Lagos Gridlock: ‘Sorry You Hate It…We Are Loving It!’

Hustler: Ojo Nduka in Lagos traffic PHOTOS BY Benson Ibeabuchi
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Just after 6am, Omowumi Adekanmbi leaves the one-room flat where she lives with her four children. An hour later, she is at work in the gridlocked morning traffic – her customers the frustrated car commuters of Lagos.

From a bowl balanced on her head, Adekanmbi deftly hands over cans of fizzy drinks with one hand and collects naira banknotes with the other. When the bowl is empty, she buys more and returns to lines of cars that have barely moved in the meantime.

Omowumi Adekanmbi with the cold drinks she will sell to a captive audience of stationary motorists

A 2018 report showed that Lagos residents spend an average of 30 hours a week in traffic, one of the highest figures in the world. The city – Africa’s seventh largest economic hub despite being Nigeria’s smallest state by area – is home to an estimated 24 million people.

This contrast between size and population means that the city’s 9,100 roads accommodate 5m vehicles transporting eight million residents.

Gridlock at Iyana Ipaja in Lagos … an ideal marketplace for street hawkers

The effect on life in Lagos is huge. Schoolchildren lose hours of sleep because they must get up so early to beat the traffic, and workers are stressed and quick to burn out. This year, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Lagos as the second-worst city in the world to live in, behind only Damascus. And with the population predicted to hit 88 million by 2100, things can only get worse.

The gridlocks are so consistently bad that some residents have built their life around trading amid the traffic. Adekanmbi has been selling drinks to drivers and frazzled passengers for 11 years, she says, taking a 9am break in a bus shelter as the rain drizzles.

“I started to trade in the traffic after my husband’s death in 2010. Before he died, I was a food trader. I changed my job to take care of our children.

“Selling food requires you to have more capital, and you can only make profits after selling everything. Selling drinks in this traffic brings profit at a faster rate. Most times, I collect the goods on credit, sell, take my profit, and pay off the debt to the wholesaler so that I can collect more goods,” she says.

Adekanmbi rises at 6am every day to ply her trade amid the exhaust fumes of Lagos

On good days, Adekanmbi makes about 3,000 naira (£6) profit.

In Nigeria, where 80 million Nigerians are living below the poverty line, according to the country’s statistics bureau, the plight of people such as Adekanmbi reflects widespread economic problems, says Adesola Afolabi, an economist and editor at the business news site Stears.

“When we look at the cost of their day-to-day livelihood under the harsh conditions involved, you will begin to count things like health cost, physically and mentally,” she says.

Hawkers weave between idling vehicles in the omnipresent Lagos traffic jams. Many say they can make more money on the streets than at other jobs, but choking exhaust fumes take a toll on their health

“When you also consider other socioeconomic costs, including days that they don’t sell as much as they want, what happens to all of the benefits? Does that mean they don’t eat that day?” she asked.

Ojo Nduka, a father of four, also works on the city’s congested roads. “I started selling in traffic 10 years ago. There’s no other job I could get that was better.”

Last year, he was offered a job as a driver, with a monthly salary of 30,000 naira, equivalent to the federal minimum wage, but he turned it down.

“I have four children, and that won’t be enough for us. By selling in traffic, I earn more. It varies depending on how much I sell a day. If the market is good, I make more than 50,000 naira in [monthly] profit.

“All my children are still in school, and I pay their fees from my profit,” he adds.

The state government has outlawed street hawking twice. But, like many Nigerian bans imposed without offering alternatives, implementation is non-existent. In Lagos, commuters who have to battle traffic all day find it useful to buy items from their cars.

Sellers adopt different tactics. While some, like Adekanmbi, have a regular patch where they sell their goods, others such as Nduka have no permanent base. “I have friends who also sell in traffic across the city; I’ll call them to check the flow and decide on the best place to sell for the day,” says Nduka, as he weaves his way back through the exhaust fumes of the traffic jam.

The Guardian Of London

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