said.
Indeed, one of the hawkers, who identified himself as Abdullahi, while trying to convince our correspondent to purchase a cutlass, noted that it would come in handy if there was a need to defend the household in the event of an attack.
“You need one in the house,” Abdullahi said, adding that the cutlass has very strong and sharp steel.
A closer examination shows that the cutlasses could indeed pass for swords, and appears to be specially made for combat.
“You can also use it to cut grass and kill snake around the house,” Abdullahi added when asked if the machetes are only meant for ‘self-defence’.
However, he admitted that some motorists and passengers whom he approached with the weird wares complained about the cutlasses.
“People usually complain about the cutlasses. Sometimes when I approach a vehicle to display the cutlasses to people inside the car they will tell me not to come closer. I notice that some people are scared when they see the cutlasses but I don’t know why they will be afraid. We are just selling goods just like other hawkers here,” Abdullahi said.
But, despite misgivings over the menacing-looking cutlasses, Abdullahi explained that he and his colleagues are making quick sales in the traffic.
In regular markets and shops, the cutlasses sell between N2000 and N1800, but in traffic, hawkers are willing to collect N1200 for an item, depending on how the prospective buyer negotiates the price.
According to Abdullahi, on a normal day, he sells up to five cutlasses, or even more. And he is not the only one hawking the goods in the traffic.
“Many people don’t have cutlasses at home but when they see it being sold in traffic, they remember that they need them in the house. That is why we are selling cutlasses in the traffic,” he explained.
Motorists and passengers who are alarmed at the sight of cutlass-wielding youths in the traffic are not the only ones that are worried over the indiscriminate, uncontrolled sale of the materials. Interestingly, some other traffic hawkers, and roadside traders at bus stops, are also uncomfortable with the public parade of the ‘arms’.
A fruit-seller at the Phase 4 Junction on the Kubwa expressway, who simply identified herself as Mrs. Justina, said the presence of the cutlass-hawkers is a major cause for concern for other traders.
Justina explained that the hawking of machetes in the traffic at the junction was a relatively recent development.
“It was not so long ago that they started coming with the cutlasses to this junction. At first, some of us complained and told them to leave and at that time they were being very careful because people said the police will be brought to arrest them. But nothing like that happened and they are now operating freely,” Justina said.
While the other traders have learnt to mind their own business, Justina noted that they are still afraid of the cutlass-hawkers. On a particular occasion, according to her, one of them inflicted machete cuts on another hawker over an argument. “Whenever you have a misunderstanding with them, they will threaten you with the machete,” she added.
As further observed by Justina, “nearly all the young men that are hawking the cutlasses are from a particular part of the country“, a fact which, according to her, makes the development even more worrisome.
Be that as it may, although the Federal Capital Territory Administration, through the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, had been clamping down on street hawking, particularly in Abuja metropolis, nothing has been done to address concerns arising from the growing presence of cutlass-hawkers at traffic-heavy bus stops and junctions in satellite areas.
At the Phase 4 Junction on the Kubwa expressway on Tuesday evening, our correspondent saw a number of youths moving among the traffic, clutching handfuls of sharp cutlasses that are being displayed to motorists and passengers. Even for those who are used to the development, a youth stopping by the windows of a vehicle that is moving slowly in a traffic hold-up is quite an alarming, and scary phenomenon.
Voicing the secret fears of many, James Ekeani, a banker who always encounters the cutlass-hawkers on his way home from work most evenings, said, “What if they decide to attack people with these cutlasses? There will be no escape because people are stuck inside vehicles and they will just slaughter anybody they wish to attack. Cutlasses should not be hawked in traffic. It is not right.”
It remains to be seen whether the FCT authorities will take urgent action over the development but the management of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board said it was not aware of the development.
The spokesperson of AEPB, Janet Audu Peni, insisted that the agency does not tolerate street hawking, no matter the item involved. “We don’t permit hawking in the FCT and we have a mobile court that prosecutes anybody that is caught engaging in hawking,” she said.
The AEPB spokesperson added that the agency requires the support of members of the public. “When people notice things like this they should alert us because we don’t tolerate hawking,” she added.
However, Peni said AEPB enforcement officers would be deployed to the concerned locations to dislodge the cutlass-hawkers.