New Dawn for Lagos Artisans

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Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode has initiated capacity building initiatives for artisans, tradesmen and technicians in the state in order to reverse an annual loss of almost a billion naira to the nationals of neighbouring countries, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi

Daniel Kojo, a Beninoise national, lives in Egbe-Idimu, a Lagos suburb. Skilled in bricklaying and welding, Kojo is always engaged weeklong. No wonder he smiles home daily with reasonable wads of Naira. However, his Nigerian counterparts do not enjoy the same degree of patronage. Rather than looking inwards, they blame governments for their woes every day.

Consequently, thousands of Nigerian artisans have abandoned their original trade or vocation. Some ventured into commercial motorcycle operations. Few resorted to illicit rent collection on every land transaction in neighbourhoods. Others joined the league of social deviants, picking pockets among crowds and forcing commercial drivers to part with some cash.

Like the case of Kojo and others, thousands of Beninoise, Ghanaian and Togolese nationals are flooding Nigeria by the day, taking up jobs Nigerians have long abandoned and filling huge gaps that have been created in the informal sector. For Nigeria, it is a tale of record revenue loss. But for its citizens, it is a grievous report of job loss day by day.

A recent survey by the Yoruba Education Trust Fund (YETFUND) lends credence to the dearth of human capital in the country’s informal sector. The survey noted that Nigerian vocational and technical schools “have not ceased to churn out graduates but that is as far as it goes. Those graduates soon find their skills irrelevant in the labour market.”

According to the survey, foreign technicians and artisans operating in Nigeria are preferred to their native counterparts. As a result, Nigeria incurs an annual loss of N960 million. This figure is the estimated value of jobs that should have been executed by Nigerian technicians and artisans, but their foreign counterparts have already taken up in the country.

Unacceptable trends

But at a session with artisans and tradesmen in the state recently, Lagos State Governor, Ambode acknowledged huge capacity deficit, which according to him, had confronted the informal sector, not only in the state, but largely in the country. He said the outcome of the YETFUND survey “is unacceptable and should be reversed.”

Ambode explained lucidly the diverse undesirable trends, which had become prevalent in the country’s informal economy. First, he lamented the rate at which many artisans and technicians “are leaving their vocations to start commercial motorcycle business due to what he ascribed to the lack of patronage. This development is distressing and disappointing.”

Aside, the governor explained the core reasons many artisans in the state “have been enjoying sustained patronage.” He pointed out that several technicians had refused “to perfect their skills through different training and retraining programmes,” an area he said the artisans and technicians from “our neighbouring countries have really excelled.”

However, Ambode acknowledged the failure of previous governments, with the exception of Lagos State, “to provide strategic support for this critical sector, Noting that no formal sector can effectively function without a robust informal economy.” But sadly enough, according to him, we have not sufficiently looked into this sector and taken full advantage of it.”

He said critical infrastructure “need to be provided to help actors in the formal sector function properly.” He, thus, lamented the dearth of stable power supply, good road network, enabling business environment and availability of serviceable loans among others, which he said, had compounded the woes of the Nigerian domestic economy in the last three decades.

Globally, the artisan economy is indeed enormous. A recent report put the world artisan economy at $36 billion. And the rating of Nigeria has been dropping every year. With discontent, therefore, Ambode lamented that Nigeria “has not been taking advantage of the opportunities the sector offers to drive the real economy and create more wealth.”

However, according to him, the ugly trends must be reversed to position Nigeria in the world of the 21st Century. Already, the governor noted that Lagos State “has taken the lead with various programmes his administration has initiated for different groups of registered artisans, technicians and tradesmen that chose to operate in the state.”

Actionable initiatives

Before he came into office two and half years ago, the governor explained that he had taken note of the challenges that undermined artisans and technicians in the state from functioning effectively. Consequently, he commissioned a study on the challenges, which he said, had kicked thousands of informal sector actors out of active operations.

From the study, he said, actionable plans have been developed to change the tale of woes to the testimony of hope. One after the other, he noted that his government had been using the report of the study “to revamp the state’s informal economy,” which he said, was by no means strategic to attaining the socio-economic development of the state.

He, therefore, noted that the outcome of the study informed his decision “to establish the Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment.” Among other functions, he said the ministry “organises and coordinates various groups of artisans and technicians in the state.” In the last two years, he said, the ministry has made huge difference in Lagos State.

Ambode did not stop at creating the Wealth Creation and Employment Ministry. He equally set up a N25 billion fund christened Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF). He explained that the fund was a creation of the law of the Lagos State House of Assembly to enable micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) access capital for business expansion.

Obviously, the governor said the vista of opportunities the fund created “does not in any way exclude artisans, technicians and tradesmen in the state. So, in Lagos, a new beginning is dawned already. Every actor in the informal sector now has equal opportunity to access at least N500, 000 and at most five million from the fund without any bias or prejudice.”

