Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Criminalization of Survival.

KAI at work. Credit. yahoo.groups
Note: This  article was first published in  Youthspeak on the 10th of February 2014. 

Africa's development path (in terms of creating sustainable income, ability to live a decent life, general well-being, increased purchasing power parity, having access to basic social amenities) is different from that of Europe, America and Asia. This is because Africa lags behind on development metrics and creativity is required to catch up with others.
Also, Africa is able to avoid the development challenges and phases other nations went through. For instance, Countries in Africa literally jumped from no access to telecommunications to 650 million mobile telephone subscribers. Yet, in spite of available models to adapt to suit our needs, the continent has failed to translate her positive GDP rates to real effects for her citizens. 
Government inefficiencies, failure of leadership and negative effects of globalization birthed an unintended consequence that may be a solution to our development challenges. This unintended consequence is the informal economy.
World Bank reports state that this economy contributes at least 40% of Africa’s GDP. Yet governments alienate its members culturally, socially and economically.  Though there is no precise definition of the informal economy because it encapsulates many aspects, the International Labour Organization  (ILO) defines it as
“all economic activities by workers and economic units that are – in law or in practice- not covered or insufficiently covered by formal arrangements. Their activities are not included in the law, which means that they are operating outside the formal reach of the law; or they are not covered in practice, which means that although they are operating within the formal reach of the law, the law is not applied or not enforced; or the law discourages compliance because it is inappropriate, burdensome, or imposes excessive costs” 
 Therefore, street hawkers, tailors, drivers, carpenters, handymen, kiosk owners, recharge card vendors, mobile and home offices fall into this category. The informal economy exists in most African cities and Lagos, Nigeria’s melting pot has her share of vendors who survive by hawking items from recharge cards, potatoes, shoe racks, mobile phones, accessories, fruits in traffic or curb sides.
In 2003, the Lagos State government set up the KAI (Kick Against Indiscipline) Brigade. “to keep Lagos Environment Clean: by eliminating indiscriminate dumping of refuse in unauthorized places and eliminating all forms of Street trading and hawking”. This is in line with the government's Mega city goal. The Brigade carries out its duties faithfully and diligently. The fear of KAI is the beginning of wisdom for most hawkers as their goods (which may not be worth more than N15,000) are confiscated in addition to other penalties that may be levied by the State. This action by the government is overkill.
Rather than destroy the meager means of livelihood of certain residents, the government should first identify why people hawk.
Some reasons include migration to Lagos for greener pastures, business failure (especially artisans who have learnt a skill but are unable to practice) and  the cumbersome and expensive process of setting up a business. Of the 3 in Nigeria, Lagos ranks 25th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business Rankings. Add to this overheads such as space and electricity. It would take a while for even a shrewd business owner to break even. It is no surprise that even businesses that can afford the legal process do not register their businesses.
Lagos is not the only city faced with the problem of street vending and its attendant effects such as pollution. The arrest and seize approach of KAI has not been successful. Instead, it has alienated the government from the "poor" who now view it as elitist.  Hawkers do not make enough to create sustainable income, thus even after they are caught and penalized, they return to the streets. 
To address the hawking problem, the State can adapt alternatives used in other cities such as creating mobile stalls for vendors in designated areas and stipulating hours they are allowed to operate or creating multi-shops stores around the city where hawkers are allowed to operate.

