Lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting economy at different scales across the globe with several income-yielding activities being at their lowest ebb. While big firms have devised some models like allowing their workers to work from home to cushion the effect of the shutdown, hundreds of small businesses have been brought to a standstill, leaving the operators in lack.
The President, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), ordered a 14-day movement restriction in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to curb the spread of coronavirus.
A food vendor at Ogba, Lagos, Mrs Kudirat Adebisi, reflects the dark side of this trying time. The 42-year-old woman has been enduring strenuous means to feed her family since March 31 as the Federal Government’s lockdown order took effect in the state.
The little profit she realises from her daily sales is what she, her three children and visually-impaired husband, have been living on in the last four years. She is the pillar the family leans on and never shies away from the burden that comes with it. But the challenge has become weighty since she suspended her business about two weeks ago due to the distance from her home in the Abule Egba area of the state to the shop.
“I sell rice and have to go to market every day to buy ingredients. Since commercial buses are not allowed to operate, it is difficult for me to go to shop even though government allows food vendors and those on essential services to operate,” she stated in Yoruba.
Having to stay at home with a husband and three children to cater for portends a serious financial distress for Adebisi. The family has been feeding on her small capital and she couldn’t wait for the lockdown to end so she could reinvest the remainder of the money to keep the family running.
“The money I use for my food business is not up to N20,000. The little gain I make daily is what my family and I survive on,” she disclosed.
“My husband cannot work because of his condition so I shoulder all the responsibilities. We have been spending from the capital with little support from generous neighbours. I didn’t get any relief food item from government as promised,” the woman added.
Adebisi’s plight typifies what many Nigerians whose survival hinges on daily income have been going through amid the lockdown caused by COVID-19 which has killed 10 persons and sickened 318 people in the country as of Saturday.
Like Adebisi, Mrs Bimpe Isaac, a food seller on Sule Abore Street, Ojodu, has been confined to her residence in Alagbole (a neigbouring community in Ogun State) in recent days. She has been a strong support base for her electrician husband to ensure they put food on the table for themselves and their four kids.
But the lockdown has practically mounted more pressure on the couple while trying to fend for the family these days, Isaac said during the week.
She said, “I came to sell food on the second day of the lockdown, but the turnover was not encouraging. I sold to more customers on credit. When I considered the stress I went through to get a vehicle to the shop and back home, I decided to stop.
“My husband is an electrician and many customers need his service, but their places are far. It is what he realises from the work he does within the community and my little contribution that we manage to prepare food. It has not been easy. I pray this disease is brought under control so we can continue with our normal life.”
Hawkers, commercial drivers relying on help, savings
Starting out as an outbreak late December 2019 in Wuhan, a suburb of China, coronavirus has steadily snowballed into a pandemic sweeping through the world without a specific vaccine in sight.
With over 103,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million cases as of Saturday, the virus continues to impact negatively on almost all spheres of life – sports, stock exchange, banking sector, aviation, among other national and international trades.
Already, global economy is seriously bleeding and heading towards recession. Nigeria’s ailing economy may also face harsh realities of recession in six months, according to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed.
Meanwhile, Nigeria and other countries of the world have come up with different strategies, including lockdown and social distancing rules to arrest the spread of the disease and tackle it to fully restore the economy.
But while the lockdown measure lasts, Uzor Tochukwu, who hawks accessories in traffic around Ojota – a fairly bustling area at the heart of Lagos – is stuck without any means of making ends meet.
Every day, Tochukwu’s sustenance is hinged on traffic snaking in the bubbling Lagos centre. He sells car chargers, earphones and phone hangers to eke out a living.
A secondary school leaver, the indigene of Anambra State collects the items from a relative who has a shop at Computer Village, Ikeja, and remits payment every three days, using the gains from daily sales to keep body and soul together.
Within three days into the lockdown, the 23-year-old began to depend on the benevolence of relations and neighbours after exhausting his savings without any means of replenishing it – at least for now.
He stated, “I have never found myself in this kind of situation for some years now. There is nothing I can sell when there are fewer vehicles on the road and there is no traffic where I normally stay. How do I even get to Ojota from Alapere where I live when there is no bus?
“I can’t imagine what life would be without support from relatives and neighbours because my parents are not in Lagos.”
A roving newspaper seller on Ogunnusi Road, Ojodu-Berger, Toyin Kolawole, is also temporarily out of business due to the lockdown. The 41-year-old man depends on the busy morning traffic along the corridor to sell papers every day. But unlike other stationary newspaper vendors who still make sales from buyers who trek from their homes to the stands, he hardly sees people to sell to while roving.
