The Platform

A local market in Oyo, Nigeria. (H.-W. Schlieper/Flickr)

Small business owners throughout Nigeria routinely face roadblocks.

As Nigeria navigates through economic upheaval and stifling inflation, the government’s heavy-handed approach to regulating economic affairs casts a shadow on the potential for its citizens to thrive. Actions taken include interventions that have particularly hampered the progress of small-scale businesses, thrusting entrepreneurs into dire straits without recourse.

The economic landscape of Nigeria is fraught with tension, as merchants and citizens grapple with a government that holds a tight rein on fiscal policies.

Recent reports have brought to light the adverse effects of these policies on a spectrum of enterprises, especially nano, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. This assessment, spanning the previous annum, gauges elements such as business expansion, employment generation, technological adoption, and demographics of entrepreneurship, all within the context of the formidable challenges they face, including currency shortages, fuel crises, subsidies cessation, currency reforms, and erratic electricity supply.

In a parallel narrative, vendors in Lagos State, in southwestern Nigeria, decry the abrupt prohibition of styrofoam products, a move that left many with unsalable stock and the specter of state enforcement looming without presenting alternative solutions.

The Liberalist has recently spotlighted the plight of small-business owners in Kwara State, who are struggling to eke out a livelihood under the shadow of governmental restrictions on operational hours. These measures, though security-oriented, inadvertently cast a wider net that ensnares various businesses, throttling their capacity to flourish.

Further north, the governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, mandated a curfew on August 14, 2021. The curfew, instigated by a series of killings, limited citizens’ movements from dawn to dusk. The measure, while protective in intent, had a ripple effect on commerce, obliging shopkeepers to shut their doors prematurely and lose out on potential evening sales. According to The Liberalist, market women experienced a significant income drop as customer turnout dwindled, compounded by the difficulty customers faced in leaving the markets without access to transportation post-curfew.

A market in Ibadan, Nigeria
A market in Ibadan, Nigeria. (Sheyi Owolabi)

“The curfew shall remain in place subject to further review by the State Security Council,” the report read. However, the regulation took a toll on shop owners as they had “to close their shops before 6 pm so as to catch up with a tricycle to their homes. Many of them lament they lose late-hour customers who usually patronize them after work. Market women say they experience an enormous decrease in income as a result of low turnout of customers who find it difficult to visit and leave the market without tricycle after 6 pm,” The Liberalist wrote.

Ugochukwu Daniel, an electronics merchant in Plateau State’s Masalaci Jummah area, conveyed to The Liberalist the adverse impact of the curfew on his business, including damage to goods incurred during transit restrictions, a dilemma he attributed to the absence of transportation services. “The curfew is still ongoing up till now though not as active as it used to be,” said Daniel. “But it’s affecting us, especially those that don’t have their own personal motorcycle or car.”

A recent episode of the Voice of Reasoning featured The Liberalist’s proposition for alternative strategies to augment security without undermining economic stability, thus enhancing the conditions for human flourishing.

The program discussed how, despite their advantages, curfews are not universally applicable solutions for safety. Countries with state-of-the-art security practices often adopt technological measures and community-focused policing over blanket restrictions. For example, with investments in improved street lighting, extensive surveillance, and night-time security checks, Kwara State could ensure public safety while preserving the livelihoods of tricycle operators and night-time businesses. These suggestions point toward a more equitable approach that respects both the imperative of security and the necessity of uninterrupted economic activity.

“Although curfews have their merits, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution for public safety. Countries with advanced security protocols often turn to technology and community policing as more targeted alternatives. Could Kwara State follow suit? By investing in enhanced street lighting, expanded surveillance, and additional security checkpoints at night, Kwara State could maintain public safety without compromising the livelihoods of keke riders and others who are active during those hours. Such measures could offer a more balanced solution that accommodates both security concerns and economic activity,” the recommendation read.

During an interview, Irakli Iagorashvili, the founder and CEO of Ayn Rand Center Georgia based in Tbilisi, voiced his dismay to me over governmental intrusions that erode entrepreneurial spirit and productivity. He advocated for a delineation between state and economy, calling for the abolition of obstructive regulations and advocating for an effective and objective court system as the cornerstone of a healthy investment climate. A just court system safeguards individual rights against business malpractice or threats, he argues and is the answer to the challenges currently countered by regulations.

According to Iagorashvili, regulations serve only to open the door to corruption, never truly achieving their goals, and instead, they disrupt the free market by creating government-induced monopolies.

“The government should be separated from economics, and it should leave business free, remove all the regulations, barriers, and favors. But it’s so important for the government to create an effective and objective court system. In order to have good investments it is required to have a good court system. In such cases, the businessman will feel safer to invest and start earning money in such countries. If the court system is biased and not objective the businessman will always be afraid.”

He furthered that a good court system can protect the rights of individuals when businesses don’t respect the contract or do something that creates a threat to the lives of individuals. “We should solve all the problems with the good court, not with the regulations. The regulations only create loopholes for corruption, and they almost never work. Regulations always create government-created monopolies and break the very idea of free market.”

Ismaila Biliaminu Manne is a freelance journalist and writer, with a keen interest in African cultures as well as underreported storytelling of marginalized communities across Nigeria. He lives in North Central Nigeria.