For an industry that emerged by accident and was regarded as a passing phase by scholars, the informal economy is here to stay. Governments like Lagos State should proactively harness the potentials of this sector by acknowledging it and creating conducive policies that aid its growth. This would be beneficial for both the members and the government because holding other factors constant (adequate provision of basic services) when players in the sector are able to create sustainable incomes, the government would be able to earn revenue like it does from the formal sector.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Counting the cost of government's inefficiencies: failure to connect the dots

One flaw of  Nigeria's governments is the failure to connect the dots. Events and issues are treated as isolated incidents without recognizing patterns and preparing for the consequences for actions and inactions. That cliché a stitch in time saves nine" does not resonate with the leadership.
The indifference and actions of  the governments in the 1960s, 80s and 90s to  Niger-delta agitations bred  the culture of violence that became Niger-delta militants and opportunists. Today, the Federal budget for militants is larger than that of the country's security apparatus (Military and Police) combined. The government also suffers loss of revenue due to oil bunkering activities in that area.  
That same mistake is being repeated with Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen who have between February to March, 2014 killed  about a 1000 people in the North East and Middle belt and destroyed livelihoods and properties.  
The evolution of Boko haram from a group that used unsophisticated weapons and motor cycles  to attack police stations to attacking people with RPGs in luxurious buses is very telling.  The blame for  this evolution lies with the government.
There are two schools of thought on the emergence of the  group- these theories are  linked because both have melded together-. The theories believe that Boko Haram is either politically or religiously motivated.
The first thesis is that Boko Haram evolved from ECOMOG a group sponsored by Ali Modu Sherriff, Ali Ndume and some other politicians who used them as thugs during the elections and dumped them after the elections. The problem with discarding people that have been violently empowered is that they become Frankstein. Cases in point include OPC, Egbesu boys and a faction of Niger-Delta militants who were used in the 2007 and 2011 elections.
The second thesis  claims the group has its roots in some youths disenchantment with the way Islam was practiced in the North and sought to establish true Islam. The group clashed with authorities in 2002 and were ruthlessly dealt with by the establishment who killed the group's first  leader, Mohammed Ali. The group regrouped and in 2009 attacked some police officers, the officers retaliated and killed the group's new leader, Mohammed Yusuf.
The forceful reaction to what was probably a misguided group of youths/ the empowering of thugs for political gain has led to a group that is now linked to Al-Qaeda, has superior weapons to the State's security agencies and is a scourge in the North East where economic and social activities have been grounded. Other hoodlums benefit from the situation by attacking in the name of boko haram. Another dot the government is failing to connect is the re-emergence of Fulani herdsmen that have been killing people in the Middle belt  since 2012. As date over 400 lives have been lost and several villages burnt. In the recent attacks in Benue, chemical weapons were reportedly used by the herdsmen. From the attacks, it obvious that the attack has more  than economic undertones for land (grazing). There are also reports that foreign fighters  help these herdsmen in the attacks.  These attacks by herdsmen did not begin in 2012. There is a history of violence between the Fulanis and the natives in the middle belt. Yet, all the government does is offer condolences
The incidents in Northern Nigeria depict a failure of military intelligence, a failure of Nigeria's diplomatic clout and influence (it is incredible that Cameroon would act nonchalantly and refuse to support Nigeria on disarming Boko Haram)
The after effects of the handling of the Niger-delta agitations offers lessons for the country. The price the government is paying for peace- state monies channeled to militants and oil theft-  should cause a rethink in the handling of similar problems but that is the not the case.

What is the cost of this?
Nigeria is grooming future militancy in the form of civilian JTF who give  soldiers intelligence
To borrow from Reuben Abati, Nigeria is also grooming "children of anger". Children who have lost parents, family and hope and would one day fight back.
Nigeria is  further entrenching food insecurity. Most of the food consumed by Nigerians are  from the North and if people cannot farm, there would be no harvest and food. In last 3 years, food prices have been on the  increase.
Related to above is because the poor have to spend more on food, they become poorer, add this to the cost of kerosene and transport and  the cycle of poverty continues.
85 schools have been closed in Borno. This means that 120,000 students are out of school because of the fear of attacks. For Nigeria North where literacy and education especially for women is  typically low ( about 20% according to World Bank 2012 reports), more numbers are been added to the current 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria.

A stitch in time saves nine.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Still on PHCN

Before  I sign out on power issues, below is an infographic on Nigeria's power reforms.