THE National Assembly is considering a comprehensive bill which, if passed, will enable the federal and state governments to regulate street trading, levy vendors, and make sure that across the country, individuals without permanent structures cannot trade without a license.
Named the “Nigerian Street Trading Regulation Commission (Establishment, Protection of Livelihoods, etc.) Bill, 2018”, was sponsored by Okorie Linus Abaa, the lawmaker representing the Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo constituency of Ebonyi State at the House of Representatives. The Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) states that the bill passed through first reading on July 12, 2018.
According to its explanatory memorandum, the primary aim of the proposed law is to generate revenue for the Federal Government through the establishment of the Nigerian Street Trading Regulation Commission (NSTRC). It says the purpose of the agency shall also be providing an institutional and formal approach to protecting the livelihoods of street traders, domestic workers and others within the informal sector.
Job creation for hundreds
The enactment of the bill will see to the emergence of new jobs for various individuals, from the federal level to local government area. The proposed Nigerian Street Trading Regulation Commission (NSTRC), will be headed by a director-general.
The commission shall also have a secretary, a legal adviser, thirty-seven state directors, one representative of the Central Bank of Nigeria, a representative of the National Identity Management Commission, a representative of the National Pension Commission, a representative of the National Insurance Commission and a representative of the National Commission for Nomadic Education.
The other government agencies represented on the commission are expected to be responsible for the award of grants and loans, the creation of a digital database, provision of pension services, provision of insurance policy, and implementation of a formal education framework for street traders.
Asides the federal commission, the bill also provides for the establishment of State Street Trading Committees which are to consider applications for the award of street vending licenses and delimitation of street trading zones within the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The state committees shall in turn be constituted by Local Government Area Commissioners or Chief Executive Officers of the Local Government Area (LGA) Street Trading Committees, and other representatives of the LGA committee including the medical officer, planning authority, traffic police, association of street vendors, market associations, traders associations, non-governmental organisations, banks, among others.
Job loss for countless others?
If the provisions of the bill are strictly implemented, it is expected that millions of Nigerians who are engaged in one form of street trading or the other will lose this source of livelihood and may be forced into alternative ventures. And the bill has broad a definition for the term “street trader”.
Section 31 defines it as “a person engaged in vending of articles, goods, wares, food items or merchandise of everyday use or offering services to the general public, in a street, lane, side walk, footpath, pavement, public park or any other public place or private area, from a temporary built up structure or by moving from place to place and includes hawker, peddler, squatter and all other synonymous terms which may be local or region specific.”
Part Four, sections 18 to 25, deals with the manner in which street trading will be regulated. According to it, no person can engage in street-trading unless they have a licence (valid for a limited period), accompanied by an identification card.
To get the licence, an amount will be paid and an undertaken must be signed with the State Street Trading Committee to swear, among other things, that the applicant has no other means of livelihood. The spouse or child of a street trader may use his or her licence in the case of death, illness or disability.
Every five years, section 19 says, the State Street Trading Committee shall conduct a survey of street vendors based on “street trading zones” under its jurisdiction. Existing vendors will be accommodated in the trading zones but only “subject to a norm conforming to two and half per cent of the population” and “in accordance with the plan for street trading and the holding capacity of the street trading zones”. They will not be able to trade in non-street trading zones.
What happens when the street traders identified in the first survey are more than the zone’s holding capacity? According to Section 20(3), “the State Street Trading Committee shall carry out a draw of lots for issuing the certificate of street trading for that street trading zone and the remaining persons shall be accommodated in any adjoining street trading zone to avoid relocation.”
Section 31 explains that the holding capacity is the maximum number of street traders who can operate in any trading zone as determined by the local government area on the recommendations of the State Street Trading Committee.
The bill requires every trader to pay periodic maintenance charges for civic amenities and facilities provided in vending zones to maintain cleanliness and to ensure public properties are in good condition and are not damaged or destroyed.
Also, a street trader operating without certification or who contravenes the terms of his certificate may be evicted by the local government area, may be fined, may have his goods seized and, if he or she does not obey a notice to vacate, “shall be liable to pay for every day of such default”.
Asides becoming “a self-sufficient revenue generating Commission of the Federal Government of Nigeria”, other objectives of the street-trading commission include to provide technical assistance through capacity building across the value chains, to reduce the cost of borrowing by street traders from commercial banks, to provide technical advice to street trading businesses, etc.
Not the only law, not the first time
Though it appears to be the first national attempt in this direction, it is not the first time lawmakers or governments in Nigeria have sought to regulate street-trading. Preceding the bill is the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending in the Federal Capital Territory) Bill, 2018, sponsored by Lovette Idisi for the FCT. The first reading took place on January 17, 2018.
Ebonyi State, where the federal bill’s sponsor comes from, recently clamped down on roadside traders in Abakaliki as it invoked the provisions of the state’s environmental law prohibiting road obstruction. Other states have taken similar steps in driving petty traders away from the streets. But no matter how much force is deployed, the traders keep returning to the streets.
According to latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there are 15.9 million Nigerians who are without jobs (that is 18.8 percent), and about 18 million are underemployed. As a result, millions are driven to the informal sector which contributed 41.4 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2015.
The International Monetary Fund even says the sector constitutes up to 60 per cent of the entire economy. Coming right after agriculture, trading activities account for 26 per cent of the informal economy.
Section 16 of Nigeria’s constitution directs the government to “protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy”. It also says the state is to “control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity”.
'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.