“Once I don’t sell papers in a day, I have no other means of income. The majority of my customers are the motorists who ply this road. So there is no point carrying papers around when the road is deserted,” he revealed. “My little saving is what I have been managing to survive all this while,” Kolawole added.
Bayo, as he simply identified himself, shuttles between Ketu and Ikorodu with his 10-passenger yellow bus (popularly known as Danfo) on a daily basis to provide food for his family of four.
Painfully, the past few days have proved really hard for the family whose means of livelihood has been held in the lockdown. He told our correspondent that he borrows money from friends to ensure the family does not go hungry.
As part of the tactics to get through the trying moment, Bayo said he and his wife now take only brunch and dinner.
“I had spent the N10,000 I had before the lockdown started and had to borrow another N10, 000 to survive this period. My friends who are commercial drivers are going through the same challenge. I have three children and a wife, who has a hairdressing shop along Ikorodu Road. Both of us can’t go to work.
“We have been rationing our food items pending when the lockdown will end. We make sure our children eat three times daily while we take breakfast and dinner. We take our breakfast around 11am so it can cover for lunch,” he lamented.
Some street traders defying the odds
However, some food items sellers have defied the odds caused by the lockdown to earn a living. A pepper seller at a market on Obafalabi Street, Ojodu, Mrs Zainab Ibrahim, said that she has been trekking to Mile 12 every three days to restock her wares since the lockdown started.
She said, “I am a single mother with two children. Is it the government that will feed them if I don’t work? Since those of us selling food items are exempted from the lockdown, I have to take the pain for the sake of my children.
“When I came back from Mile 12 on Tuesday, I had to massage my legs with a balm because it was seriously aching. I trekked the distance to and fro. There was no commercial bus to board. The consolation I have is that I sell the pepper quickly and make my gains.”
Our correspondent also saw two middle-aged women trudging along a deserted road in Ogba area around 11.30am on Thursday carrying large quantities of vegetables wrapped with cloths.
One of them who agreed to speak briefly, lamented that the trekking had become a routine for her since the lockdown began in the state.
The woman, who identified herself only as Mama Kemi, said she left her residence in Aguda, Ogba area, around 5am for Ketu, where she bought the vegetables.
The about 15-kilometer walk is a huge sacrifice the mother of four has to make to ensure the family survive the harrowing period.
“I am a widow with four children. It is my responsibility to cater to them and I have no other means apart from selling vegetables,” she muttered, panting for breath as a result of exhaustion. “This is the third time I will go to Ketu since this thing (lockdown) started,” she added.
Speaking on the development, the National President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Dr. Femi Egbesola, in a telephone interview with our correspondent emphasised the reality that global and local economies were crashing due to the pandemic.
He, however, noted that nothing meaningful had been seen of palliatives promised to households and businesses by the Nigerian government at all levels.
Egbesola said the process of accessing the N50bn intervention funds earmarked by the Central Bank of Nigeria for businesses affected by COVID-19 was slow, adding that many business owners had applied but had yet to move beyond the application stage.
He said, “First, planning a food stimulus for 200,000 in Lagos that has a population of over 20 million people is indeed a child’s play. Little wonder then why there are outcries in Lagos about a whole community of over 200 households receiving just two packs of the stimulus food package. I guess this indeed implies that the exercise is a failure.
“We look forward to the point of some businesses getting the fund as promised. We believe this is the best time to release the fund especially to the critical sectors like food processing companies, agric sector and its value chain, health sector, pharmaceuticals, basic needs etc as these industries need to continue operations if we must survive the pandemic.
“This CBN intervention fund, no doubt, is a novel idea by government. But come to think of it, what will N50bn actually do in a population of a country with about 42 million MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises)? That no doubt is also indeed a drop in the ocean. More importantly, the criteria for accessing it are far and beyond the reach of the micro and small business owners who form the bulk of operators of businesses in Nigeria.”
Egbesola urged the government to make the palliative disbursement processes transparent enough to convince the affected business owners, noting that it should be accessible to those at the bottom of the pyramid.
He added, “If nothing urgent is done, the effect of this pandemic without the right, workable and result-oriented palliatives, will result in closure of many micro and small businesses, colossal loss of jobs, increase in crime rate, untold inflation, apathy of the citizenry towards government and its policies, loss of revenue for government (as it is healthy business that can pay tax), hunger, poverty and much more. This may eventually lead to recession. If this happens, it will spell doom for the country and her inhabitants.”