TOLUWANI ENIOLA writes about the practice of some randy male traders who touch vital parts of female customers at crowded markets
It was a busy Tuesday night at the popular Yaba market in Lagos which stretches to the Ojuelegba bus stop in Surulere. It is regarded as one of the crowded markets in Lagos because of its heavy human traffic and miscellany of goods on display. The market boasts of cheap, second-hand goods such as sandals, shoes, skirts, blouses and local fabrics, among others.
Boutiques, shopping plazas, restaurants, kiosks and even banks have sprouted up at every corner of the road. Some traders also freely display their wares by the roadsides which sometimes cause vehicular traffic as commuters struggle to wade through the market.
As usual, the market was reeling with noises and music as 27-year-old Mary James was returning home from work. The market is not new to James because she passes through it almost every night while commuting home from a bookshop where she works.
James detests the ubiquitous male traders, who hang around the market, pestering passers-by for patronage. The traders are known to be aggressive and saucy and sometimes harass people. Though they also harass men, women are mostly the victims. That night, James had a nasty experience. One of the traders forcefully grabbed her hand while persuading her to buy from his collections.
She tried to resist the man but he was too strong for her. While she was struggling to free herself from his grip, another male trader hugged her, whispering into her ears, “Sweet girl, come and buy from me.”
James said, “When I felt the hug, I was speechless. As he hugged me, his hands were on my buttock. I screamed and he let me go. As I made to go, he started uttering foul languages, and said in Pidgin, ‘Your breast dey small and your yansh small and you dey form fine girl’.”
That was not the first time James would experience that at the market. She added, “Sometimes when they grab my hands, and I try to hit them, they will then insult me more. I used to warn them not to try their rubbish with me but they won’t listen.”
Fondling of female shoppers at markets common
The story of James is a regular occurrence in many markets in the country. James experience fits perfectly into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition of sexual harassment as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching.”
The EEOC’s definition notes that such sexual harassment covers “unwanted sexual looks or gestures and unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions.” These cases are abundant in major markets in the country and there is a growing concern on how to check them.
In fact, in the last few months, reports from different parts of the country show that women are increasingly becoming victims of sexual harassment in markets when they go to purchase wares. Those who shared their ordeals with SUNDAY PUNCH complained that whenever they visited such crowded markets, they were always harassed and assaulted by male traders.
Another victim is a lady who identified herself simply as Bukola. She told SUNDAY PUNCH that she experienced sexual harassment in broad daylight at the Yaba market. She said, “Yaba market is a very notorious place. Before I experienced it, I had heard of how their male traders use the opportunity of selling their goods to touch women indiscriminately.
“That day, my friend and I went to Yaba market to buy some goods. While we were walking and checking out some of the clothes hung on the shelves, I just felt a hand round my waist while another male trader hugged my friend.
“It was embarrassing. I just screamed but this guy remained adamant by holding me, telling me that he sells beautiful skirts. By this time, we were already enraged. We started insulting him but they insulted us back. One of them told us that he was better than our boyfriends.
“Ever since that day, I stopped going to that market. I now buy all my clothes and shoes on the Island.”
Another victim, Christina, who spoke to our correspondent, described sexual harassment in the market as a big issue.
She said, “I went to Tejuoso market to buy some things. After negotiating the price of the goods, I realised that I didn’t have enough money.
“I told the trader but he said no problem. He said if I agreed to have sex with him inside his shop, he would give me the items I wanted to buy for free. I was shocked at his boldness that it took me a while to leave his shop.”
Mrs. Olubunmi Amoo, who experienced it in 1997, said it was an age-old practice common in most crowded markets across the country. “I went to a popular market in Lagos in 1997 and a male trader sexually harassed me. He touched my right breast under the pretence of trying to sort out the clothes I wanted to buy. I hate those male traders. I hate them,” Amoo stated.
In other markets, the tales are the same
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that other markets in Lagos such as Balogun, Aswani, Mile 12, Alaba International Market, Computer Village, Lagos Island, among others, have notoriously become a den of perverts who molest women on a daily basis.
