More than six weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State, to curb the spread of coronavirus, some Nigerian small business owners have lamented the economic cost on them.
The lockdown, which has now been relaxed, became necessary after confirmed cases of the disease kept increasing in the two states and the FCT.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, a lot of economic activities have been put on hold, affecting all levels of the economy.
A large part of the Nigerian population, small business owners and even the unemployed survive on what they manage to earn daily in the streets.
Prior to the lockdown, Nigeria was struggling with a constant rise in the rate of unemployment.
The National Bureau of Statistics estimated in 2018 that 20.9 million Nigerians were unemployed in 2018. Although the bureau has since 2018 stopped publishing the unemployment statistics, it is believed the number has risen sharply.
With over 37 million micro, small and medium-scale enterprises in Nigeria, accounting for more than 84 per cent of jobs, the sector is seen as a major economic growth driver.
With the federal and state lockdowns being enforced, many of these traders are no longer finding it easy to survive.
Umukoro Peppeh imports ladies’ handbags from China solely. She said until now she never believed that China had so much influence when it comes to manufacturing.
The middle-aged lady, who is also a realtor, said when she orders for goods “it takes more time to deliver now and some of her friends were scammed by their manufacturers.”
“They collect their money and block them off, this outbreak has really done a lot of damages.
“Now I know China holds the world when it comes to production because everywhere is shut down, nothing going in or out. At some point, I spoke with my agent who advised I don’t order now so as not to tie down my capital pending when things can move freely.”
Kabir Ochai, a fashion designer in Lagos, lamented how “he has not been able to work much because he and his customers are obeying the social-distancing rule.”
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“I can’t go and meet my customers and they also can’t come, the few jobs I am doing now are the ones I have had since. Nobody is going to any events again.
“People just want to survive first before thinking of seeing clothes,” he said.
Mr Ochai said normally, in a week he makes up to N20,000 but now he barely gets half of what he used to get.
Mr Ochai’s story is no different from other business owners: barbers, mechanics, salon owners, and others who before the lockdown depended on their daily income.
Adedapo Aderibigbe, the owner of Gasify, a gas refill station in Oye-Ekiti, lamented how business patronage had plunged for him.
“80 per cent of people in Oye-Ekiti are students. Since students were told to go home, market has really dropped for me, indigenes rarely use gas to cook. They use coal and mostly firewood.
“Before now, we use up to 10 cans of 50kg cylinders in a week, but now, we hardly finish one cylinder. Out of my two shops, I only opened one because there is no market at all,” he said.
Also, Olunne Imoh, a beauty salon owner in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said even before the governor of the state, Nyesom Wike, ordered the lockdown of the state, patronage had been low.
“People don’t go for parties again, so who will come and make their hair? It is only food items people buy now,” she said.
In Zaria, Kaduna State, Sabina Waziri, a clothing trader said meeting up with basic needs in her house has become a problem since the downturn on businesses.
“When one of my suppliers in Lagos waybill my goods to me, my customers refused to come over to check. They said my supplier may have put coronavirus on the clothes.
“I didn’t know they meant it until they all did not show up as usual to check my new goods.”
Other business owners who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES expressed sadness at the downturn and hope normalcy will return one day.
Stabilising the economy
Last month, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced a N50 billion package for small businesses affected by coronavirus, to allow them stay in business and not lay off workers.
The loan was to be accessed through the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), a unit of the apex bank.
The bank claimed the application was free but controversy erupted when applicants took to Twitter to reveal they were being made to pay from N3,000 to N10,000 as application fee.
With the pandemic still biting hard on the global economy, individuals and corporate bodies have recommended measures to be taken to stabilise the Nigerian economy.
Days ago, the Development Bank of Nigeria Plc, recommended that the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises reinvent their business models to leverage growth opportunities in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era.
“If you are an SME, the framework should be to survive the crisis period, have as much liquidity as you can and stem expenditure. You must stabilise the business by stabilising your cost and reconfiguring your operations,” the DBN said.
Also, a business and supply chain expert, Yusuf Olanlokun, said the MSMEs will feel the heat of the lockdown more because Nigeria is an import-based country.
He advised that business owners leverage on technology to be able to survive the storm.
“Business owners need to improvise technologically to be able to reach a larger number of their customers during this lockdown, that is one of the basics of businesses: agility.
“Open and online channel where they can reach their customers and also provide delivery services even if it will cost more, consumers will be pleased because this is our new reality,” he said.
“The government should sensitise people on the use of technology so as to suppress the effect of the pandemic,” he added.
He also advised that the government make available insurance plans for business owners in the future as “this will bear the cost of running their businesses in case of eventualities like this.”