Artisans and Our Skills Gap

I frequently refer to artisans as the third leg of Nigeria’s axis of evil, after politicians and civil servants. I believe that if, or whenever, politics and the civil service are eventually fixed, artisans will still be the one thing holding us back.

In a sense, I exaggerate but we all use tailors, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc and have the scars to show their skills deficiencies. Plumbing simply never ends in most houses. In spite of the “German foundation” damp rises in in almost everyone’s walls in Lagos. Your electrician will fry your switchboard and vanish. Then, the tailors and carpenters – do I really need to justify their inclusion in this horror show?

And in this instance, we know it’s just a Nigeria thing. Growing up, the best basket-weavers were Ghanaians (but we drove them out, didn’t we?) and the best-tailors were francophone (les Togolaises et les Senegalaises). Right now, in masonry, that brick/stone effect that people do on their walls, the best people to do it are the Beninois and the Togolese. Why is it only in football that our non-skilled labour trumps that of our neighbours along the West-African coast? What is that they do differently? I actually do not have an answer to that question but I know, from short spells in Abidjan and Porto Novo that the lifestyle is very different from ours. Attitudes also seem to be different, with the Porto Novo experience particularly underscoring this.

For a period of about three months, during the ASUU-enforced two-year break between secondary school and university (circa 1995), my uncle and aunty dumped my cousin and I at the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo. The Songhai Centre is an agricultural skills acquisition “school” where students from all over the Benin Republic come to train before moving on to large-scale, commercial farms. The food was not to my liking and we (my cousin and I) spent more time watering the crops than anything else (arosser!) but I recall one of the students saying how he needed to complete 24 months at Songhai to become employable at a larger farm. At the time I thought, 24 months to learn how to plant, weed and water crops? Who has time for that? These days, especially after an artisan has come to do remedial work, for the 5th time, on work he did shoddily, I wonder whether he had any structured training at all.

More recently, I have met two Togolese masons who are both frequently contracted to come and work in Nigeria. One of them came to our meeting in an LR3 (so he’s done okay for himself). He also spoke about attending a training school for a few years and then working as an apprentice under a master-builder. I doubt very many of our masons are crossing the borders in the other other direction.

Perhaps it’s the easy-going life that they live that reduces the pressure we have in Nigeria to achieve more over less time. Maybe it’s therefore easier for them to contented. Perhaps their societies are more accepting of people who don’t have university degrees. We need to find out whatever it is that makes them stay long enough in skills schools to properly learn trades and just copy.

The reality is that we don’t have enough corporate jobs to employ everyone who has undergone higher education in Nigeria. There is also a stark hierarchy, where employers are concerned, of graduates from tertiary institutions: Federal Universities (there’s even an elite sub-class in there) > State Universities > Polytechnics > Colleges of Education.

Finally, employers generally pay higher salaries to people with foreign degrees, a premium for the better education they’ve ostensibly received. Clients generally pay more for lawyers renowned to be more highly skilled in an area of law than others.

Would we as consumers be willing to pay thrice as much for properly trained and qualified technicians and artisans?

Good King Flashoslas

 

Flashoslas

 

Good (?) King Flashoslas looked out o’er the Lekki people

With the 4-eyed man he thought, let us fleece the people

Widen roads and build a bridge, then exact full measure

For a quarter century, jingling pockets, pleasure.

 

What if they revolt, F said, could we still withstand them?

Do not fret your little head, we will just disband them.

Bring out tanks and sub-machines, gas to end their gathering

When they beat a full retreat, there’ll be no more blathering.

 

And, the 4-eyed man went on, see their feeble leaning

Gutless, rudderless and poor, full of empty steaming

They are well-renowned, you see, for a deep resilience

After feeble mutiny, they’ll accept their sentence.

