Let’s talk about the recent demolitions of some SME’s- Justified or not?

I read somewhere on Twitter that being a Nigerian citizen is akin to being in an abusive relationship- your lover treats you badly, you get mad, complain but you remain in the relationship hoping that him/her will change somebody.

I think that’s honestly how I feel about Nigeria most of the time. Anyone that knows me is aware of how passionate I am about the vast potentials of this country and my belief that someday we will get it right but almost everyday I question that belief and even feel utterly naive. This week in particular I felt that way with the demolition of several SME’s in Lagos and Abuja including Nuli’s Juice, Nuts about cakes in Lagos and Chloe’s Cupcakes in Abuja.

You can read the story here and watch the interview of two store owners here.

One of the stores in Lagos that was demolished – Nuli Juice.

I have been so pissed about these demolitions because SME’s are the lifeblood of our economy accounting for over 50% of our GDP and employing over 30% of the population. So I think that as much as possible they should be encouraged  and even courted by the government through targeted incentives rather than being constantly harassed . This is even more critical in a country like ours that is currently in a recession; where we need to create more jobs rather than destroy existing ones. Also, with the various terrorists and militant groups in the country, we cannot afford for more young people to be unemployed. What is even more frightening about these demolitions is the autocratic means through which they  were carried out. These Business owners were given little or no notice; for the offices in Lagos, the store occupants were informed literally when the demolition was just about to occur while the stores in Abuja were given only a 24 hour notice. I think that is really really scary! It is an absolute disincentive for anyone who wants to start business in Nigeria. I mean,why would I invest in a country where my business can be pulled down in a twinkle of an eye without any form of empathy whatsoever. Even if the decision had already been made to pull down the stores, don’t the store owners deserve adequate time to remove their goods or even appeal? Incidents like this also reveal the policy inconsistencies of the government; on one hand President Buhari travels rounds the globe soliciting for investments and his fellow officers talk everyday about entrepreneurship and youth empowerment while on the other hand they pull down businesses without batting an eyelid.

One of the stores in Abuja that was demolished – Chloes Cupcake Haven

But this incident also raises other questions such as law enforcement and the question of beautification . Apparently, some of these structures were illegal but some store owners interviewed revealed that they had paid all the various taxies and levies required of them by the government as occupants of the store and business owners . So it begs the question, if these buildings are illegal in the first place, why collect fees from stores there? Why allow those buildings to be erected and rented out at all? Even if we agree that the Landlords were disingenuous for  renting these stores to unsuspecting tenants; is it not equally dishonest on the part of government who was aware of the illegitimacy of these stores to have collected fees and taxes from people who rented these stores? Couldn’t they  have informed the store owners that the buildings were illegal? Heck do they  even have a registry of legal and illegal buildings? Is there any coordination between the department of lands and those who collect the taxes and fees?This is clearly a case of information asymmetry and it is the poor Business owners who have to bear the brunt of all of these shenanigans. If we claim to be serious about supporting small businesses, isn’t there supposed to be a deliberate effort by government whom ultimately owns all the lands to protect them from situations like this?

It also raises the question of government priority. Some of these stores, at least the ones  in Lagos were pulled down in a bid to beautify and sanitize the city, according to the memo by the state government. Also, earlier this year hawking was banned in Lagos because apparently it was making the city less beautiful. I get the whole goal of this beautification exercise but I can’t help but disagree with the appropriateness of the entire policy given our current economic quagmire. For a country in an economic recession and with a teeming youth population, many of whom are largely unemployed;  shouldn’t enterprise and job creating through any means possible trump beautification? In the case of hawkers, Is it not possible to develop a means of organising them so that their activities can be regulated rather than an outright ban? Of what use is a beautiful city, if people do not have food to eat? In Nigerian lingo ‘who beautiful city don epp’ ? I also wonder the thought process that inform these decisions. Okay, so after all these businesses have been shut down and people lose their jobs, what next? Does the government have alternative employment for them? What are these people supposed to do with the ample time they now have on their hands?  Is everyone also expected to now start acting surprised when crime rates start to rise?

It also highlights how poorly our Policymakers understand the development process. They want to create fancy cities like Dubai instantly but they are not willing to put in the work. Somehow, they think that the beauty of Dubai happened instantaneously while in reality, it is a consequence of deliberate economic planning and hard work. Instead of wishing away the hawkers and creating a facade of a beautiful city, why not rather focus on building infrastructure and creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive . If job creation is increasing and demand for labour increases too, people should naturally get off the streets as these jobs are more likely to offer higher income and dignity than hawking.

Anyway, I asked so many questions and I hope you guys can answer them. Is the government being fair? How do we draw the line between law enforcement on buildings and protecting businesses? Is beautification all that a priority now?

Looking forward to your thoughts!

Amaka. 🙂

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