The Informal Sector and COVID 19 Responses in Nigerian Cities

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Submission Summary
The Nigerian economy is experiencing jobless growth, based mainly on the extractive industries which provide more money than opportunities for decent work. The informal sector constitutes a major part of the indigenous private sector. Although critics dismiss the sector as ‘a chaotic jumble of unproductive activates’, the fact is that the sector has helped to promote local livelihoods and income, and thus to alleviate poverty and provide some degree of social protection. Unfortunately, the poor workers in the sector are vulnerable to numerous health risks and occupational hazards. COVID 19 illustrates the dilemmas for government, planners and for the people of protecting both lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 and the strategies to contain and manage it have affected informal sector workers and informal settlements adversely and disproportionately. Most informal sector workers depend for their daily earnings on constant movement and interaction outside the home – be they street or market traders, cart pushers, waste pickers, cab or motorcycle operators and so on. They are exposed not only to infections but also to constant harassment by government and security officials who enforce COVID lockdown and other restrictions on intra and inter-state movement. Housing conditions in informal settlements are also usually overcrowded, with limited access to social services, such as water and sanitation for domestic and personal hygiene. Social/physical distancing is almost impossible, and structural inequalities in most cities exclude informal sector operators from meaningful participation in the design and implementation of COVID-related policies and protocols. Only a small percentage of the informal sector benefit from the palliatives provided by government and humanitarian organizations, and even fewer are captured in the temporary social support schemes introduced to cushion the hardship of the health emergency. We argue that government officials and planners, who aspire to international standards of modernity, must learn to strike the right balance between the ideals of international standards, and the reality of local conditions and requirements. They need to devise appropriate and well targeted interventions to ensure the safety, health and welfare of the poor and informal sector workers - with programmes of greater awareness and training for workers; schemes to provide small amounts of credit and other financial services to the poor; and policies to increase job opportunities for youths and other disadvantages groups.
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2: Well-being and health. Al-Fereej: caring for living conditions
Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria

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