So far, 6 people have died of cholera from eating “African salad” – abacha, a dish prepared with dried cassava strips. For a meal largely uncooked and sold cold, abacha is a disaster that has been waiting to happen for a long time. The real surprise is that it took this long.
But before we delve into the ingredients that make up the public health time bombs waiting to go off around Lagos, let us introduce 2 interesting ‘professionals’ who work in the highbrow Lekki residential area.
Lagos and its teeming ‘unprofessionals’
First up is Michael. Michael is a very competent electrician who works as a travelling artisan between Lekki I and Ajah where he actually lives. Michael is very well spoken and dresses the part. He is able to explain basic electrical concepts and repair works with ease. Michael has a national diploma in mass communication. Nothing at all to do with electrical engineering on any level.
When asked how he became an electrician, he said he had worked as an assistant to his older brother. His brother is a trained electrician. When he didn’t find work after his diploma, he simply got tools from his brother and set out to make a living as an electrician.
In Lagos, most home fires are caused by faulty electrical wiring.
Then there’s Sonny. Sonny is a gardener
And there can’t be too many people on God’s earth more capable than Sonny at trimming a hedge. Using little more than a short plank of wood, Sonny is able to cut a hedge so straight, you could eat food off it. That’s how good Sonny is.
But Sonny cannot tell a lily from a hibiscus. Or a clump of compost from a mound of mulch. Ok, so not many people know these either. He can hardly write a sentence in plain English let alone manage the fancy names flowers tend to go by.
In Sonny’s case, he stumbled on the profession while working for his previous madame who asked him to trim her bush as the regular gardener who serviced her was away. Sonny showed a natural ability managing madame’s bush and decided to run with it. The profession, not the bush.
Sonny of no fixed address now goes in and out of people’s homes carrying his sharpened work tools with which he performs his admittedly clinical operations.
Open seasoning for all and sundry
So, what is the link between Michael the untrained electrician, Sonny the gardener, and 6 dead people in Isolo local government area of Lagos? None of the ‘professionals’ involved had any proper training in their daily professions. They are therefore a real and present danger to the members of society unfortunate enough to meet them.
Literally anybody in Lagos state can simply turn a large cooking pot onto the streets and start selling food. And for some reason, local cooks tend to prepare and sell their food over open gutters. There is little or no care for basic hygiene practices. And in far too many cases, the people involved are barely literate.
The problem then is at least 3 fold. Firstly, ‘professionals’ at this level do not have any formal training in their craft. Secondly, they’re typically illiterate. And thirdly, the government does not regulate the informal sector nearly enough. This is in fact the crux of the matter. From Okada riders to bus drivers, food vendors, plumbers, masons, and electricians. Lagos records many hundreds of mishaps and even deaths as a direct result of services provided by untrained artisans and workmen.
Daily dangers should spell daily income for all
Lagos prides itself on its ability to raise internally generated revenue. Also, Lagos vaunts its status as the self-styled ‘city of excellence’. How then does the current state of affairs within the micro-enterprise ecosystem subsist?
Regulation not only saves lives, it increases revenue for the government as well as for the practitioners. Because getting certified adds value. Yes, you can have certified or government approved gardeners. You have them in Accra Ghana! Food vendors must be licensed. And to get licensed, you must be trained and certified.
Maybe Lagos state should seriously consider having an SME ministry. The sector is that important. The (M)SME sector is at least as vital as the ministries of youths, sports, or environment considering the millions of lives and livelihoods involved.
And the first task for this ministry or committee or agency must be the regulation of the economic sub-sectors in the MSME space.
Excellence must be pursued bottom up as well as top down. And it must be all-pervading. The incongruity of sprawling mansions and luxury cars sitting directly across food vendors using brown well-water and recycled vegetable oil to cook over charcoal fires certainly does not invoke notions of excellence.