Precarious economic conditions have created an increase in the cost of living in Nigeria. Instead of reflecting this change, however, working conditions for average citizens remain problematic. The Nigerian informal economy is a largely hostile and volatile environment.
The nature of the informal economy is that it is not subject to federal labour laws. Small-time workers such as tailors, artisans, and child labourers are unprotected by the National Minimum Wage Act. As a result of this, these citizens are often subject to harassment by their superiors and government officials.
A group of petty traders in Onitsha voiced their grievances on the matter in June of 2016 as they took to the streets in protest. They decried the recent increase in taxation to thirty thousand, eight hundred naira per head in addition to the usual intimidation, harassment and assault by revenue agents in the markets.
Informal sector workers who are not self-employed may instead be exploited by their employers. Because work is so difficult to find and the informal economy works above the radar of the federal government, these workers are forced to work in hostile conditions.
A survey of five hundred informal economy workers by a Professor of the University of Lagos, Akeem Ayofe Akinwale revealed that seventy-three point five per cent of workers work for an average of ten to twelve hours per day. This figure is severe compared to the eight to ten hours a day recommended by the International Labour Organisation and the federal government.
It is also worth noting that seventy point two per cent of respondents did not acquire higher education. The literacy issue thus also plays a significant role in the harassment of Nigerian workers. The average Nigerian is unable to defend themselves against government cadres who assault them with grammar or local goons who threaten them with violence and foreclosure.
According to the International Labour Organisation, informal employment comprises seventy-two per cent of non-agricultural employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. An alarming majority of the West African working class is therefore trapped in these precarious working conditions.
The government may claim that the informal economy is beyond its jurisdiction, but such way of thinking is lazy and dangerous. These workers are Nigerian citizens and their day-to-day wellbeing is ultimately the responsibility of the government.
Exploitation of informal workers leads to poverty, illiteracy and economic stagnation and exacerbates the myriad of economic problems already facing this nation. The federal government has a responsibility to protect Nigerian citizens from harassment in all their business ventures.
The government must ensure the protection of small business in the informal economy and provide more jobs in the formal economy in order to address these issues. The informal economy must no longer be seen as a space for harassment and oppression, but instead, as an arena of respect for human liberty and enterprise. May God Bless our beloved Country, Nigeria.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.