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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dilemma of the hawker

Dilemma of the hawker

To stay home leaves the unemployed at the mercy of hunger and other dangers but to hawk exposes them to even more risks, including robbery and death.

They may have mastered how to run after vehicles and sell their articles to commuters, but hawkers in the nation’s capital have not devised any effective strategies to keep members of the Abuja Environment Protection Board (AEPB) at bay.

The hawkers say they are often chased, caught, beaten up and allegedly robbed of their articles by AEPB officials. Sometimes, the chase turns really ugly, resulting in the death of the itinerant petty traders, it was alleged.

Nineteen-year-old Sani Shehu who hawked energy drinks at Bolingo Junction was allegedly killed by officers of the AEPB, leaving his aged father, a roadside orange seller at Area1, in grief, Abuja Review was told.

The Abuja Environment Protection Board (AEPB) Act of 1997 prohibits street hawking among other things. To ensure compliance, the agency sends out its dreaded agents with a task force team which comprises security operatives. The hawkers are often harassed and arrested, their wares seized.

When the hawkers are arrested, they are required to be tried at a mobile court and if found guilty, fined, while those who cannot pay the fine are detained. A lot of them have different negative stories to tell about this task force team. Some hawkers accuse them of collecting bribes, allowing some hawkers who can afford to bribe them each day go ahead with their trade without any fear of intimidation.

Others accuse them of going about in plainclothes so they can catch unsuspecting hawkers.

Elkana Habilla said, “Most of us hawking are people trying to make ends meet instead of always begging from people or relatives or getting involved in criminal activities; it is not everyone that has the means of renting shops, some people start small and probably save enough to become big.”

A few weeks ago, a groundnut seller beside the NNPC Mega Station in Wuse was killed by an oncoming vehicle because she was being chased by the task force and she tried to cross the road too suddenly. A boy who roasted maize by the roadside around Central Area was also knocked down and killed by a lorry as he tried to escape from the AEPB.

Sani Shehu did not notice the AEPB officials on time, his co-hawkers said. So the team caught up with him and his friends at Bolingo Junction. The officials reportedly bundled some into their vehicle but could not take Shehu in because he held onto the bridge railing. In the scuffle, the hawkers said, Shehu was pushed over and died.

Umar Farouk, 20, who sells sachet water, said to be a close friend of Shehu, said he was one of those dragged into the AEPB vehicle.

“They threw him over and he died and the painful thing is that, maybe, it is because we are poor or seen as unimportant but we see his killers everyday and they act normal as if nothing happened, they have returned on several occasions to chase us after killing Sani and no one seems to care about the case,” Farouk alleged.

Other witnesses said they could identify Shehu’s killer any day.

“We all know him, every hawker in Abuja knows him. I know him very well just like I know the hunger in my stomach. He is the most heartless among all the members of the task force. We were all here and saw him kill our friend.”

Shehu’s 65-year-old father, Mallam Shehu Umar looked devastated, saying that the AEPB has taken his only hope and reason to live.

“Sani was my only hope after God; he was the only son that I had in this life, he was so hard-working, was always ready to help me out and I was grateful to God for giving me such a responsible child. All my hope was that now that I have grown old, he will take care of me but now they have killed him.

“No one has bothered to come and talk to me since the incident; his killers all ran away and now I’m only living like a shell, I feel like I have nothing else to live for.”

Mallam Umar says that since the burial of his son, the police force who acted like they will take up the case have forgotten about it.

“I am crying to Baba [President Muhammadu] Buhari for justice, for him to wipe away my tears. During the election, Sani was one of those that fought hard to ensure victory for this government but now see what was done to him; they killed my only eye because he decided to be responsible, to work hard and support his family. To be honest if I could have my way then I will ask for AEPB to be scrapped completely, since they took my son away from me without remorse then I can never feel sorry for them.”

When Abuja Review contacted the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of AEPB Joe Ukairo, he said that the case was still being investigated.

“The case is a criminal case that is presently being investigated, the case is with the Inspector General of police and I cannot comment of it.”

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Anjuguri Manzah informed Abuja Review that the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase has ordered investigation into the matter.

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