Gbenga Komolafe (Nigeria)

Member of International Council

Olugbenga Ebenezer Komolafe, well known in Nigerian human rights and trade union circles as Gbenga Komolafe was born October 16, 1964 in Southwest, Nigeria. He came into limelight in 1989 when he was arrested by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida military junta, in the aftermath of massive popular protests against military despotism, economic mismanagement and political corruption. As Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS), he helped to give articulation and purposeful direction to the opposition to military despotism in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Gbenga Komolafe graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1991 and immediately became part of a growing pro-democracy movement, co-founding the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), that has evolved into Nigeria’s foremost human rights organization.

In 1998, Gbenga Komolafe won a research grant by the Center for Research and Documentation (CRD), Kano, Nigeria to probe into the different dimensions of economic informality and the significance of the informal economy in the wider civil society.  He joined the American Center for International Labour Solidarity in 2002 but resigned his position as a Senior Program Officer in 2010 and started organizing the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON) in fulfillment of his long – standing passion to help organize working people in the informal sectors of the Nigerian economy. At a great personal sacrifice, he has led several campaigns on the streets to struggle against entrenched traditions of oppression and repression of informal workers. Since the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and its terrible impacts on working people in the informal sectors, he has devoted more attention towards ensuring that basic social insurance services especially health insurance, as well as life and accident insurance are extended to the working people in the informal sectors. Hundreds of informal workers have now enrolled in these programs for the first time.

Profile of a Seamstress, Vendor and Leader: Ms. Frances Bamidele Onokpe. (Nigeria)

This article was written by Mrs. Omolola Sholaja, from FIWON, Nigeria

Ms. Bamidele Frances Onokpe, was born September 18, 1962 at Ikire, Southwest, Nigeria. 

After basic education, she trained as a certified Caterer at Dof Catering Institute in 1984 where she obtained her certification in Food Hygiene & Handling of food. She also went for skill acquisition training in Dress Making between 1985-1987 and immediately became part of a growing Tailors’ Union movement. 

The late 1980s and 1990s were very turbulent times in Nigeria as the whole country was in the grip of military dictatorship. While working as a seamstress and trader in sewing materials and accessories, Ms. Frances played active roles in the broad pro- democracy movement that developed to resist military rule. She was a very active member of the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO) and in 2009, was mandated by her union to represent informal sector in a newly constituted Nigeria Labour Congress Women Wing. She was privileged to meet Pat horn, the Streetnet International Coordinator at an event organized by SNI and the NLC around the time.

Frances with the comrades from West and Central Africa, in Dakar, Senegal during the 2022 regional meeting

In 2015, Ms. Frances Onokpe experienced first hand what it meant to lose a livelihood as her shop and political operational base was demolished by the government. The period also coincided with a lot of marital turbulence as her husband left the country and the responsibility of raising and educating 6 young children fell solely on her. According to her she survived this period by throwing her whole being into social/community work. Around this time she worked as a volunteer care giver with a local NGO, UPLIFT Foundation with focus on orphans and vulnerable children while also playing very active roles in the Federation of Informal Workers’Organizations of Nigeria, FIWON where she had emerged as a Treasurer in 2010.   

Ms. Frances later became a certified garment maker with National Board of Technical Education Board NABTEB certification and the National programs Coordinator of the Tailors’Union and also served as instructor with Wessy Tailoring and Vocational Institute, Abeokuta, Ogun state Nigeria as the Head Instructor in Garment Construction.  She was part of into all of these while working actively as a union leader, raising young children, and seeing them through College education. According to her, ‘I survived this most difficult period of my life by throwing myself into social and union activism. My activism gave me strength to survive. It also helped me to train my children as I also experienced a lot of support from the organizations I became part of. I was able to travel far and wide within the country and also internationally, which has also broadened my appreciation of workers and women issues as the same everywhere’        

Frances with Lorraine Sibanda, StreetNet President and Evelyn Benjami-Sampson, organiser for West and Central Africa


‘My involvement in FIWON afforded me the opportunity of leadership training. I have been part of several capacity building workshops which has enhanced my capabilities for advocacy and representation and so on. I have been privileged to boldly present issues affecting informal workers at different levels of government. I was also part of the WIEGO Online Labor Academy  (OLA). That’s a training that has deepened my understanding of social protection and the critical need for social insurance programs in the informal sector. My poem on the travails of street vendors, composed after the training was published by the MOJA Journal of Adult Education. I’m so proud of that!’ 

Ms. Frances has also represented SNI in the Global Deal Conference & Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

FIWON (Federation of Informal Workers’ Organisations of Nigeria) (Nigeria)

Created in June 2010.

Vision: Improved working and living conditions of Nigeria Informal Workers through
increased voice and visibility.
1) Promotion of the economic, social, cultural and political interests of informal workers in Nigeria.
2) Providing a common platform for all informal workers’ organization
3) To achieve social and health insurance, easier and fairer access to credit, improved occupational health and safety and other important services for informal workers.
4) Providing members with workers’ education, capacity building and human capital
development on a continuous basis
5) Engaging government, public, local and international development agencies for the purposes of realizing the Federations’ objectives.

