As darkness gradually envelopes the skies, Kabir Adamu begins to set up his makeshift kiosk ahead of the day’s business. Some young men in loose ties walked lazily past Mr Adamu’s tables as he struggled to put on two rechargeable lamps, unperturbed by the cacophony of voices from passers-by and commuters.
Once switched on, he directed the two lamps towards his barbecued meat, sandwiched in the midst of onions and cucumber. Some metres away from Mr Adamu’s Suya spot, a generating set comes alive, providing better illumination for him and other petty traders and commuters alike.
The time was 8:45pm and the location was Ojota, in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub. For many residents of the city, it was time to go home. But for Mr Adamu and other traders, it was time for commerce.
“This is our own time to do business and make money,” Mr Adamu tells PREMIUM TIMES in pidgin English.
“I arrive here in the evening and go back to Agege by 12 or past 1 o’clock in the morning. I make roughly between N15,000 to N25,000 every night depending on the patronage.”
Like Mr Adamu, Memunat Ajoke––a food vendor—is also one of the entrepreneurs keeping Lagos evening economy alive at Ojota, a major transport hub in the city. Her makeshift shop, located at the entry point of the Ojota motor park, serves motorists and commuters alike.
“People need to eat to function properly in the night economy and that’s what I provide for them,” she says. The food vendor explained, however, that she couldn’t put a figure to how much she makes daily from the proceeds of her nighttime sales.
“But I make enough money to feed my family, clothe my children and pay bills,” she said, smiling.
Ms Memunat and Mr Adamu, alongside numerous other small business owners, play significant roles in the night-time economy of Lagos, despite the numerous challenges affecting their businesses at night. They also provide goods and services to different categories of entrepreneurs and night revelers moving across the city in the early hours of the day.
The night-time economy is a significant and growing part of the global economy, up until the coronavirus- induced lockdown changed the structure of the world economy in 2020.
In the United Kingdom, the night-time economy was in 2019 considered the fifth-biggest industry, accounting for at least 8% of the UK’s employment and annual revenues of £66bn, according to the Night Time Industries Association.
The growth in business activity at night-time was so phenomenal that the Mayor of London was prompted to appoint TV presenter and performer, Amy Lamé, as London’s first “night czar” in 2016.
In the United States, the night-time economy in New York generates $35.1bn (£27bn) in economic activity, and nearly $700m in local tax revenue.
In the last decades, many cities across the world have devised ingenious means that would ease the running of the 24-hour economy and allow socio-economic activities take place round the clock unhindered by nightfall.
Since there has been an improvement in vaccine rollouts across the world, people are breathing life into the night economy once again, especially in big cities of the world.
Dosumu Daniel, a policy analyst and culture enthusiast, told PREMIUM TIMES that the night time economy is a key cultural and economic driver in cities, which helps increase its allure, develop cultural attractions, and create jobs.
“The challenge for major cities in most developing economies is that there are no structures and facilities to drive the evening economy, and that’s why they lose so much in revenue,” he says.
“The evening economy requires policies and structures, just as much as the day time economy. That’s why leading economies of the world are working round the clock to ensure that basic policies cater essentially for night time economic activities.”
In Nigeria, poor infrastructure and widespread insecurity have made it near-impossible for cities to operate the night economy, leading to massive loss of potential revenues by state governments.
Among Nigeria’s biggest cities, however, Lagos is making efforts to run the night economy, and a number of entrepreneurs and small businesses are keying into the dream, against all odds.
Lagos at Night
Since the return to democracy in 1999, Lagos has shown its desire to become Africa’s model megacity, and one of the ways it has expressed this is through its commitment to running a 24/7 economy.
Although Nigeria’s smallest states in geographical size, Lagos is the nation’s most populous city. It is also Nigeria’s commercial capital and largest economy. With a rapidly rising Gross Domestic Product (Lagos contributes approximately 25% of Nigeria’s total GDP) and an estimated population of about 25 million people, the city is projected to become the continent’s leading economic hub in the nearest future.
However, a combination of infrastructure deficit and poor planning has had negative effect on the city’s march towards running a 24-hour economy. Although the state government tried working on strategies to ensure that the state’s economy is more diversified, adequately connected, and safe for investors, it has yielded little results.
One of such moves was the decision of the state government to undertake massive illumination of the state under a street-lighting project birthed through a directive by the immediate past governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode.
Shortly after being sworn-in in 2015, Mr Ambode directed the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to work with the Public Works Corporation.
Such synergy was designed to birth the street-lighting project, ultimately as a means of promoting night economy. The plan was meant to be delivered in phases, starting with Ikorodu to Lagos Island, Ojodu Berger to Lagos Island, in addition to the 67 communities in Ibeju-Lekki. The streetlights were to be powered majorly from the Independent Power Projects (IPPs) built by Mr Ambode’s predecessor, Babatunde Fashola.
But years after the project was initiated, Lagosians are worried that it indeed failed to “light up” Lagos at night.
Bayo Kasumu, a night-time entrepreneur who sells grilled fishes around Mafoluku area of Oshodi, complained that many of the lamp posts have gone rustic and dead, slowing down the pace of night-time activities in the city.
“Some key areas have street lights but most don’t function at night,” the 25-year-old student of the University of Lagos explained.
“This has a huge impact on our business because illumination creates an ambience of safety and security.”
