By Appolos Christian
Workers in the nation’s informal sector under the umbrella of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON) have lamented that workers and operators in the sector are often inadvertently excluded from public decision- making processes.
FIWON also enjoined government to make accessible to informal sector workers, COVID-19 intervention funds to enable them recover from worsening economic down turns occasioned by the pandemic.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, FIWON general -secretary, Com. Gbenga Komolafe, said the neglect has resulted in a lot of policy gaps and sometimes, not very effective government intervention programmes aimed at providing development services to the informal sector.
Komolafe went on to say that over 80% of the Nigerian working population including those engaged in agricultural production are engaged in the informal economy.
His world, “Historically, informal sector in Nigeria is defined by lack of access to basic social protection services especially old age care and support, maternity care and support as well as accident and disability care and support systems. To worsen the situation, informal sector operators are subjected to wanton exploitation through indiscriminate imposition of taxes and levies as well as extortion by law enforcement agencies through arrests and seizure of goods and equipment of work.
“Particularly, the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted most terribly on informal workers with our members reporting widespread hunger and ill health during the lockdowns imposed by the Federal and state governments in Nigeria as part of Covid-19 mitigation measures. Our members also reported hundreds of deaths attributable to the inability to feed self and family members during the lockdowns as palliative measures announced by government at different levels were grossly inadequate.
“Indeed, the Covid-19 intervention and mitigation measure have sharply amplified the vulnerability informal workers and the least protected. It is highlighting deep economic and social inequalities and inadequate health and social protection systems. Scores of millions of poor working people engaged in the agriculture, food production and supply chains, household materials supply and processing, artisans engaged in petty manufacturing, fabrications, repairs and construction, shoe makers, including those engaged in footwear, clothing and garment making, transportation and vehicle repairs, waste picking and recycling, market vending and retailing etc, have been severely impacted.”
According to the general secretary, months after lockdown measures have been eased all over the country, a lot of informal workers find it difficult to get back to business as costs of basic inputs and transportation have skyrocketed while meagre working capital have been exhausted during the lockdowns.
He said, unfortunately, most of the intervention plans announced by federal and state governments have failed to specifically target the informal sector despite its macro- economic importance, employing over 80% of the working population and contributing close to 60% to the national GDP.
He also added, “While we acknowledge the existence of several intervention funds to address the challenge of development financing in the informal sector, especially the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund, one of the CBN intervention funds but note very sadly, informal sector operators find it near impossible to access these funds as managed through the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank because of the digitalized, centralized methods of application, assessment and disbursement.
“We call for an urgent remedy to this situation such that those at the base of the economy, the grassroots economic operators in the informal sector can access these needed funds in a more open and transparent process.”