 

-Timmy Flowers, 1734 -1862

Endangered Specie: Save the Side-Mirror

The Lagos side-mirror is endangered and someone has to do something about it. Every car comes off the assembly line with two unique side-mirrors, the beginning of a life-time ménage a trois. The car and the side mirrors work hard together under the hot sun in the traffic, huddle together in the rain and enjoy those long, moonlit nights in each others’ company. In Lagos, this happily ever after almost never is.

Wing mirror VW Fox

Wing mirror VW Fox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From the days of area boys smashing the side-mirrors of “one-way” infringers, to one-side mirror being stolen at wedding receptions (why just the one?) to okadas scratching them in every single go-slow , the Lagos side-mirror has suffered violence and the violent keep triumphing by their force. Lagos has now been rated 300th out of 299 cities surveyed for the likelihood of cars to be scrapped with the same two mirrors (10+ years of use) with which it left the manufacturer’s warehouse.

Only today, I lost my second side-mirror in three years. I was at the front of the queue at the traffic lights. Once the lights turned green, the cars in my lane (on the right) would go forward and the cars in the lane to our left would turn left. Easy, no? Well, the lights turned green and, out of nowhere, this construction truck raced up and tried to squeeze itself in between my car and the median in the road. It almost succeeded. The measure by which it didn’t make it resulted in the smashing of the side-mirror on the driver’s side of the car. I swear I virtually heard my car heave a moan of despair at its bereavement.

 

 

Side mirrors are easily damaged

Side mirrors are easily damaged (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

At that unfortunate moment, I snapped. It was the final straw, you know, the one that broke the camel’s back. How much longer will we stand by and let the dregs of society continue this inhumane action against side-mirrors and their owner cars? How many more vehicles will go through the traumatisation of losing their assembly-line mirrors? Apart from affecting their sense of perspective and hindsight, other studies show that 73% of Lagos-based cars find it harder to concentrate for the first 13 months after an assembly-line mirror is replaced. The statistic goes up to 93% when the replacement side-mirror is a “Made in China” tokunbo. A few cases of loss of horsepower have even been reported but studies are currently inconclusive.

The time has come to pool all our collective goodwill and money into the brand spanking new NGO I’m about to register (the MirrorMax Movement) and let’s save the assembly-line side-mirror. The MirrorMax Movement will take donations from sympathetic members of the public and plough it into the development of the MirrorMax MirrorCush™ (patent pending). This revolutionary device creates a protective force-field around side-mirrors, ensuring that even if the car is smashed by a speeding train, the side-mirrors will always remain attached to the car. Until the very end, when crushing does them part.

Given the data available to us at MirrorMax, the business of this NGO is extremely urgent and needs to be taken expeditiously across all the motoring locations in Nigeria and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. Going by the Doctrine of Notorious Facts, this clearly means that one of our most pressing needs is a private jet, as we have no time to lose. If you feel as strongly about saving the precious vehicle/side-mirror relationship as we do at MirrorMax, then you must give violently – the earlier it seems like we’re reaching our targets, the better. Side-mirrors are counting on us to stop the genocide. Will you stand up and becounted?

Beware the Roads of Lagos

Heegnoranz” can certainly not be “hegscuze” for anyone that falls prey (metaphor intended) to the new traffic law of Lagos State. It has been so well-publicised that one hopes this manner of publicity will follow documents of accountability of the government. The law is available for download here, in case anyone’s still looking for a copy.

 

I have suggested elsewhere that draconian laws may be the drastic measure needed to get us back in line but, given LASTMA’s penchant for sacrificing the spirit of the law on the altar of its letter and the 1000% increase in applicable fines (in many instances), I may very well rue my words.

 

So what does the law do? No, it doesn’t ban eating or drinking while driving, at least not specifically (closest I came across was “counting money or otherwise engaged in other activities when driving”). It does however, like its sister Act (*chuckles*) the LASTMA Law of 2004, prohibit smoking while driving. I have set out a table below, comparing some of the old offences and penalties with the newer version. You should probably skip down there if you want to avoid the boring legalese that follows.