Mrs. Grace Odeyemi recounted an experience she witnessed at Aswani market in Lagos. Aswani, located beside the Isolo Local Government Area secretariat, is well known for the sales of fairly used clothes at cheap prices.
According to her, in 2011, a lady, who wore skimpy skirt became the subject of ridicule by male traders at the market who quickly gathered to taunt her for her dressing.
Odeyemi said, “A crowd of traders gathered around her. One lifted her skirt from the front while another lifted her skirt from the back, revealing her pants. I was shocked. That is the level we have degenerated to in Nigeria.”
The story is not different at the Computer Village, Ikeja, said to be the largest Information and Communication Technology market in the country. The Computer Village spreads from Ikeja Under-Bridge towards the Ikeja Local Government secretariat.
Beginning from Binite Street, the village spreads through Anibiyi community to Otigba, overrunning Adepitan Street. The village also spills into Anifowose community and Obafemi Awolowo Way. Many landlords in the neighbourhood yielded to the commercial lure of the mega bucks that flow from the ICT sector by converting their residential houses to commercial buildings.
The market is home to mobile phones and computer dealers but also parades technicians who specialise in the repair of faulty mobiles and computers. There are also dealers in phone accessories such as batteries, phone chargers, memory cards, pirated software, movie DVDs, musicals, used mobile phones and other computer components.
Investigation by our correspondent showed that it is also becoming dangerous for ladies who visit the place to purchase IT accessories.
A civil servant, Mrs. Yemi Adebanji, shared the story of her sister who was sexually harassed at the market with SUNDAY PUNCH.
Adebanji stated, “This sexual harassment has to stop. My sister is a bit slim and busty. So, once they saw her in the market, they abused her verbally, saying things like ‘kileleyi, se e n to omo lowo ni?’ (What is this? Are you breastfeeding a baby?) They also said other unprintable things to her.”
Other women lamented that the crime was also flourishing in the popular Balogun Market on the Lagos Island. Balogun is a large market which sprawls across many streets on the Island. The market is one of the best places to get the best wholesale deal in different fabrics, shoes, office shorts, suits, ties etc.
Earlier in March, a 16-year-old university student, Bimbo Adenipekun, was harassed sexually at the market.
“I went to the market to get some things. There, I met a male trader. Actually, I had passed him, so he started pulling me back and touching me in sensitive areas as he winked at me.”
“He said I should look at my chest, that he would give me any amount to follow him home. He suddenly started touching me. I just had to leave the place because I was already scared,” recounted Adenipekun.
It’s a malady across the states
Sexual harassment of ladies is not peculiar to markets in Lagos. SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that it is also a common trend in other parts of the country such as Ibadan, Enugu, Onitsha, Port-Harcourt and even Calabar, where there are large market concentrations.
A 23-year old lady, who identified herself only as Nneka, recounted her experience at the popular ‘Meat Market’ in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital.
Nneka said, “I have experienced sexual abuse in the market many times. I don’t even keep count anymore. One incident has always stuck though. There was a day I was coming back from school, dressed in a high-neck top and a long skirt, and decided to buy some vegetables at the market.
“A dirty-looking man (he was perfectly sane), suddenly jumped in front of me and made kissy sounds right on top of my breasts. Oh my God! I had never felt more irritated in my life. I couldn’t scream as much as I would have wanted to. I just dodged him as best as I could and walked away as fast as my legs could carry me. When I reached home that day, I cried.”
In Rivers State, some young women, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH, lamented how some men harassed them inside the Rumuigbo market in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state.
Amaka, a marketer in a firm, explained how a man touched her breast inside the market.
She said, “Last two weeks in Rumuigbo market, a young man passed by my side and touched my breast. I asked him why he did that, I just saw him smiling and winking at me.
“The man was not selling anything; he was just inside the market to do that. It is worse at Oil Mill market in Eleme. There, they can even touch your bum-bum (buttocks) and breasts. It is annoying that someone you don’t know will just touch your sensitive parts.”
Also, a student, identified only as Regina, explained that because she had big buttocks, some men in the market usually screamed whenever they saw her.
