The Future of Roadside Food in Nigeria

Nigeria is a country with rich cultural diversity and a sumptuous list of traditional food delicacies. These foods, as much as they vary according to region, are ubiquitous in their spread, thanks to the country’s high cultural assimilation. One is guaranteed to find at least a single roadside food vendor along a major road in every Nigerian city. These food vendors target places where high human traffic and activities occur such as markets, schools, and institutional areas. These food vendors are categorized into those that cook on the spot. And those that bring precooked food to their selling points.

Some of the most famous foods cooked on the spot include fried Kosai, Puff-Puff, Yam, Roasted Corn, and Plantains. Others include Danwake, Waina, and Suya. These foods are sold throughout the day and serve the purposes of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

roadside food in Nigeria

These roadside food businesses have been with us for a long time. And continue to serve easy and affordable access to fast food for low-income earners and members of the working class.

The coronavirus pandemic came and passed, but the roadside food sellers remain only now that they have evolved to include hand washing and sanitizers among the services they render to customers who wish to eat on the spot. Not even the ill-fated cashless policy was enough to put them out of business but exposed them to the financial system of banking and online transactions.

It is therefore important to undertake a brief reconnaissance into the activities of the roadside food business in Nigeria with the hope of foreseeing its future in the grand scheme of things.

The Changing Landscape

To begin with, the rise and proliferation of roadside food business is a testament to the urbanization of Nigeria. The country is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate with a large influx of people from the rural areas into the cities. 

In most Nigerian rural areas, especially in the northern region, eating outside or by the roadside is somewhat of a taboo and considered as a display of bad manners. A person is expected to purchase the food and find a private area before consuming it in a dignified manner.

But if there is anything urbanization is known for it is the disruption of the status quo and the pushing of barriers. This is why roadside food businesses are finding more consumers who disregard the requirements of customs and traditions.

Health and Hygiene of Roadside Food

In a country where people strongly believe in the saying that Small diseases no dey kill African man, one can expect the producers of roadside food to operate on this unofficial motto. And this is what happens: Most of these roadside food sellers have their stalls close to open gutters and drainages.

Some customers have reported cases of diarrhea as a result of consuming such food but have no option but to continue patronizing them because that is what they can afford. 

Nigeria has a National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration. However, due to the sheer number and spread of these roadside foods, it is a huge constraint on the agency to effectively regulate and ensure these roadside food businesses comply with standards. Instead, the NAFDAC mostly focuses on food business that is formal and registered on relevant government databases.

The Struggle for Regulating Roadside Food

Not only is the NAFDAC struggling to regulate these businesses, but the physical development of Nigerian cities has serious headaches in dealing with roadside businesses.

This is so because a significant majority of roadside food is sold on lands that do not belong to the sellers. In fact, from the name ‘road’ sellers, it is clear that these businesses compete with road users in the use of public space.

When state governors move to sanitize, renew, or upgrade the cityscape of their capital cities, these roadside food sellers are mostly some of the biggest casualties. The temporary structures of roadside food vendors erect by the roadside are easily demolished to give way for road expansions. This leads to a displacement of eating sources for the many customers who heavily rely on roadside food every day.

In Kaduna for example, during the famous Kaduna Urban Renewal, many roadside food vendors were displaced by the urban renewal. The food sellers moved to lands that belonged to the federal government and erected their selling spots. This is a temporary relief for the sellers as the federal government can also easily expel them from such lands.

It is therefore clear that the lack of formal registration and recognition of roadside food vendors places the problem of security of tenure on such businesses. Important as they are, this means one day a roadside food vendor will be here today and by tomorrow, he or she has been kicked out. 

To address this challenge, just like the problem of squatter settlers in ghetto areas of Nigerian cities, the state governments have to devise a means of creating dedicated spots for such businesses to conglomerate. And tax them a reasonable fee for their services instead of chasing them in an endless hide-and-seek. The government should consider this arrangement as a service to the thousands of people in the state who ordinarily can not afford to buy food from expensive restaurants but depend on cheap food from roadside vendors.

Parallels of Roadside Food From Developed Cities

In many developed cities around the world, food is sold on the streets only by licensed individuals who are required to present a tax ID at all times. This means the local government authorities of such cities recognize the importance of street food to the overall economy of their cities and the population. 

Despite these interventions, the regulation of street food even in developed cities is a big nut to crack. This is so because a reasonable number of people selling on the streets of western cities are immigrants and working on strict visa policies. The bias of local police in enforcing obedience to the city’s laws on street food vending often results in unintended assault and innuendos or outright harassment of these vendors.

While the problem of police brutality is a deep social problem experienced by immigrants in the West, the food vending business experiences a ray of heat from it from time to time. 

The Future of Roadside Food Vending

To predict the future of roadside food vending in Nigeria, it has to be agreed that food is a permanent feature of human needs. The permanence of this need means roadside food can only be reformed but never be eliminated.

Here are some of the possible ways the future of roadside food can be shaped in Nigeria.

  1. As Nigeria continues to urbanize and organize its cities, the place and importance of roadside food will become more recognized. Instead of evicting and pushing roadside food vendors away from city streets, designated zones and areas will be allocated to food vendors in cities. Food sellers will be required to obtain a license before operating and be required to pay relevant taxes to the Nigerian government.
  2. The rise of technology will provide bigger opportunities for roadside food businesses to diversify and offer services to a wide range of services to customers. Roadside food vendors can register their businesses on Google Maps where prospective customers can easily search for them. Thereby possibly placing orders directly online. Already, the online food business is booming in Nigeria. Although the prevented crop of roadside food patronizers are low-income earners with no or little access to the internet. The situation will change in the near future which will enable the roadside food business to fully leverage technology.
  3. As the pandemic of coronavirus has shown the world how deadly viruses can spread and change the entire social fabric of society, the roadside food business will learn from the need for improved health and safety of food. The food people consume is the easiest way through which diseases can spread. Hence, the roadside food business will witness improved regulation and enforcement of higher standards of health and safety. Local governments will become increasingly involved in the promotion of primary health of these roadside food businesses. As it stands, the death of local government autonomy in Nigeria is one of the leading reasons why roadside food is sold with reckless abandon, close to gutters and open drainages. 
  4. Many of the sellers of roadside food especially the Mai Shayi and Indomie joint owners in northern Nigeria are immigrants from Niger Republic. This raises concerns about the country’s immigration policy and the laws that guide the operation of expatriate businesses in Nigeria. In the near future, Nigeria will put forth policies that regulate and recognize these peculiarities in the roadside food business. Also, more laws will be put forth that recognize the validity and rights of Nigerians to pursue businesses in any part of the country. This is especially true given how Nigerians who travel to parts of the country where they are a minority are easily targeted as soft targets in cases of ethnic tensions. These vulnerable targets mostly operate in menial jobs, including roadside food vending.


The future of roadside food vending in Nigeria is tied on many levels to the transition of Nigeria from a developing country to a developed one. Nigeria has no shortage of ambitious plans of joining the committee of developed nations and it is essential that our development plans are continually designed to incorporate this very important sector of the food industry.

The potential to be reaped from Nigeria’s successful transformation and improvement of its roadside food vending business is enormous. As such, all stakeholders have a role to play in ensuring our roadside food business is not only sustainable but resilient.


Abdulrahman Baba-Ahmed

Abdulrahman Baba-Ahmed is a student of policy and development studies who has passion for and interest in social and cultural issues happening in Nigeria.