 

The consensus on the law is that the punishments appear to go too far. Apart from this, I think it short on the definitions of some offences. For instance, a driver is liable upon conviction for dangerous driving, to a fine of N100,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment. An offence with such a hefty penalty should not be left solely to the discretion of the LASTMA of today. (See the UK Road Traffic Act and its definition of dangerous driving).

 

Section 20, on “careless and inconsiderate driving” also throws another curve ball. Subsection (2) appears to give the court the power to direct the accused driver to be charged with a different charge if the court is of the opinion that the original charge has not been proved. This would appear to go contrary to the long-establisheddouble jeopardy rule in criminal law. Apart from being a principle of common law, “double jeopardy” is also prohibited by section 36(9) of the constitution, which reads-

“No person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the same ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court.”

 

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is rightly prohibited but, while the law gives LASTMA the power to test blood and urine, no maximum limit is stipulated. You may be charged with this offence if it seems to the LASTMA official that the extent of your inebriation is such that you are “incapable of having proper control of the vehicle.” This sounds reasonable enough but in actual fact, it leaves all the power in the traffic authority’s hands.

 

There is a fine for abandonment of vehicles. There is a related fine for failing to notify the police or LASTMA that a vehicle has been abandoned near your premises. The law doesn’t tell us what constitutes abandonment, however. If my car breaks down and I have to leave it by the roadside until my mechanic is available, after how long can it be deemed “abandoned”? 12 hours? 24 hours? 48 hours? Whatever LASTMA feels constitutes abandonment?

 

The motorcycle-related provisions of the law also appear to apply to ALL motorcycles. No distinction is made between private and commercial motorcycles. Thus, technically, LASTMA could arrest a sports bike (“power bike”) rider for being on a route on which motorcyclists have been banned (see page 29 of the law). It must be pointed out that the new restrictions on motorcycle traffic (permits, maximum number of passengers, etc) seem quite sound, however.

 

It is also an offence for your vehicle to break down on the road and cause an obstruction to traffic. No, that’s not a typo. And you’d be fined N50,000 and still have to pay the cost of towing, Would it not be more reasonable for the State to provide free recovery services to a non-obstructive point, like LCC does on the Lekki-Epe expressway (I don’t believe I just paid LCC a compliment!)?

 

The question remains though, as to why the fines have been increased so dramatically. Many of these offences already existed, suggesting that a lack of enforcement (and not the mildness of penalties) is the reason why traffic remains chaotic in Lagos. Are the enormous fines a stealth tax or fund-raising initiative?  It would have also helped the considerably large smoker population if the policy behind banning smoking was properly articulated (even though this offence was listed in the 2004 law). Lagos would seem to be the first city in the world to impose such a ban. Perhaps the purpose of the law is even to reduce traffic by making Lagosians too frightened to drive.

 

In any event, safer driving will ultimately be a good thing and one earnestly hopes that LASTMA and the VIO will adopt a common-sense, non-predatory approach to the enforcement of the new regulations.

Be safe, everyone!

 

TABLE OF [SELECTED] TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS & PENALTIES

2004 provisions are in black; 2012 are in red

 

 

 

VIOLATION

PENALTY
POINT FINE

N

ADDITIONAL
Driving without a valid Driver’s Licence 2/2 2,000/[no fine stated] Impound Vehicle/payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the licence.
Learning to drive on a major highway 3/2 2,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Dislodge Driver/ payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the licence.
Driving with fake number plates 4/4 4,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Impound Vehicle/imprisonment of 3 years or both fine and imprisonment
Driving a vehicle with unauthorised or defective reflective number plate 2/2 2,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Impound Vehicle/imprisonment of 3 years or both fine and imprisonment
Driving without a valid MOT Test Certificate 2   Impound Vehicle/payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the certificate.
Driving without a valid roadworthiness certificate 2   Impound Vehicle/payment for removal and storage and evidence of payment for the certificate.
       
