Small business owners in Port Harcourt are counting their losses in millions of Nigerian Naira as government bulldozer brings down their offices and shops. The government of Rivers State of recent decided to give Port Harcourt which is the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria a face lift. The new executive governor is desirous of re-modeling the city after the Federal Capital Territory. This sounds like a good vision, but tI am of the opinion that the implementation is faulty.
Small Business Owners Contribute to Economy Growth
A greater percentage of the population of Port Harcourt relies on petty trading and provision of artisan services to earn income. In Port Harcourt, any entrepreneur who employs and pays two or more workers is considered a “big businessman”. The business climate is quite harsh. Too many big enterprises in the state are struggling to earn enough income to pay their workers salaries. It is common story to hear workers of such establishments lamenting that they have not received any salary for months.
In other words, the small business owners are majorly responsible for providing employment and stable income for at least 50 percent of the population in the city. Unfortunately, about 65% of this category of small scale entrepreneurs are now in trouble. Their business places have been demolished to pave way for road expansions.
Most of the small business owners rented offices and shops along the major road to carry out their business activities. They considered easy accessibility as a fundamental factor for achieving success in business. Of course this is correct, the location of a business can seriously affect its sales. So it is no wonder many of them located their businesses along the major roads.
New Government Policy Spell Doom For The Entrepreneurs
Unfortunately, what was once an advantage has become a curse. All those offices and shops are being pulled down by government to pave way for road expansion. The policy made by the government for road expansion is a good thing and it has been long overdue. However, necessary preparation were not made . One would have expected the government to do the following:
- Give adequate notice (at least six months notice) to the public before implementing the policy. There was no press release given notice. Rumors only filtered from the grapevine about two months before the execution of the policy started in full swing.
- Open new layouts that small businesses could relocate to. There is no such thing in place.
- Carry out the road expansion in phases, so that the number of small business owners relocating at a time will be minimal. The policy is being implemented in the entire city at once, so there is serious commotion as too many small business owners try to relocate at once.
No Compensation For Displaced Small Entrepreneurs
The government claims they are paying compensation for buildings being demolished. This has been confirmed as being true, but unfortunately, nothing is getting to the small business owners because such compensation are paid directly to the landlords of such premises. The landlords are complaining that the compensations are grossly inadequate as it cannot commensurate with the huge loss they have incurred both in terms of capital loss (building destroyed) and loss of potential earnings from rentals. So, they are unwilling to refund prepaid rents to the small entrepreneurs. Of course, they can hardly be blamed. So, the small business owners were the end losers! There is no single compensation for them and nobody cares how they will re-start 🙁
Socio-Economic Impact Of Entrepreneurs Displacement On Society
It is unfortunate that the government never consider the socio-economic impact the displacement of the small business owners will have on the state as a whole. Already, the prices of foods and other essential commodities have skyrocketed (there are fewer sellers now).
Also, many small business owners have been rendered jobless. Too many are not able to recover from the loss of huge rental prepaid (some have paid 5years rental in advance). Too many had to sell off their wares on auction because there was no place to pack them to.
While talking to one of such badly beaten small business owner, he confided in me that he will not return to Port Harcourt after the Christmas Holiday.
It is heart-breaking to note that while international bodies are fashioning ways to encourage small scale entreprenuers, a state like Rivers State will make a policy that have adverse effect on small scale businesses without weighing all the options. The question that begs for an answer is “What are the displaced small business owners to do?”
The state governor might wish to look into this issue in the light of the common saying that “an idle mind is the workshop of the devil”. Young able bodied men that are jobless are potential recruits into organized crime.
The government should come up with another policy that will help the badly beaten small business owners to settle in other locations and restart their business activities. Leaving them alone to count their losses is not in the best interest of the society as a whole. At least those of them that can show that they were doing well financially should be helped with grants or soft-loans from government so that they can re-build their businesses.
Also, in the future, the government should get inputs from small business owners before implementing a major policy that can affect their business activities.