She said, “I have experienced sexual harassment not only in the market but also on the street. Some men will see you, come close to you and shove you with their shoulders. Some of them will be looking at your backside and shouting, ‘ah.’ For instance, in Rumuola, someone just grabbed me and said, ‘Hey girl, come, I like you’. I had to scream at him to leave me alone.”
A professional usher, who gave her name as Uchechi, also narrated her experience at Mile One market. She stated that a trader once touched her body when she refused to respond to his sexual advances.
She said, “It was at Mile One market; one of the traders there called me fine girl and when I did not respond, he touched my body. I became annoyed and when he noticed that, he called me nonsense girl.”
To Juliet, who is into make-up, the practice is prevalent in markets. She said a male trader once touched her friend’s boobs at the same Mile One market.
Juliet stated, “The guy sells things and when he called my friend to come and buy from him and she did not answer, he came close to her and touched her breasts. That was my first time of going to Mile One market. His action was surprising as my friend dressed decently. It was annoying and embarrassing.”
Many women have also taken to the social media to express their frustration on the problem. A Twitter user, identified as @Dinma, wrote, “I was walking at a market and one guy slapped my buttocks and said in pidgin, “See your yansh, dem dey f****you well well.”
Another Twitter user, @therealwunmi, wrote, “I went to a market and one of the sellers pressed my breast. I was angry and he said, ‘no be press I press’.”
A Twitter user, Ola Abimbola, wrote, “A guy on a bike smacked my buttock in the name of ‘kuro lona’ (leave the road).”
One, whose story could be said to be a reference point in what is now known as Nigeria’s scourge of sexual harassment in markets, is Bliss Otong.
Otong, who shared her experience on Facebook, said her young sister was sexually assaulted in her presence in a Calabar market when she went to buy her a dress for her end-of-the-term party.
She said, “She’s just 13 years old. I was bargaining with a trader when I heard my sister saying, ‘Don’t touch me, idiot.’ I turned around and the idiot (trader) was really touching her bum again.
“I removed my slippers and hit him on his head while he ran away. Other traders were lecturing me on how my sister was beautiful and that was why they have to touch her. Guess what? They even had ladies among them.”
Why the practice festers
Why does sexual harassment of women in markets assume a damning proportion? A human rights activist, Ebenezer Omejalile, blamed market unions and regulatory agencies for the menace.
The activist maintained that the unions made the crime attractive in the markets by not sanctioning such randy traders who harass women.
Omejalile stated, “First, some ladies dress indecently but that is never an excuse for anybody to molest them sexually. This is why I blame the market leaders for allowing this to go unchecked.
“Also, some of the traders are into drugs which make them behave abnormally. But the buck stops at the table of the market leaders and unions.”
However, a lawyer, Dotun Hassan, identified the cause of the problem from another perspective.
According to Hassan, sexual harassment of ladies in market thrives because most victims don’t report to the police and follow up their cases to get justice.
Hassan said, “The acts of some pervasive ‘market boys’, who touch vital parts of women passing by their shops, is a crime, and there should be a deterrent. We must ensure that such traders are reported to law enforcement agents while proper charges are preferred against such uncultured and indiscipline conducts.
“This embarrassing act is totally uncalled for. Most women are emotionally affected by these ridiculous activities, which, if not curbed, could lead to a breakdown of law and order due to the provocative conducts of such inhuman treatment.”
A Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, also condemned the act. He described sexual harassment of women as illegal and immoral, adding that taunting ladies and using them as objects of fun was wrong.
Adegboruwa cited Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution, which states that every citizen is entitled to the right to human dignity and respect of his or her person.
“To that extent, it is wrong for anyone to be touching a lady or see her as an object of ridicule or entertainment, or to be touching her buttocks or any other private areas,” he stated.
Market leaders, traders’ defence
Some traders and market leaders in Lagos said those male traders, who sexually molest female customers, were unregistered traders thronging the markets daily.
Many of such traders, they claimed, were found on the kerbs and walkways.