Violation of route by commercial vehicle 2/2 2,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000
       
Disobeying traffic control personnel or traffic signs 1/2 2,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000
Disobeying traffic lights 4 5,000  
Failure to yield to right of way of pedestrians at a zebra crossing 4/3 5,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout 2/2 2,500/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
       
Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs 2 2,000/N100,000 or 2 years imprisonment or both Impound Vehicle
Smoking while driving 1/2 2,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
       
Tailgating an emergency vehicle 4/3 5,000/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Failure of slow-moving vehicle to keep to the right lane 2/2 2,500/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
       
Assault on a Traffic Officer(physical) 4 5,000/[no fine stated] Prosecute in court/Imprisonment for a term of three (3) years or both fine and imprisonment
Driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law [i.e. “one-way”]/Neglect of traffic directions 4 25,000/[forfeiture of vehicle to the state] Impound/ 1st Offender – one (1) year imprisonment and forfeiture of the vehicle to the State; 2nd and subsequent offender (3) years imprisonment and forfeiture of the vehicle to the state; offenders to have data and biometrics captured.
Bullion vehicle driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law 4/5 50,000/ [Forfeiture of vehicle] Impound/Imprisonment for a term of three (3) years, or both fine and imprisonment
Illegal U-Turns 2/3 2,000/ 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000 Driver Training
Making or receiving phone calls when driving 2/2 2,500/1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Counting money, or [being] otherwise engaged in other activities when driving 2 1st Offender N20,000; subsequent offender N30,000  
Failure to display reflective warning triangle sign [i.e. “C-Caution”] at point of breakdown 4 10,000  
Causing obstruction on highway if broken down 2 N50,000.00; cost of towing

What Can I do About An Unreasonable Increase in Rent?

Someone asked me this question yesterday and, as with most questions on the application of law in Nigeria, the legally accurate answer frequently varies from the practical answer. In this instance, I had no clue what the legal answer was and promised to respond to the asker today (after looking it up in the office).

Under the Lagos State Tenancy Law of 2011, it turns out you can make a complaint to the Rent Tribunal about an unreasonable increase in rent (“…apply to the Court for an Order declaring that the increase in rent payable under a tenancy agreement is unreasonable.”).

Image

What will the court look at in determining whether or not the increase is unreasonable? The general level of rents in the locality or a similar locality for comparative analysis, mostly. The court may also take evidence of witnesses and consider any special circumstances relating to the rented property.

Image

If the court agrees that the increase in rent is unreasonable, it may order the increase in rent to be changed to a specific amount. Finally, to the benefit of the tenant, it is unlawful for the landlord to eject a tenant from the premises while the proceedings to determine the reasonableness of the rent increase are pending.

The practical answer? Litigation should only be resorted to where negotiations have failed.

Mirrors, Signal, Manoeuvre – The Traffic Dilemma

One of the extras I acquired in my time as an expatriate post-grad was a UK driver’s licence. I had to get a learner’s permit and go (back) to driving school. For the first two lessons, I was extremely indignant. I’d been a “licensed” driver for roughly 10 years and considered myself extremely competent. I didn’t understand why the Brits treated passing one’s driving test like we celebrate JAMB or SSCE scores. I quickly realised however that, even with my slightly-above-average knowledge of the Highway Code (my dad insisted at the time), I had picked up bad habits that I needed to un-learn, otherwise I was sure to fail the test (which only has a 45% pass rate anyway – with men testing better than women, in case anyone’s interested). Luckily, I passed on the very first attempt.

 

Bringing those “good” driving habits back made motoring in Lagos very frustrating initially but Lagos is really one of those if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them places. People blaring their horns at the slightest excuse (many commercial drivers for absolutely no reason whatsoever), flagrant disregard for road markings (especially zebra crossings), random/indiscriminate stopping on the road, no idea of lane discipline (you’re exiting left but you stay on the extreme right lane and wait until the last possible second to veer dangerously left), etc. I was therefore reasonably happy when it was announced that a “new” traffic law was about to be enacted in Lagos, particularly as it mentioned enforcing the roundabout rule (giving way to traffic on the left).

