Makinde: Making Room For Everyone At The Table By Sulaimon Olanrewaju

The whole place erupted in rapturous joy when Governor Seyi Makinde announced that the 700 stalls in the newly constructed market at Agodi Gate Junction would be given free of charge to the displaced street traders, who had illegally occupied the space before the government moved in. The Governor’s speech was temporarily disrupted as the traders, who could not contain their joy, trooped out to express their appreciation to Oyo State governor.
Makinde.

Apparently the traders had waited in bated breath to hear what the Governor would say. They had, over the past 10 months, lived in trepidation that the government might have deceitfully pushed them out of the space to bring in a new set of people to take over the newly constructed market. But Governor Makinde pleasantly surprised them by not only giving them the stalls but giving them free of charge.

When the traders managed to bring their emotions under control, the Governor continued.

“The shops that are here are for those trading by the side of the road, and they will be given free of charge. Nobody will collect one Naira from you. This means 700 of you will be moving out of the street into this place. So, we thank God.

“We can see how beautiful this environment is now and our plan is to keep it that way. Street trading and illegal dumping of refuse at road medians are two uncivil acts we must do away with as citizens.

“I have given a directive that anyone found carrying out such activities in this area should face the full wrath of the law. As we celebrate this accomplishment, I vow to do more for our people because it is our belief that you will reciprocate by protecting this project.”

Governor Makinde was later joined by Anambra State governor, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, to commission the project after which the two governors drove out of the premises and headed for Badeku village for the flag-off of the 32.2km South East wing of the Senator Rashidi Ladoja Circular Road.

Before leaving for Badeku, I decided to go to where the traders were assembled to see if I could have a word with one of them. As I scanned the faces, my eyes fell on a dark, averagely built woman in her forties donning the traditional ankara iro and buba. I moved close to her and engaged her in a conversation. I introduced myself as a journalist.

“I saw that you were so happy when the Governor announced that the stalls would be allocated to traders free of charge. Why were you that happy?”

“You can’t understand.”

“That’s why I need you to explain it to me.”

I noticed a change in her countenance as she tried to fight back tears.

I stretched my hand to touch her. “I am sorry if I said anything wrong. Please forgive me.”

She managed a smile. “No, it has nothing to do with what you said.” She took a deep breath as she continued. “You don’t know what it means to trade on the streets. You may think it is easy but it is not; it is akin to a daily rendezvous with death. I have seen, on many occasions, how young people who were full of life one moment were knocked down to death by a reckless driver or motorcyclist a matter of minutes later. I have also seen the same thing happen to old people. Street trading is living on the edge.”

“But why engage in street trading knowing it is that dangerous?”

“For many of us, it is a Hobson’s choice; the only choice we have. It is a choice we were forced to make. There are shops all over this area and I for one would have loved to sell my wares in a shop but how can I rent a shop when the worth of my business is less than N50,000?”

“Wow!” I said. “How did you get into street trading?”

“I grew up here,” she said with a wry smile. “I became conscious of this place as a five or six-year-old girl. As a matter of fact, my mother was delivered of my younger sister here. So, street trading has been my life. It was also my mother’s life until her death.”

“Really? Sorry about that. May her soul continue to rest in peace.”

“Amen, thanks.”

“I am sorry, did you have an opportunity to go to school at all?”

“Yes, up till JSS3.”

“Why did you stop at that point?”

“There was no money to continue. That was the point at which I became a full street trader. Before that time, I always joined my mother after school to hawk her wares. When I stopped schooling, I worked under my mother for about two years before I started my own business.”

“How did you raise money to start your business?”

“It was my mother’s idea. May God rest her soul.”

“Amen,” I said.

“When it became obvious that I couldn’t continue with my education, there was no question of what I had to do. I had already been integrated into the street trading culture. So, it was the obvious path for me to toe. But my mother said she would not want me to do this for too long. So, she started a weekly contribution specifically for her to raise money for me to start my own business. The plan was that she would save the money for two years with the intention of handing it over to me. She also said she would continue the contribution for two additional years after setting me up in business so that I could use the money to get a shop. However, less than a year after I started my own business, she took ill. She was hospitalized for about three months before she eventually died. I took over her space and that put paid to my mother’s dream of taking me out of street trading.”

“I am so sorry to hear that.”

“That is why I was probably happier than all others when Governor Makinde announced that we were going to be given the stalls. That means I will no longer be a street trader. What my mother wanted to do for me, but could not do due to her sickness and death, Governor Makinde is going to do.”

“I am so happy for you.”

She laughed heartily. “Thank you. But deeper than that is that I had been thinking that street trading is a generational curse for me.”

I chuckled as I shook my head in disagreement with her.

“You may laugh as much as you want but I know what I am talking about. Street trading started with my mother, she handed it over to me. Already, my first daughter has joined me in this business, though she is still in school. I started like that. That’s three generations of street traders. If not for Governor Makinde’s intervention, the likelihood of her ending up like me is quite high. But with me becoming a stall owner, even if she chooses to become a trader later, she won’t be on the street. That is a thing of great joy for me. So, I thank the Governor for breaking this generational curse of street trading in my lineage. Apegun idile run ni Gomina. The Governor is a generational curse destroyer.”

“I congratulate you and the others.”

But the woman was not done yet.

“Even if the Governor had said we would pay a token for having the stalls we would have been quite happy. But he said we are going to have the stalls free of charge. Ha! That is beyond our expectations. We are very grateful to the Governor. Gomina f’aye gbawa, Gomina kawa kun eeyan. Iwaju, iwaju ni won o moo lo. The Governor has made room for us! The Governor has elevated us! Irreversible progress is his lot.”

By this time the woman had become emotional as her eye welled up.

I patted her and said, “Madam, it is well. God has turned around your story. May God prosper the business and take you from this stall to a bigger place.”

“Amen, thank you, sir.”

“But I have a question. How will you and others ensure that this place is well taken care of as requested by the Governor?”

She beamed a smile.

“That is the easiest thing to do. Apparently, you don’t understand the impact of what the Governor has done for us. We who others considered as nobody, the Governor has made somebody. We who were eating on the floor, the Governor has given a space on the table. We would be ingrates if we failed to take care of this beautiful place.”

As the woman danced in unconcealed mirth away from my presence to join her colleagues, what Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo had said earlier while speaking about Governor Makinde rang loud in my ears: “When the righteous are in power, the people rejoice.” I imagined the quantum of joy that would spread across the city that Friday as the 700 new stall owners regaled their family members of their good fortune.

Olanrewaju is the Chief Press Secretary to Oyo State Governor.

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