Nigeria’s formal informal sector must change gear and reverse

May 16, 2017 Africa , Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS


Prince Charles Dickson


With the Joint Admission Matriculation Board examination season underway, I shook my head at the kind of future Nigeria has for her young ones, with an estimated 1.7 million high school students taking exams to get into college or university as we call it in these parts.


I sought answers to the following questions, I know the cost and manpower it takes to put an examination like JAMB into place, but I do not understand how the billions generated are ‘spent’.


We have some 80 plus universities, add to that another two score private universities and other colleges and institutes of degree awarding status, we presumably would have a minimum of 400 such schools. If each school had admission slots of 2,000 each that would be 800,000, still a shortfall of almost a million. In some four years do we have jobs for half a million young school grads?


I asked a number of these students how many will follow their career path directly from what they majored in; how many will find their undergraduate course of study less immediately relevant to their work in the years following graduation. When less than two hundred thousand will get legitimately earned admission and less than another hundred thousand are going to college to become solutions to problems, the future remains bleak for our beloved Nigeria.


How many of these kids will get the education required to draw the nation from out of the doldrums of her problems, only a few years back the immigration employment saga exposed us to the dangers ahead, everyone wants to work with and for government; we saw how the Police recruitment had to be cancelled, we are living witnesses of all the brouhaha that precedes every public job placement.


These exclude the laziness exhibited by those that even get the jobs, you have a workforce that contributes nearly nothing forceful to the nation’s productivity. I will share these thoughts by my friend Strive Masiyiwa.


By far the biggest employer of people in Africa is what is generally called the “informal sector.” I personally don’t like this title “informal,” preferring something like the “entrepreneurial” sector, but the truth of the matter is that most people in Africa survive and put their kids through school, by being “self-employed” in some sort of business activity.


Whilst most of the people in this sector are generally literate, having been to school, there’s very little in our education system that actually prepares them for a life running their own business.


This attitude that people must “fend for themselves” is something we need to end across Africa. Governments do have a responsibility to help create real jobs in an economy.


For Nigeria these are five things that I recommend:



  1. Publicly acknowledge that the “informal sector” is the central activity in the nation. Whether people are smallholder farmers, street traders, or tradesmen and women, don’t be ashamed to acknowledge them as real economic players. They are contributing to the economy just like the biggest businesses that we have.


  1. Acknowledge the importance of this sector by putting in place policies that enable them to prosper. When they prosper, they will grow, employing more people. Start by holding meetings with them which are genuinely aimed at listening, and engaging them with dignity and respect.


  1. Ensure law enforcement officials respect the informal sector. If governments don’t formally recognize the key role of this sector in the economy, law enforcement will treat these entrepreneurs badly. This is what makes this sector vulnerable to corrupt officials.


  1. Ensure this sector enjoys real rights under the law. For example, no policeman should be allowed to arbitrarily confiscate someone’s goods, without due process. Courts should be arranged (and officials trained) in such a way that they can adjudicate the needs of this sector speedily, and cost effectively.


My favorite:

  1. Introduce entrepreneurship training into the formal education curriculum. By the time someone has completed seven years of school, they should be able to put together a basic profit and loss statement, and a basic balance sheet. They should also be able to read financial statements. This is really, really simple, and not much more complicated than reading football scores!




A high school leaver must also know:


#How to register a company, and register for tax.

#The basic company law of their country.

#About banks and how they operate.

#About payroll, and laws governing the rights of others.

#How businesses really operate, and how prosperity is generated in an economy.

#About sustainability, of both economic growth and the environment.



I would go as far as to say that anyone who goes to a university must also have mandatory entrepreneurship training, irrespective of what they study. This is because we have university graduates that are also unemployed, who could easily create jobs for themselves and others.


Together we can help our vast army of JAMB writers become entrepreneurs that are skills-based “enterprise builders.” I strongly believe that if Nigeria focuses on fostering and developing entrepreneurship, there will be a remarkable uplift in job creation, rather than the current fraudulent system that the likes of JAMB are engaged in, which ultimately serves no one any good; my only fear is that as usual no one is listening or reading, the effect of our stiff-necked system is in front of us, do we want to change—Only time will tell.







Prince Charles Dickson

Currently Prince Charles is based out of Jos, Plateau State, and conducts field research and investigations in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria with an extensive reach out to the entire North and other parts. Prince Charles worked on projects for UN Women, Search for Common Ground, and International Crisis Group, among others. He is an alumnus of the University of Jos and the prestigious Humanitarian Academy at Harvard and Knight Center For Journalism, University of Texas at Austin. A doctoral candidate of Georgetown University

Born in Lagos State (South West Nigeria), Prince Charles is proud of his Nigerian roots. He is a Henry Luce Fellow, Ford Foundation grantee and is proficient in English, French, Yoruba Ibo and Hausa. Married with two boys, and a few dogs and birds.


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