Dear Governor Ambode,
My father hawked when he was young.
Yes, he balanced a tray on his head and roamed around looking for people to buy his wares.
He once spoke to me about plucking seasonal fruits like guavas and mangoes to sell.
He even sold cigarettes.
There was this woman, Mama Ogunbiyide. My father had a special affinity for her. We grew up knowing this. (She passed on this year almost 7 years after my father died.)
My mum told me after my father’s death that mama knew my father as a boy and that every time she saw him hawking, she would buy everything on his tray whether she needed it or not.
I cannot picture my father hawking. He was a ‘big’ man when he passed on. A fellow with ICAN and ACCA.
He educated eight, yes I mean eight children from birth till they graduated from tertiary institutions. In fact, when two of the children decided to further their studies in the United Kingdom and America. He financed most of those.
I won’t begin to name other people that he supported to his death. Or that the grandchildren that never met him have ‘eaten’ directly from the fruit of his labour.
You are reading this article because I had a father that gave me the best education he could afford. He encouraged me and celebrated me.
I was NEVER hungry as a child.
I NEVER lacked as well.
Imagine o, a street urchin, balancing a tray on his head probably dressed in faded, old and dirty clothes. The ones we throw money at through the window and look down on. The ones that cannot string two sentences together in English.
That street hawker went to London School of Accountancy. He aced all his papers. I know because I found them in the bottom drawer that used to sit in the corner of our sitting room. In red ink scrawled at the top right hand of the papers.
He was saving the money he made by hawking through his aunty. One day, he asked her how much he had earned. She pulled a ‘Nigerian’ mum thing on him.
“Are you not eating in this house?”
He was very upset but determined not to fail he started all over again. This time, he opened his very first bank account with First Bank.
He saw himself through primary school. St Peter’s primary school then saved enough money to come to Lagos to pursue further education.
He placed his savings in a portmanteau. And had a little left in his pocket. He travelled by train to Lagos.
His savings were stolen.
But he started all over here in Lagos. As somebody’s houseboy. He even sold fuel, black market style. He made enough money to buy a bicycle which he rented out to people.
He finished his secondary education and went back to Jos. He started out as an errand boy to a company that he spent the next almost 5 decades working with.
He initially came to Jos to stay with his uncle and aunt because there was no one to care for him after his parents died in Abeokuta. He said he cried so hard he wanted to enter into the grave with his father.
But he worked hard till the day he died.
I wish you had seen this street hawker’s burial. The one that started with gaping holes in his shorts and no shoes.
The one that chased after cars.
The one that had so many losses but always started all over again.
Top dignitaries came for his burial. The national dailies, TV and radio carried news of his death.
He was buried on one of his many properties.
This is a difficult article to write and I am doing so with tears in my eyes.
I write it for three reasons.
I want Governor Ambode to have a rethink. Street hawkers are not flies that need to be swatted away so that the elite do not have to see them. Lagos has survived for decades with them. They are not an obstruction to anything. They do not die because it is dangerous to hawk. They die because KAI men chase them to their deaths. A leader must make room for not just the rich but the poor as well. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. You can try to find ways to assist them. But you cannot banish them. They hawk not because it is fun. They do so because it is a means of survival. Someone once chased me for almost a kilometre to get her money. We could not stop. You should have seen her eyes running on that bridge. When we could park. She ran past us. We had to chase her. I did not collect the change that day. It is a hard job, but it is needed for survival.
I write this to people that sit in air-conditioned cars and look down their noses at hawkers. People that call them ‘miscreants’. The ones they bark at not to touch their cars. Those that eye them as though they were suffering from leprosy. Hawkers are people. They have dreams and plans. They laugh, they eat, they love and have people that love them. THEY ARE PEOPLE. They are not subhuman because they sell stuff in traffic. So my dear people. See them as people. Sometimes, smile. Sometimes, be kind. Sometimes buy the whole tray of goods just to see them smile and close early. Sometimes leave the change. Or sometimes just look them in the eye and nod. Like an “I see you human being” nod.
Lastly, I write this to the people I am not sure will ever get to read this. The internet is probably the last of your worries. I write to the hawkers. This story is most importantly for you. It is possible. If Chief S.A Kuforiji did it, you can do it too. Run as fast as you can to sell off that gala, day by day, you will get closer to your dream. When you sleep at night, do not think about how hard your day was, think about the fact that you are steps closer to your goal. Open that bank account. Make those plans. It is possible for an orphan, it is possible for an abandoned child. It is possible for you. Your next generation will thank you. If you work hard, your children will not be hawkers too. You will change things for your lineage forever. It is possible even in these hard times.
That’s it folks.
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