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Dayo Ibitoye: Government should promote decent work and not ban it

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By Dayo Ibitoye 

Sometime ago, I visited a friend in his office. Midway into our conversation, he wanted to move some items from his office to his warehouse so he beckoned to me to join him to move the items. I asked him why he didn’t call any of the artisans working at the industrial park next to his shop to help him, at least they can make small money, I thought.

He looked at me, shook his head and said: “those boys are no longer around o…the industrial park was demolished 3 months ago and those boys are back to the streets”. I asked why. He responded in pidgin, as if to emphasize the buffoonery of the action, “I hear say the new LGA chairman demolish am because him brother wan build hotel for the same street wey the park dey, so he demolish am becos the industrial park no befit the status of him new hotel”. For a moment I was startled. Just a few weeks ago, I was planning to set up a printing hub in that same park, the details of which I came to discuss with my friend.

This got me thinking for a moment. What options did the government provide those people before the demolition? Were there alternative jobs provided for the over 2000 people that make a decent living from the park who have suddenly been rendered jobless? Why should government policies hurt the people they are meant to benefit? Will these young people go back to the streets and become a menace to the society? So many questions flooded my mind. Then I remembered that this is Nigeria where anything goes.

Government policies must be inclusive

In reality, most government policies especially those enacted without critical planning and consultations end in chaos. I remember a city I once lived where the Governor decided to construct a round-about in a highly populated and busy junction instead of a flyover. This infrastructure misnomer eventually led to the loss of lives simply because a Governor could not obey the laws of simple urban planning.

The stories I have shared so far are not new in Nigeria. In fact, they have become a regular occurrence. It is important for the government to regularly question whether there is a more efficient way of achieving its objectives without hampering on the rights of its citizens. This will ensure that policies enacted do not cut off people’s ability to work or disproportionately create artificial obstacles to decent jobs.

One of the most important functions of government is to create economic opportunities for its citizens. Decent jobs will reduce the number of poor people and foster long-term economic growth and economic stability. It is government’s sole responsibility to ensure that its wealth is shared equally among its citizens and this can be achieved by providing an equal economic opportunity for all through the provision of jobs. Many government policies such as minimum wage, occupational licences and unregulated taxes are impeding the growth of decent work and keeping many poor.

A recent policy by the government of Lagos state to ban commercial motorcycles (popularly called Okada) and tricycles (popularly called Keke) has created a lot of uproar amongst Nigerians. The Lagos state government has cited several reasons for enacting this policy chief amongst which is security. While I am not against the government securing the lives of its citizens, I think the government should have been more tactful in the enactment of this policy.

Lagos is one of the most populated cities in the world with a population of over 23 million people, which means transportation of people and goods is an upheaval task. Lagos is deficient in modern infrastructure with poor road conditions and an inefficient transport system. Over 2 million vehicles ply Lagos roads every day; which means Lagos State has about 80 cars per 1000 persons. Therefore many Lagosians rely on informal modes of transportation like commercial motorcycles and tricycles as a faster and cheaper means of movement. Also, there are places in Lagos that only motorcycles or tricycles can ply. For instance, the Lagos-Badagry road is a nightmare for motorists because of the bad condition of the road, so citizens have to rely on okada to move around. This policy will make commuting more difficult and life unbearable. Furthermore, the ban means that many people will be rendered jobless. The unemployment indices in Nigeria are already at an all-time high; this means more people will be plunged into the abyss of unemployment. The greatest threat to safety in my opinion is unemployment. Sooner or later, these people will take to crime all in a bid to survive.

Now people’s opinions may differ on whether riding a keke or okada is decent work or not. The UN defines decent work as “opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration”. Therefore, key questions that need to be answered are: Does the job keep them off the streets? Do they make decent or fair income enough to feed themselves and their families? If your answers are yes like mine, then I think the government needs to reconsider its decision.

I watched a video recently of a young lady who rides for Gokada, a bike hailing company. According to her, she makes an average of 20,000 naira daily working for Gokada. She says she is riding bike as a lady because she does not want to go into prostitution. Now tell me, isn’t this a case of decent work paving the way for an indecent one?

Lagos state government should invest in a better transport system. Lagos has massive inland waterways that can accommodate good water transport systems. Rail transport network is almost non-existent. More rail corridors should be constructed to allow for a good rail transport network. Cities like London, Tokyo and Paris have built efficient rail infrastructure for their burgeoning population. There needs to be a robust system to standardize organized transport companies to operate. A regulation and standardization of Lagos transport operations is the solution to the burgeoning transport problems in Lagos and not a ban.

Perhaps also, the Lagos State government could take advantage of the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Mobility which provides a platform where business leaders and policymakers can partner to shape a global mobility system that is safe, clean and inclusive. In 2018, the forum launched the seamless integrated mobility system, or a SIMSystem, which aims to enable faster, safer, cleaner and more affordable mobility for people and goods by integrating disparate transportation modes such as micromobility, public transit and autonomous vehicles into a seamless integrated mobility system (SIMSystem).

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Dayo Ibitoye is a Media and Development Practitioner based in Abuja 

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