By Olasunkanmi Akoni & Monsur Olowoopejo
THEY were all clad in beautiful green Ankara attires understandably made by them. It was indeed a festive occasion and the artisans and tradesmen in Lagos could not hide their joy as they celebrated their first ever week under the auspices of the state governmentâ€™s programme to enhance their status and capacity.Â
At the grand finale held at the Blue Roof Auditorium of the LTV 8 premises, Agindigbi, Ikeja, their joy and expectations heightened as Governor Babatunde Fashola dropped hints of special goodies for them, saying that his administration was more than ever determined to assist the sector harness its potential and entrepreneurial energy to create wealth and eradicate poverty.
The Governor also announced the approval of the second week of May of every year to be celebrated in recognition of the contributions of artisans and tradesmen to the development of the state.
Fashola, who spoke at the event organised by the state Ministry of Commerce and Industry, with the theme: â€œUnleashing the Potentials of the Informal Sector for Economic Growthâ€, said the determination was borne out of the realisation that the sectorâ€™s potential as a growth agent and catalyst could only be enhanced when it is able to leverage its assets base to boost productivity.
According to the Governor, many of the artisans and tradesmen were operating below capacity currently, not only on account of infrastructural inadequacy but also because of their inability to harness the benefits of their assets and seemingly â€œdeadâ€ capital for the creation of wealth.
Announcing government plans to the apparently jubilant tradesmen and artisans, Fashola stated: â€œAs a proactive government, we have taken the initiative to correct this situation through our collaborative arrangement with an international development partner and this is aimed at developing crucial institutional reforms and legal framework that would facilitate your transition into the formal economyâ€, adding thatÂ â€œthe people who barb our hairs, fix our tyres and (engage in) other(similar) activities, cannot be the informal sectorâ€.
He explained that the production of a yellow pages for the sector was done to help in locating the various offices of tradesmen and artisans in the state, adding that â€œthis is the only way the state government can fully complete the transformation processâ€.
Gov. Fashola alsoÂ appealed to other artisans not included on the yellow pages to do so by going to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to register their association as it is the only thing that would elevate them from poverty to prosperity.
Earlier in his remarks, the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Prince Adeniyi Oyemade, said the event was put together to celebrate the contributions of the informal sector to the stateâ€™s economy and also to showcase their potentials to members of the investing public.
Oyemade said that the state government has thrown its doors open to corporate organisations and individuals to partner the state under the Independent Power Project (IPP).
…As they decry prohibitive interest rates and LG tariffs
SPEAKING at the occasion, President of the Council, Engineer Bola Sanusi, thanked the Lagos State government for all the programmes it has established to alleviate poverty among the less-privileged citizens of the state, especially the establishment and funding of a micro-finance bank through one of the stateâ€™s agencies called LASMI.
But like Oliver Twist, Sanusi pleaded with Fashola to assist the council by negotiating with micro-finance banks to reduce their high interest rates from 5 percent or 4.5 percent to 1.5 percent, adding that there was need for government to also increase funding of the micro-finance banks to enable the general public benefit from the programme.
While acknowledging that his members do pay tax, Sanusi declared: â€œOver N800,000 was paid into governmentâ€™s coffer in 2008; N900,000 in 2009 and this year we promise that we are going to remit more than that to the purse of the state governmentâ€.
Sanusi said that the tariffs collected by local government councils are very high for artisans in the state to cope with. While some charge N7,500, others charge N10,000,Â which he describes as highly prohibitive for members, especially whenÂ they are moving from one local government to another.
On electricity, he noted that epileptic orÂ non-existent power supply has forced many of their members out of business, compelling them to engage in menial jobs within and outside the state.
Other members of the association also took turns to vent their spleen on inadequate electricity supply, increasing rate of local government tariffs and Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency (LASAA) rate as well as neglect of artisans and tradesmen during contract allocation by various strata of government in the country. Lack of insurance for artisans and tradesmen was also cited as a problem government needed to look into.
One of them, Mr. Anthony Aluko said that the inability of SON to checkmate all imported materials has sent many artisans and tradesmen in Nigeria to prison. He added that such materials have also been found to be substandard and therefore useless forÂ production purposes.
Highlights of the occasion included the presentation of awards in different categories to individuals and groups as well as the inspection by the Governor of exhibitions mounted by various segments of the artisans and tradesmen.