Sustainable urban development is now a front burner issue. Everyone aims to be in the city but there are no jobs these days. At least not the type that people envisage when they stray into the cities from the villages.
What else can you do in the city if you cannot get a white collar job?
In those days, the drift into the cities was almost necessary because city life offered better opportunities for growth and personal development. It was frustrating for anyone, especially the young to live in the rural areas- no electricity, no pipe borne water, no tarred roads and no prospects for entrepreneurial activities, including agricultural ventures.
Everyone was a farmer and so, at harvest time, farmers faced discouraging post harvest losses as they could not readily sell off their produce within their communities. Poor road networks made it difficult to travel to far off places to sell produce.
Besides, farming is quite challenging in some Northern areas where almost no crops would grow without fertilizers. So, until recent times, harvests remained poor as fertilizer corruption did not allow government subsidized agricultural inputs to trickle to the grassroots at the right price.
Worse still, because of the lack of market information systems, a farmer could take the risk of going to another town to sell his produce only to discover a glut there. Thus, the drift to the city became inevitable for many.
I once witnessed the frustration of pepper growers during a glut in a local market. Sabon Gaya was a weekly flea on the outskirts of Kaduna where farmers from neighbouring villages sold their produce to middle men who would then take them into the city markets to sell for better bargains. On this particular Friday, the bags of pepper didn’t stop coming. There were soon so many bags of the produce streaming in on that day that a bag which should have fetched N500.00 crashed to as low as N20.00.
The uncertainty of agricventuring is reducing these days with recent restrictions on food importation but insecurity has taken its place with whole neighbourhoods getting sacked by armed attackers. This continues to compel able-bodied persons to drift into the bursting cities in search of a livelihood.
Whether educated and skilled or not, they shove themselves into the urban centers daily for some sunshine but will they find it? The uneducated ones come in to embrace poverty and squalor while the educated ones face deeper frustrations because the white collar jobs for which they troop down are now hard to come by. Indeed, many of the city yuppies have lost their jobs and those still on the jobs do not just work nine to five anymore, they work eight to ten or longer because organizations can no longer afford to keep too many people at work. The few who are retained are overworked. Employment prospects for new entrants are therefore very grim.
This presents an opportunity I wish to sell to the next batch of people drifting into the cities- plan to take advantage of the new area of need created by the long hours that well-paid people now have to put in to keep their jobs. In some homes, couples set out for work at the break of dawn and get back very late in the night. These people live in houses and have children that need to be cared for while they are away. Domestic services is therefore one huge employment market that is yet to be properly exploited.
Some years ago, a middle-aged couple who got retrenched from their white collar jobs returned to the village with their children. They soon realized that they were not making enough from farming and were trading off their assets to survive. The wife went to a well-to-do family that was visiting during the holiday season to seek help. That family also told them of their own problem: they worked late hours and had no reliable hands to look after their children. They lived in a big house with commodious servants’ quarters but were finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the grounds.
Both families soon struck a deal. Family A could move back into the city to occupy family B’s Servants’ Quarters, a comfortable two-bedroom apartment in a high brow part of Lagos. In exchange, wife A took care of the house chores for family B while her husband took care of the grounds and security in the compound. This way, both families enjoy an interdependence that makes it possible to meet the needs of both sides.
This was an ad hoc, informal arrangement that has worked out quite well but it can be deliberately contrived. For example, the young men from the North are generally liked because they are usually honest and kind- a desirable quality for domestic staff. Government and entrepreneurs can set up agencies where these people can be trained to fit into these job gaps. Such jobs would certainly offer them better living standards. Graduates can set aside their grand ideas and serve people until they gather some capital with which to set up their own businesses which could be Employment Agencies for domestic staff.
Government can help promote domestic services as a job alternative and regulate it to ensure that employers do not take undue advantage of their domestic helpers.