May This Traffic Jam Last Forever!

IMG_20150624_142037 CopyTale Of Lagos’ Grilocked Commuters And Their Merry Hawkers 

LAGOSIANS who have never bought one item or the other in traffic are certainly few; so few, they probably could be counted off the fingers. Thanks to gridlocks that have become a permanent feature of one of Africa’s most populous cities.

Or perhaps thanks to the ubiquitous hawkers who provide services aimed at keeping us ‘smiling’ while we are ‘suffering’.   From the notorious Apapa traffic jam to the snail pacing at the Oke Afa-Iyana Ejigbo-Ikotun axis or the crawl at the Lagos-Abeokuta road, commuters only have to look out of their windows to assess a wide range of products up for grabs.

Name them: bread, plantain chips, juice, fruits, water, soft drinks, assorted rat destroyers, audio and video CDs, utensils, toiletries, farming tools, mobile phones and accessories, perfumes, bags, wristwatches, sunglasses, shoes, night gowns, auto parts, picture frames, mirrors – the list is endless.

If you spend an average of three hours in traffic going to or returning from work, the likelihood is you would either have to steel yourself to resist falling into the temptation of buying something or the other, or yield.

After all, everybody is doing the same. You might suddenly remember that you saw a rat, that morning, jump out of a cupboard, the moment a hawker flashes a ‘rat gummer’ before your windshield. You might also discover that the traffic situation is telling you supper is two clear hours away.

Meanwhile, you had lunch at 2pm and the time is 8.30pm. Just then, a ‘sausage boy’ and a ‘soft drink girl’ draw your hungry attention to the quickies. What would you do?   But while your nerves are on edge with the ‘go-slow’, be sure not everybody is sad. In fact, some people, the hawkers, are happy.

And if you could read their minds, you would find the queer prayer – ‘May this gridlock last forever!’ Sometimes, their prayers are actually answered, especially if the supplication is made to powerful deities in the Apapa axis. Talk about one man’s poison being another’s delight.   Mr. Ugo, a civil servant, spends close to five hours in traffic – to and from work. He sounded like an authority in Lagos Traffic Studies. “You can practically shop in traffic,” he said.

“After all, it saves time. Besides, I spend so much time in the traffic idling away, doing nothing, except, of course, if I have a book to read. But usually I am so exhausted and so buying what I need on the highway is more convenient for me.”

But buying things in traffic sometimes has a dark underbelly. Once, the reporter witnessed an angry driver, who had just bought some eggs park his car, walk back to the seller and crush the rotten stuff on the hawker’s head.

One motorist, who thought the show of displeasure was unnecessarily taken too far, voiced his complaint to the deaf ears of the livid driver. But for reasons he alone could explain, the seller took the incident silently. Needless to say, many a motorist would recount his or her ordeal in the hands of unscrupulous traffic hawkers.

Mr. Fola, a businessman, said he once bought sausage roll. He was lucky to have discovered that the product had expired; else he could have had more than his hunger to contend with. “I had to stay hungry till I got home. Whenever I remember that incident I am cautious about purchasing things in traffic; I try to be careful,” he said.

IMG_20150624_140931 CopyAsked whether he, nevertheless, buys household and non-edible items in traffic, he answered: “I cannot buy these household items from them (hawkers). First, their prices are not as cheap as you would find in the markets.

I prefer to go to the market, check the items closely and then negotiate a fair price. And if such product fails to meet my expectation, of course, I know how to locate the seller and lodge a complaint.”

One respondent, Mr. Francis, said items sold in traffic may be stolen or fake, a factor that could explain why they often come cheap, or why the seller appears so eager to shift grounds during a bargain.

“It is chance that you get an item worth the money you have paid,” he said.   Calistus, a hawker, who sells soft drinks, said sales are higher at evening peak hours, even though profit per item is small. “We make a N10 gain on each bottle,” he said, adding: “I sell up to 60 pieces a day, we don’t have a choice, we have to make a living,” he said.

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