A trader, Mr. Bakare Kazeem, who spoke to our correspondent in one of the Lagos markets, said the randy traders enjoy moving around markets, brandishing their wares and looking for whom to hoodwink with their irresistible offers.
Kazeem pointed out that sexual harassment of ladies was usually perpetrated by unregistered traders he called “baranda.”
He said, “These traders don’t own shops. They usually manhandle ladies passing by in their bid to encourage them to buy from them. Most of them are youths who either dropped out of school and don’t have jobs. I remember one that happened recently. The boy manhandled a lady and even removed her chain in the process.’’
Another trader, who identified himself as Emmanuel, said the crime persisted because none of the “randy boys” had been arrested and prosecuted.
“And because the boys are many, I don’t know where the police will begin their work from. It has become a normal occurrence across markets and nobody is doing anything about it,” he added.
Speaking with SUNDAY PUNCH, the Babalaje of Tejuoso Phase 2 Market in Yaba, Mr. Olanrewaju Azeez, said stories of sexual harassment in the market had reached the union, noting that there was little the leaders could do to curb it.
Azeez explained that it was hard to impose sanctions on such randy traders because most of them were unregistered traders. The market leader said he made an example of one of such randy traders recently when he harassed a lady.
He stated, “It is a tough problem for us in this market. Most of the ladies harassed are fond of dressing indecently. Yaba has many traders from different parts of the country. Most of those who commit this crime are dropouts and louts. It is very difficult to deal with them because they are many. How many of them can we really deal with?”
Also reacting to the issue, the President, Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria, a market group of traders in the Computer Village, Mr. Adeyemi Ojikutu, said sexual harassment of ladies rarely happened at the ICT market.
Ojikutu also claimed he was not aware that any woman was verbally or sexually harassed at any time in the market.
He, however, said there could be a few cases of sexual harassment in the market compared to other markets in the state.
When our correspondent contacted the Iyaloja-General of Lagos, Mrs. Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, on the issue, she promised to get back to our correspondent. But she had yet to do so as of the time of filing this report. She also didn’t respond to a text message sent to her mobile.
But the issue has attracted the attention of the Lagos State Government, according to the Coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi.
She added that a few cases on the issue were reported.
Vivour-Adeniyi said, “The law is very clear. These acts constitute sexual harassment. As provided for by the law, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, request for favours and other visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
“We have had a few cases of this nature reported. People need to be taught to respect boundaries.”
Stakeholders offer solutions to the despicable practice
One of the solutions to the issue, according to Omejalile, lies in instituting fresh measures by market leaders to ensure the registration of all traders.
He believed market leaders must ensure that traders abide by a code of conduct, failure to obey which would lead to their expulsion from the markets.
Apart from consciously sensitising traders to such abuse, Adegboruwa urged market unions to establish task forces to nip such odious practice in the bud in order to assure smooth patronage and free movement in the markets.
He added, “Beyond this, the law enforcement agents must be alive and sensitive to attend to complaints from any citizen, on cases of assault, harassment or embarrassment.
“More specifically, it amounts to trespass to touch anyone, let alone a lady, against his or her own volition or consent. By our own standard in society, ladies deserve special protection from any form of assault, harassment or embarrassment.”
Hassan, on his part, called for a special mobile offences law to be promulgated to protect the rights of vulnerable women.
We’ll arrest culprits if victims report to us — Police
Also, the Police Public Relations Officer for the Lagos Police Command, SP Chike Oti, noted that the crime was on the rise because “victims don’t come out to report to the police.”
He added, “We can arrest such traders if we receive a complaint from any of their victims. Acts like indiscriminate touching of women are indecent assault and a crime.
“If any lady comes to complain, we will take action. They need to come forward with their complaints so that we can make arrests and investigate them.”
Additional report by Chukwudi Akasike
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]
(Visited 1,010 times, 407 visits today)
FOREX, BITCOIN and BINARY TRADING EXPERT:
We guarantee 37% Bi-weekly profit by professionally trading your forex, cryptocurrency,binary accounts for you.WhatsApp:+2348030797998.
click here for details.