WOMEN’S WORK AND TAXATION IN THE INFORMAL ECONOMY: Issues in Urban Governance in Nigeria

Taxation is fundamental to planning for citizen-centred development. However, the informal sector in Africa and particularly Nigeria is poorly integrated into taxation schemes. This neglect accumulates into cyclical developmental problems that affect provision of social services, maintenance of retail spaces and constantly debars the zeal for political participation and engagement in accountability mechanisms. Women artisans and vendors, operating in the informal sector, are particularly affected by these dynamics as this study, conducted in four states of Nigeria (Oyo, Imo, Niger and Kano), shows.

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The intersection of women’s work and taxation necessitated interviews with officials at the ministries of women’s affairs at the state and revenue collectors at state and local government levels as well as interactions with women working in the informal sector. 12 focus group discussions, three per state, consisting of ten female respondents took place between October 2018 and February 2019. A key consideration for choosing the four selected states was the level of rural to urban migration; with cities home to diverse informal economic activities.

A clear finding is that women in the informal economy lack a good understanding of what tax is and how it should support the governance system. Sporadic and irregular collection undertaken by consultants working on behalf of multiple tax collecting bodies and state and local government levels adds to the confusion over the amount being collected, and for what purpose. Extortion is not uncommon when it comes to making payments. But the services gained from these payments are minimal.

All the women interviewed were assertive in their criticism of a lack of tailored local development. They cited the failure of the government to provide basic amenities to ease their existence as citizens as a reason not to willingly pay tax or see the benefits of making the contribution. Markets are neglected and although there are limited programmes in place to support women’s economic empowerment respondents were rarely aware of them. Yet, despite this, during election times, market women and artisans agglomerate to support male politicians in election campaigns based on the claims that they have the financial power to distribute money and other benefits.

To address these shortcomings, the report proposes some short term recommendations – focused on targeted tax education, working with women-led market associations to improve their political bargaining strength and women-led advocacy for spending on social services in commercial and trading spaces – along with some longer-term approaches that can support structures to build the skills and political engagement of women in the informal sector. Increased women’s engagement on the issue of taxation is seen as having a direct link to a growing interest in political participation through interest to ensure that revenue collected is being used to deliver the social services as promised.