OPINION By Obiora Okonkwo Ph.D:
In my Easter message to the good people of Anambra state a few weeks ago, I noted that the disruptions to the global economy brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic will be huge. Monitoring the spread of the virus since, it’s obvious the pandemic is already having a very devastating impact on Nigeria, including the health and economic well-being of the good people of Anambra State.
So far, the pandemic, among other things, has drastically impacted production and consumption, forced the closure of international and local travels and disrupted demand and supply chains. With weeks of little to no travels by road, rail or air, the global oil prices came tumbling down with dire implications for Nigeria’s oil dependent economy. Even the global stock markets that have had several weeks of positive gains prior to the pandemic, is now struggling.
With lockdown policies around the world, including in Nigeria, people have had their movements severely curtailed to help stop the spread of the virus. Schools, businesses, markets, church services and other social gatherings were suspended as mitigation measures. In Anambra State, a two-week lockdown just ended with the Governor concerned about starvation and fear of unrest by residents who have become increasingly restive. The hurried lifting of the lockdown by the state government despite the persisting threat of the pandemic is, in part, a consequence of the government’s very poor palliative programs to mitigate the harsh economic impact of the lockdown on the most vulnerable in the state.
In Anambra, the percentage of people employed by the State and private sector is relatively small. This means that a vast majority of the Anambra population is engaged in the informal sector and survives on daily earnings. For these people therefore, the shutdown of markets, parks, street shops and artisanal workshops leave huge economic holes that may be difficult to fill. By staying indoors, this percentage of the population is forced to spend and not earn. While those employed by the state will look forward to some income by the end of the month, though not guaranteed, those employed by the private sector may have to depend on the magnanimity of employers willing to endure further financial losses, to help them pull through.
Yet, no one knows when this will end. So, the disruptions will continue, at least into the foreseeable future,severely affecting family incomes and potentially resulting in the demise of businesses unless the state government immediately introduces some form of stimulus package that can help keep micro, small and medium scale businesses afloat with low interests.Meanwhile, the shutdown of state economies also translates to loss of revenue to the state. This is made worse by low global oil prices with serious implication on allocation from the federation account to states. Further, the recent loosening of the lockdown could lead to spike in Covid-19 infections resulting in hospitalizations, even deaths. We can only hope and, pray, that it will not be to the scale we saw in the United States of America, Italy, Spain and several other countries.
As Anambra State grapples with the massive disruptions caused by Covid-19, it is critical to not only take care of the least of our brethren through substantive, well thought out and enduring palliative measures, but also ensure the sustainability of businesses which is the driving force of our people.
While this unprecedented crises could possibly not have been envisaged, effectively managing it demands smart, resourceful, creative and bold leadership (both within and outside government) with the twin goals of getting through the pandemic, however long it lasts, and engineering a robust recovery afterwards. This is the challenge facing us.
It is well known that the Anambra economy is propelled by robust self-entrepreneurships in micro, small and medium scale businesses. Unfortunately, the continuing disruptions caused by Covid-19 is negatively impacting these businesses such that some may go under and those that survive, could be considerably weakened. The world over, it is common for businesses to have loan liabilities, mostly to banks and under the prevailing Covid-19 situation, it is imperative for banks and other lending institutions to do the needful by working with these businesses, where necessary, to reschedule their loan repayments in terms that are mutually beneficial. In these challenging times, I particularly urge banks and other lending entities to be a crucial bridge across troubled waters for these businesses as a way of building an enduring partnership with them long after the pandemic.
As Anambrarians, we are legendary for both our libertarian ethos of free-will and republican spirit of self-help, irrespective of governments either at the local/state or federal level. Covid-19 challenges us to, once again, demonstrate that indomitable spirit of community (Igwe Bu Ike) that have made us the envy of all.
I am encouraged that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has already introduced a N50 billion stimulus package, called Targeted Credit Facility (TCF), that will enable micro, small and medium scale businesses affected by Covid-19 to access up to N25 million to help jumpstart their businesses. According to the CBN, those eligible for this facility include households and existing micro, small and medium scale enterprises with verifiable evidence of business activities adversely affected by Covid-19. That financing opening is also a window, according to CBN, for “enterprises with bankable plans to take advantage of opportunities arising from the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Covid-19 pandemic has indeed created for us yet another opportunity to rise to the challenge of being our brother’s keeper. This is therefore the time to give life to the think home philosophy for Anambra businesses (Aku lue Uno). The opportunity created by this pandemic should bring out the best in us as entrepreneurs. The concept of adopt-a-business may well be a life time opportunity to help micro, small and medium scale businesses to stay afloat and rebuild household economies. Similarly, the dictum of onye aghana nwanne ya, should be for us, a call to assist others to regain balance. This, we as entrepreneurs, can do by also standing as guarantors to micro, small and medium business owners who would want to approach the CBN for the TCF. This is one great way to boost confidence and support our people in Anambra to recover from the shock of Covid-19 disruptions.
I therefore use this opportunity to call on entrepreneurs from Anambra state, many of who have already done a lot by way of various forms of palliatives in their communities to rise to this challenge and be part of the recovery process by standing as guarantors to micro, small and medium scale businesses in the state that approach CBN for the TCF loan. I will lead this challenge too. Those among us that had given out personal loans to small businesses can also do more, in support, by rescheduling the repayment plan. This will create a window for such businesses to recover and remain afloat. This has become necessary given the need for us to support our people and help the economy of our state to recover. I believe that this is as important as giving palliatives. However, while palliatives are temporary and therefore not sustainable, supporting micro, small and medium scale businesses to rebound after the Covid-19 shock, is a more pragmatic and sustainable approach that will help business owners to regain balance and rebuild their households. The ripple effect of this is immeasurable. I believe that this is what the time calls for because the state government cannot do this alone.
In 2017, the popular American Online media organization TED Talk hailed the famed Igbo business apprenticeship culture as one of the greatest and most innovative Venture Capital schemes in the world. The economic challenges that Covid-19 poses provides us, among other things, a unique opportunity of reinventing this dying culture.
Hope springs eternal. Only a few weeks ago, we celebrated Easter, one of the most sacred observances in the Christian calendar marking the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If it reminded us of anything, it is that after the pervading gloom of Good Friday came the glorious joy of Easter. The current hardships brought by the Covid-19 shall also pass, if we do the needful and keep the faith. As the joyful Hallelujah people of Easter, we shall overcome the pandemic and prosper in its aftermath.
*Okonkwo Ph.D, is the Chairman, The Dome Entertainment Limited