 

In spite of its draconian elements (banning any eating or drinking while driving), I have chosen to be optimistic about the new law because it will increase sanity and order on our roads. In Lagos, that can only be a good thing. I realise, of course, that over-zealous LASTMA officials and some policemen will give asinine interpretations to what actions constitute traffic offences but I think, like it happened when seatbelts and those idiotic reflective stickers were required, things will gradually rationalise. So, yes, optimism for now.

 

On the flipside however, a good law should answer more questions than it poses (CAVEAT: the law itself has not been published and all comments made by the public so far are on the sections that the government chose to highlight) and the public response shows that more needs to be done with having consultations before bills are drafted. If a government white paper (or policy document) had been drawn up and properly circulated prior to the bill itself receiving so much prominence, the thinking behind banning any sort of ingestion while driving would be clear. Now, everyone just thinks it’s silly and as a result the public isn’t fully endorsing the law.

 

Many have said the punishments for driving in a prohibited direction (“one way”) are too severe, given the potential prison term of 3 years. My first response to this was simply, don’t do it then. But my mind did a Nollywood-style flashback to the first time I drove to Lagos from Ibadan and got “arrested” by the “council task force” for a “one-way” violation. The road had no signage but, as “heegnoranz hees not heckscuze”, I still had to part with a bribe to be able to continue my journey. To convince us that this isn’t another poverty alleviation programme (for LASTMA) LASG/LASAA must therefore ensure that all roads are properly marked (they mostly are on the Island, though). We too as citizens must force the hand of government. Take and circulate pictures of the entry-points to unmarked “one-way” roads. It would also be a great idea for LASG to make it compulsory for every vehicle to have a copy of the Highway Code (which would make an excellent supplement to Complete Sports for danfo drivers’ downtime).

 

Finally, I’ve been trying to point out for some time that many of the traffic offences this new law covers are not actually new. Sometime in 2009, I saw 2 LASTMA officials shoving a driver out of his vehicle and driving it off. I knew they had the power to impound but, curious to know the extent to which they could exercise this power, I dug out the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority Law of 2004. Unsurprisingly, as it seems to appear for its successor, the law is vague on how LASTMA should “impound” a vehicle. What did surprise me was a variety of offences of which I was unaware, as well as the fact that points can be put on your license (well, theoretically, anyway). I’m reproducing a few of the offences and penalties below. Please remember that this is the old (2004) law.

 

 

VIOLATION

PENALTY

POINT

FINE

N

ADDITIONAL

Driving without a Driver’s Licence

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

Learning to drive on a major highway

3

2,000

Dislodge Driver

Driving with fake number plates

4

4,000

Impound Vehicle

Driving a vehicle with unauthorised or defective reflective number plate

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

 

 

 

 

Violation of route by commercial vehicle

2

2,000

 

 

 

 

Disobeying traffic control personnel or traffic signs

1

2,000

Disobeying traffic lights

4

5,000

 

Failure to yield to right of way of pedestrians at a zebra crossing

4

5,000

 

Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout

2

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

Smoking while driving

1

2,000

 

 

 

 

 

Tailgating an emergency vehicle

4

5,000

 

Failure of slow-moving vehicle to keep to the right lane

2

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

Assault on a Traffic Officer

4

5,000

Prosecute in court

Driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law [i.e. “one-way”]

4

25,000

Impound

Bullion vehicle driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law

4

50,000

Impound

Illegal U-Turns

2

2,000

Driver Training

Making or receiving phone calls when driving

2

2,500

 

Failure to display reflective warning triangle sign [i.e. “C-Caution”] at point of breakdown

4

10,000