Attention! Let’s Stop These “Road Markets”!
When I drive along the streets of many cities in Nigeria, I see “markets” in the middle of the road or by the roadside. The featured picture is taken in a city in northern Nigeria.
Many things run through my mind and I wonder about the public health implications of this practice. I think about the food sellers and buyers exposed to moving cars while they sell and buy food produce respectively. I also imagine the safety and hygiene of the grains openly exposed to dust and dirt as moving cars pass by.
Who Is To Blame?
I ask myself these questions: Who is to blame for people selling food items by the roadside or in the middle of the road? Is selling food items in odd places a sign of inadequate space in regular, controlled markets? Are food sellers on the road avoiding paying taxes or levies and that makes them choose to this path? Is it the failure of environmental task force officials who are to make sure clean, safe environment for all?
Other burning questions are: Is it the failure of health regulatory bodies that should make sure food items meant for human consumption are not sold in open, unhygienic and unsafe places? Or could it be that Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC), whose duty it is to make our roads safe has overlooked food sellers on the road?
On one occasion, I stopped to ask a food seller why he chose to sell his produce in the middle of the road. His response confirms one of my earlier assumption that multiple levies on the food sellers could be a key problem. He says: “…I don’t have a choice. I pay multiple levies from different agencies. I know there is risk involved in this business but I have to sell and feed my family”.
He probably spoke the minds of other food sellers.
Local and International Agencies Have a Role in Food Protection
There are clear guidelines on how to treat and control food, from production to consumption. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines food control as:
“….a mandatory regulatory activity of enforcement by national or local authorities to provide consumer protection and ensure that all foods during production, handling, storage, processing, and distribution are safe, wholesome and fit for human consumption; conform to safety and quality requirements; and are honestly and accurately labelled as prescribed by law.”
It is one thing to have food policies and guidelines and it is entirely a different thing to get them implemented to the latter. Countries, including Nigeria sign international declarations and agree to adopt or adapt internationally agreed policies. The question is whether these policies are fully implemented or not.
Nigeria has agencies responsible for safeguarding the health of its citizens. For example, the National Environmental Standards And Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) was created with a clear vision: “To ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for Nigerians”. The mandate of NESREA includes but not limited to: environmental protector, operator, advisor and environmental educator. We expect the agency to do a lot in curbing the menace of road markets.
Another agency that is directly responsible to curb road markets from existing is Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). Two of its responsibilities include:
- Preventing or minimizing accidents on the highway;
- · Clearing obstructions on any part of the highways;
What is The Way Out?
Address and Simplify taxation
One of the obvious driver of road markets is the problem of multiple taxes or levies on food sellers. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FRSC) should address issues of multiple levies and taxation on food sellers.
Presently, there are many innovations and reforms on tax management in Nigeria. Whether these consider the informal sector (where many road market food seller belong) is another thing. Areas of great concern for the informal sector will include: harmonizing multiple taxes and levies, simplifying the electronic tax payment system by making it accessible and comprehensible and educating local food sellers on national tax policies.
Public enlightenment campaigns on safe and healthy environment is key. To this end, public awareness campaign on dangers of selling or buying food on the road or by the road side is important. Although all the agencies responsible for protecting citizens’ health have some responsibility towards making this happen, the Consumer Protection Council has specific mandate for “organising and undertaking campaigns and other forms of activities that will lead to increased public consumer awareness;”
NESREA has a platform on its website for reporting cases of possible environmental violation. Citizens should be widely informed that such a useful portal exists and be educated on how to use it.
What role do consumers play in all this?
Consumers should demand for food protection and safety of their lives while they buy food. This is another role of Consumer Protection Council (CPC) through its Consumer Rights and empowerment activities. In addition to this, the council should provide accessible and acceptable consumer complaint platforms either online (using mass and social media) or by engaging with civil society organizations working for consumer rights and protection.
Each of these agencies can add to halting these odd and unusual markets by implementing their organizational mandate. They should make sure we eat healthy food- free of contamination and free of road hazards for both food sellers and buyers.