Membership is spread across 21 states in Nigeria, encompassing organizations of informal workers across 28 sectors ranging from Agriculture and food processing to street and
market vending, auto repair, petty manufacturing, carpentry & joinery and diverse services including repair of appliances and equipment.

Short history:
FIWON provides a common platform to articulate the needs and daunting problems of informal, self – employed workers in Nigeria, aggregate the aspirations for redress of theseneeds and advocate for the amelioration of these problems in a participatory way before
power holders at all levels. Whereas workers in the informal sectors of the Nigerian economy constitute over 80% on the non-agricultural employment, 60% of the urban employment and over 90% of new jobs in Nigeria according to recent statistics from the
Federal Ministry of Labour with an estimated population of over 65 million workingpeople, and subjected to arbitrary and excessive taxation, their basic needs for social protection, access to affordable credit, occupational health and safety, affordable an accessible training and retraining for them to be able to cope with new production processes and technologies, access to work-spaces with basic infrastructures are not reflected in development planning.

FIWON builds human and material capacities for representation of informal workers in decision making public institutions, more qualitative and effective participation in Nigeria’s democratic processes, and enactment of policies to address pervasive development problems in the Nigerian informal economy. FIWON is a common platform based on shared problems and aspirations of millions of working people, helping to blunt the edge of divisive polarizations which Nigerian political processes engender. FIWON provides an important democratic space on the basis of which private, public, social sector partnerships could be forged to address urgent developmental problems that bedevil millions of working Nigerians.

By working to strengthen the existing organizations of informal workers, building their capacity for representation and advocacy, vast numbers of excluded citizens are empowered to become active participants in the development of Nigerian democracy, deepening it and expanding the space for democratic participation. FIWON was inaugurated June 18, 2010 in Abuja in the course of its 1st National Conference in Abuja with over 34 self – employed workers’ organizations in attendance.

"Sustaining current struggles to end destruction of informal homes and livelihoods and establish a credible vendors/government negotiation structure in Lagos, Nigeria" (Nigeria)

21 October, 2016

Pictured in Comrade Gbenga Komolafe, FIWON General Secretary

The ban of street trading in Lagos will take away the means of livelihood from street vendors in the midst of economic hardship in Nigeria.

Taking into account a high unemployment rate in the country, Lagosians feel the governor should have looked for a way of regulating the activities of the vendors and hawkers, instead of an outright ban.

Comrade Gbenga Komolafe, a General Secretary of Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON), new StreetNet affiliate from Nigeria, highlights the challenges for the informal vendors in Nigeria to force the authority to negotiate with street vendors.

“It’s been turbulent here with the Lagos State Government continuing with its destruction of homes and livelihoods of the poor in Lagos. We had to stage two demonstrations in the past two weeks. First on October 4, 2016 to protest demolition of informal workplaces in some parts of Lagos and on October 13, 2016 and yet a more massive one on October 17, 2016 to protest the Governor’s declaration that would destroy all water front communities in Lagos! The protest continues.

Inaugurating the Osun State Chapter of FIWON

Local governments in Nigeria especially Lagos State are absolutely dysfunctional. The state governments actually control their finances, organize election into local councils and administers local government funds. This had led to gross abuse of the local government as an arm of governance while rendering them useless as an effective organ of local governance. Lagos State Government (LASG) has refused to organize election into local governments for several years while the ‘Party Leader’ appoints ‘Sole Administrators’ to manage them.

State government ministries and departments seem to be more relevant to informal workers here: Ministry of Commerce deal with traders, collects taxes from them, Ministry of transport deal with transporters and collect all manner of levies from them, Ministry of Environment deals with waste pickers etc. The local governments also collect certain forms of taxes but offer virtually no services.

The immediate challenge is to fight the current battles to stop further demolitions of homes and livelihoods of informal workers and use the struggle as an opportunity to building lasting structures of engagement with the vendors and use that to force open at least some of the closed space for service delivery and permanent collective negotiations.

Pictured are FIWON members during one of their Training Programs

We are demanding for the state government to retract its statement that it would destroy all water front communities in Lagos and engage with us on other inclusive options including the necessity for negotiation forums between informal workers and relevant line ministries.

The next challenge for FIWON is to organize a comprehensive advocacy campaign to respond to the terrible injustices being meted out to informal workers and get LASG to review its overt gentrification policies in the name of building a ‘mega city’ as part of a ‘modernization’ agenda. Such a campaign will involve meticulous interface with the street traders, an action plan with them, vigorous media campaigns, possible mass actions and of course interface with government officials and institutions with a view to achieve credible negotiation structures with the government institutions”.

FIWON massive protest action against the Governor's declaration that would destroy all water front communities in Lagos (October 17, 2016)

Information provided by Gbenga Komolafe, FIWON General Secretary

FIWON was inaugurated on June 18, 2010 in Abuja in the course of its 1st National Conference in Abuja with over 34 self – employed workers’ organizations in attendance. FIWON’s membership is spread across 21 states in Nigeria, encompassing organizations of informal workers across 28 sectors ranging from agriculture and food processing to street and market vending, auto repair, petty manufacturing, carpentry and others.