Du-Du-Du (mi do mi) Taxing the informal sector in my city – Part 1
Alaba here speaks of the culture of his town, Akure City, Capital of the Sunshine State of Ondo. Culture is our nature. Culture is loveable. It is also laughable especially to those who do not understand it and those who have lost it. Today in Nigeria men and women walk our streets without any understanding of our cultures. They love our cultures. They laugh at our cultures. We want those who will laugh with our cultures.
Akure is blessed with two rivers and both bear the same name! Nobody ever knows when you talk of going to the river, which river you are going to! The last of his grandfather’s wives, the one he grew up to know, the story teller, was also his greatest praise singer! No matter what time of day she saw him she would exclaim to the world to hear that he was the first person she was seeing on that day! Really? She had seen nobody all day except now when she saw him?
She would then track his ancestry in song and dance:
The son of Prestige
Son of Leopard, Son of Dread!
Descendant of warriors
Who slaughter their enemies on the rocks
Later bemoaning the damage to their swords
Uncaring for the lives lost!
How is your Slave today?
This last statement worried him most. How could his mother be his slave, for Mama Agba was asking after his mother!The streets of the town, narrow then and quite manageable, were free of crowded multitudes and traffic jams and traffic lights, and teemed with every festival and every celebration! Sibi, Omojaọ, Ọwaoropo, and the clubs and dance groups of the town had their day on the streets. Life was on the streets and the moving stage was our entertainment.
The Ọba’s market, what about the miracle of the Ọja Ọba? Everyday, all day, there was going and there was coming. And you better believe it when you hear that animals came to the market having changed to human forms. That tall, slender woman your uncle sent you to call, who do you think she is if not an igala – a deer in human form? Witches and awọn iwin bought and sold in the market as well. The man with antimony on his eyelids, who do you think he is? Be careful now, don’t accept egute – ground popcorn, from that old woman! She is the head of witches in the region and she has come to entice small children to their feast after the market!!!
And today how is the town? Booming with formal and informal economy. There are new hotels, more prestigious than the previous. Places of drinks and dance and after hours services. Roads clogged by double parking trading and merchandising. In fact, he missed the turn off to their Osukoti Compound on his return from a twenty year sojourn in other towns and cities of the world. The town sprawled in different directions, a nightmare to any town planner and city builder.Clogged spaces all, with no room for any festivals, any street carnivals and club dances. Does anyone remember the annual street dances of Ẹgbẹ Ki Lọkọ wa fun? The club of self supporting women who wondered what use were husbands?!
Then, when Dr. Mimiko was governor he rationalised the streets. He extended the streets so cars and vehicles could move. All along the wider streets, traders, merchants of everything and anything plied their trades. Pickpockets, con men and women, beggars – the insistent and persistent ones as well as the silent ones that sidle up to you and whisper “Give me something!” There were also the mobile wheel barrows which drive along the streets, among the traders and merchants carrying merchandise who looking for merchandise to carry. Onions, beans, fruits, a man some time or a child rest in these wheel barrows ‘driven’ by young men in tattered sweat soaked singlets all over the place. There is no proper record of these traders and tradings.
Maybe, that is why the whole chaos is named ‘the informal’ sector. Informal, unlike Shoprite, which is formal and not subject to ‘du-du-du. From time to time in Akure, some persons emerge from the Ọba’s rambling palace grounds decked in beads on necks and wrists and even on ankles. They carry some menacing cudgels and they invade the streets of traders, tradings, merchants and mendicants, scrambling for whatever they can grab from the kiosks and shops, along the streets and alleys.
In no time at all, as these young men arrive, the streets burst into scrambling activity. First and foremost, pick pockets and street urchins join them to grab what they can grab. Naturally, the traders and targeted merchants fight back. They secure their takings and begin to lock their doors, or, where there are no doors, cart away their stuff for save keeping. Shops close all over town. The markets also close. There is nothing to buy because there is nothing selling. This is how, from time to time, the informal economy is taxed in our town. It is fun. Fun for those who scramble to grab whatever they can reach. Fun for what is grabbed because in any scramble, it is what is grabbed that gets mostly wasted, useless to all. It is fun also for those who must defend their merchandise from these ruffians, as far as they are concerned. It is a time of anxiety for traders, an impromptu holiday spent calculating the economic loss of the day.
The town has changed. Times have changed. Times go. Times come. Humans adopt and adapt and life goes on, keeps going on. Some festivals fade away. Other festivities take their places and a people’s joyous celebration of living gets new expressions.
Around the world cultures evolve. Some behaviour become outlandish, outrageous, unacceptable. They are laid to rest and left to rot. New ways arise driven by new inventions and new ways of doing things. Cities employ planners. They employ economists. They employ teaches. They plan. They re-configure how to formalise the informal. They take uncertainty out of life and replace it with certainty and strategy.They get teachers who think of the future, plan for the future, forever look forward to what will be and be beneficial to all. It is the way to go.