He added that the government promised to fix it but major roads in the city are still in darkness.
Aside from street lights, electricity is another major contributor to the vibrancy of the night economy. Lagos being a microcosm of Nigeria, suffers from poor power supply. Consequently, day and night-time businesses and entrepreneurs in the city run essentially on alternative power sources, mostly generating sets, often at huge costs.
Challenging terrain; Resilient Entrepreneurs
The numerous challenges notwithstanding, several business owners in the city are powering the night life, creating job opportunities and expanding the economy.
“Since we cannot fold our arms in helplessness, we have to create alternative means of survival in the night economy,” says Jide Awosoga, who co-owns a night club on the Victoria Island axis of the city.
“We power our activity with generating sets and inverter, and the cost is huge. But we have to operate, you know.”
Tayo Sanni, a young school leaver who sells barbeque fish at Ojodu-Berger area told this newspaper that the challenge of power notwithstanding, he makes a reasonable amount of money at night.
“I sponsor myself to school with money I realize from the sale of barbeque in the evening till midnight,” he explained.
At the University of Suya in Allen Avenue, Wahab Asimiyu, an Uber driver, told PREMIUM TIMES that the night economy is quite good for transport business, especially in areas where people are into entertainment.
“We make good money, especially around the clubs and lounges,” he says, with enthusiasm.
Security is the biggest challenge with the Lagos night economy as far as transportation is concerned, says Baba Ipokia, a taxi driver who lurks around Toyin Street at night. He told this newspaper that he has lost numerous customers to the potential fear of being harmed, especially in recent years.
“It’s a big challenge for Yellow taxi drivers in this city, apart from the issue of low patronage,” he explained. “That’s one competitive edge that these Uber people have ahead of us; because their own Apps are still considered safer and secure.”
In recent months, Lagos has witnessed a surge in robbery and other criminal activities. In June, motorists and commuters plying the Eko Bridge, for instance, expressed worries over the spate of attacks by armed robbers on the bridge.
Many narrated how robbers broke into cars and commercial vehicles and dispossessed people of their valuables, prompting residents to avoid the route, especially at night.
Baba Ipokia admitted that these and other issues bordering on insecurity have had negative effect on night life in the city, but small entrepreneurs have continued to weather the storm against all odds.
At Opebi-Allen, a sex worker who identified herself simply as Cynthia told PREMIUM TIMES how she and her colleagues benefit from the allure of the night economy.
“The development of the night life is good for our business because that’s how we make our own money,” she said.
“When people are afraid to come out or there is an incident, we can’t make money and survive. That’s why we suffered so much during the lockdown.”
High crime rates, noise pollution and promotion of illicit businesses are considered the downside of the night economy. But a pharmacist who declined to have his name in print told PREMIUM TIMES at Abule-Egba that the notion is somewhat fallacious.
He said: “Since a particular club opened along this route early this year, we (pharmacy) have extended our closing hour by at least 2 hours. It means that we now make more sales, add more value to the economy, and can pay more taxes. The night economy isn’t all about illicit activities.”
At Alade Market, customers of a food vendor identified as Iya Monsura told PREMIUM TIMES that her business has had enormous impact on commercial activities in the thick of the night in Ikeja axis.
“Many of us work here till late hours and she is the one that feeds us,” a customer who declined to have his name in print said of Iya Monsura. “Hers is an integral part of night life in Ikeja.”
The situation was the same for customers of Mama Nkechi, another food vendor around Ikeja Along.
Mr Daniel told PREMIUM TIMES that the night life creates social cohesion and inclusion, as much as it nurtures the artistic and creative industries.
“It can also bring wealth to local economies, develop the tourism and entertainment sector and create job opportunities,” he argued.
“However, the government would need to do more to provide a business friendly environment for entrepreneurs operating in the night. That way, the government too can expand the economy and generate more revenues.”
Tourism is an integral part of the night economy. In 2017, activities within the tourism sector contributed about N800billion to Lagos state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2018, the MasterCard Global Travel Index said Lagos was the most visited city in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018.
But Mr Awosoga told PREMIUM TIMES that despite its potential, as of today, Lagos does not run a proper night economy.
“The Lagos night economy is thriving and there are impressive developments, especially since the lockdown measures were relaxed after Covid-19 struck,’ he explained.
“But the economy comes to halt essentially by 2’0 clock or thereabouts, apart from a pocket of activities in some clubs. That’s even in ‘happening places’ on the Island. In most parts of the Mainland, things die as early as 11 or 12’0 clock.”
He explained that the modest improvement is borne out of the resilience and industry of young SMEs thriving against all odds.
He quipped: “Lagos has huge potential to develop a bubbling night economy but the basics have to be put in place: security, power, transport, among others. For now, much of the successes we see in the night economy are from the sweat and resilience of small business owners in the city.”
By 2025, the Lagos says it hopes to double its 24/7 economy turnover and increase employment by 55% through the creation of several new jobs.
Mr Daniel told PREMIUM TIMES that the dream is a possibility, but the state government must ensure that it goes beyond rhetoric to put structures in place and ease the operations of night time businesses.
“Lagos must fix and maintain its streetlights, ensure adequate security and support the small businesses around which the economy is currently built.
“The beauty of it is that if Lagos succeeds, other states will follow suit. That way, cash-strapped states can raise revenue, expand the economy and create additional jobs for the growth and development of the night economy and small businesses.”
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