Likewise, Ambode noted that the state government had opened an online portal, which he said, was designed to facilitate interaction with all artisans and tradesmen in the state. He noted that the portal “will indeed make it easy and convenient for people in need of high quality service to meet reliable, trusted and verified service providers.”

Aside, Ambode noted that the portal “is aimed at enhancing productivity, competitiveness, creativity and vitality in the sector.” From all indications, he observed that the secret of changing the game in the new world “is by building a new army of informal sector actors,” who according to him, would provide critical support for the real sector and break the poverty cycle of decades.”

Strategic interventions

Providing them serviceable credit facilities is never sufficient by all standards, the Commissioner for Wealth Creation and Employment, Mr. Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti observed at the 2017 exhibition of the Lagos State Council of Tradesmen and Artisans (LASCOTA) in Ikeja. Rather, the commissioner said, building the capacity of the informal sector actors is equally strategic to revolutionising the state’s artisan economy.

For him, retraining programmes will help build their creativity. Aside, he argued, it will help them compete effectively with their counterparts in any part of the world. On this, Durosinmi-Etti noted that the Ambode administration had already initiated training and retraining programmes for registered artisans, technicians and tradesmen in the state.

Recently, according to him, the Ambode administration has sponsored 1,800 artisans and tradesmen under its intensive training programme. Since 2015, he said, at least 1,500 artisans and technicians have annually been benefitting from this programme, which the Lagos State Technical and Vocational Educational Board (LASTVEB) has been coordinating.

At least, the commissioner explained, that each beneficiary of the capacity building initiative went through eight-week retraining programmes, which he said, would help them learn how they could take advantage of new technology; transform their vocation and boost the state’s economy. For him, this is Ambode’s way of promoting made-in-Nigeria products.

Durosinmi-Etti explained the significance of the retraining programmes, which the Executive Secretary of the LASTVEB, Mrs. Omolara Erogbogbo said, would enhance the productivity of the artisans and technicians in the state. For this reason, she said, Ambode had developed the Lagos State Tradesmen and Artisans Empowerment Programme (LASTAEP) to bridge the capacity-building gap in the state’s artisan economy.

In line with the state’s strategic vision for the next 50 years, the executive secretary explained that state government had facilitated a memoranda of understanding (MoU) between Lagos State Painter Association and Plascon Kansai Paints as well as Lagos State Welders and Ladol Group “to prepare specialists in these areas for meaningful competition.”

Under this administration alone, Ambode said the state government “has already trained and retrained thousands in the last two years. “In the next one year, we will train and retrain more applicants to position our artisans and technicians for robust competition in the age of new technology. Consequently, we can reverse what we are losing to neighbouring countries.”

Pleas for patronage

Ambode’s administration has kept at least 95 per cent of its promises to registered artisans and tradesmen in the state, President of Lagos State Council of Tradesmen and Artisans (LASCOTA), Alhaji Nurudeen Buhari has acknowledged. He cited Ambode’s concession to enable registered Council’s members access the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF).

Buhari, also, acknowledged the approval of N12 million subvention and provision of an 18-seater Toyota bus for the Council. He equally attested to the training and retraining programmes, which he said, the state government had organised for the registered members. In 2017 alone, he said, 1,500 artisans have benefitted from such programmes.

Likewise, he acknowledged the state’s decision “to allow members of the Lagos State Tailoring and Fashion Association wear graduation gowns for the beneficiaries of its retraining programmes.” As good as they are, however, Buhari said all these interventions “are not enough if the state’s artisan economy must revolutionised within a short period.”

On this ground, he called for sustained patronage of all the Council’s registered members. He said the state government “should not forget to patronise our local products and brands in the execution of the government projects like civil works, painting, saw and granite suppliers, furniture making, tyre supplies, construction and sewing of garments.”

Ambode quickly assured them of robust patronage in the future. However, he reminded them that his administration “has a tradition of promoting made-in-Nigeria products. Not only that, it is also our policy to patronise indigenous contractors and producers because we strongly believe that is the way we can create wealth and provide more jobs.”

He cited the case of 114 inner-city roads the state government constructed in 2016 across 20 local government areas (LGAs) and 37 local council development areas (LCDAs). Deliberately, Ambode said the state government patronised indigenous contractors in the execution of the road projects and about N19 billion was injected in the state’s economy.

Like the case of 114 inner-city roads, Ambode revealed that the state government had already invited bids from indigenous contractors “to reconstruct 183 inner-city roads. The moment the process is completed, we will start mobilising them. And in the process, they too will hire people and patronise carpenters, granite suppliers and welders among others.”

He, therefore, observed that the strategic position of the state “offers endless opportunity to leverage on. Our state is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It equally presents great opportunities that are waiting to be tapped and challenges which you are the solution provider. I will encourage you to synchronise your activities and key into these programmes to empower your members and other youths in the state.”