COVID-19 is a crisis like no other, these are 10 effects the pandemic will have on Nigeria

By Isime Esene and Ifedayo Adeleye

After it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation in January, Coronavirus (widely known as COVID-19) has so far spread to over 160 countries and territories, infecting over 1,000,000, and killing over 50,000 people. Since December 2019 when cases of the novel virus emerged from Wuhan, China, the outbreak has hit the heart of the global economy and forced massive shutdowns in travels and tourism, manufacturing, and has disrupted the global supply chain.

Apart from the debt vulnerabilities, trade disruptions and Nigeria’s narrow scope for budgetary policy manoeuvres, here are ten ways COVID-19 will affect citizens of the world’s most populous black nation in the near-to-medium term.

‘Made in China’ will not be the same again

With the outbreak of COVID-19 paralyzing the Chinese economy which is the world’s largest importer and second consumer of oil, Nigeria — with a maximum crude oil production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day and has traditionally ranked Africa’s largest producer and sixth largest in the world — is set for some hard times. As China accounts for more than 16% of the world economy, economic activities around the world will be directly and indirectly affected.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s imports from China in Q’2 and Q’3 2019 (April to September) stood at N2.2tn. The country imported Chinese goods worth N1.02tn in the second quarter, representing 25.47% of total imports and in the third quarter, imported Chinese goods valued at N1.22tn, representing 31.34% of total imports.

Since its first case was reported, port closures in China have caused importers to cancel their purchases, forcing sellers to look elsewhere. Even though shipments out of the country are not included in this quarantine, many will still remain concerned about ‘transmitting’ the virus right to their doorsteps, especially through online platforms such as Amazon and AliExpress.

Experts polled for this report are of the opinion that though the world will continue to look towards China for imports, not a few consumers will look at the imported products with a considerable dose of fear and suspicion. How long this consumer PTSD will affect our psyche is however left to the imagination.

Another recession is looming, and this time, it may be worse

According to the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, the world economy is facing a “severe” economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic that could prove to be costlier than in 2009, and called for more support for low-income countries who face a massive outflow of capital.

With oil prices falling below $30 per barrel, the Presidential Economic Advisory Council has warned the Muhammadu Buhari administration that Nigeria could slip into another recession following the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy. Reacting to the pandemic, the government has stated that it will review the 2020 budget — which has a $57 benchmark — for necessary adjustments to revenue forecasts and sources, as oil revenue comes under pressure due to a dent on demand.

“We (Nigeria) as at the last count have about 70 crude oil cargoes without buyers. We have offered a discount of around $5, bringing us closer to a loss position (that is if we are not already there). We also can’t compete with the likes of Saudi Arabia and others from a production efficiency perspective. The signs are not good, they point to a recession, however, we may still avoid one. Tough decisions need to be taken – cut the fat from our budgets, deregulate the downstream sector to free up some much needed funds and let politicians be prudent and accountable and finally stimulate the non-oil sector. But we have been saying all these for decades without seeing significant changes,” said Femi Ogunyeye, former associate director with global auditing and consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers and executive director with downstream oil and gas firm, Stockgap Fuels Limited.

As cases of COVID-19 infection continue to rise, more worrying is the nationwide shutdown of both large and small businesses, which will also inhibit market activities, reduce capital spending and consumption, imports and exports, and basically send the economy into a tailspin. With approximately 74million Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) in Nigeria — making up 84% of the labour force and contributing close to 50% to the GDP— the damage – just coming four years after the last recession – will be immeasurable.

With increased testing, thousands more cases will be confirmed

By 30 March, 2020, there were about 111 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections in Nigeria — with cases including VIPs such as the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed; and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s son, Mohammed.

Unfortunately, one cannot ignore others who have been potentially exposed to the virus through these individuals including the over 1,000 guests that attended the 2020 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCAs) where an attendee (who has since been confirmed to be COVID-19 positive) was in close proximity with other performers and guests. Many Nigerians believe that there are many more cases than the government can properly diagnose and quantify due to inadequate test kits and other limitations.

“I see no real reason to doubt the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) number of tested people,” said Joachim MacEbong, a risk management professional and member of our COVID-19 report focus group. “The issue is that they need to test more.” His position was corroborated by Emmanuel Adegboye, a social entrepreneur and convener of TEDxYaba who said, “it is fairly obvious that we have limited testing capacity so the number of confirmed cases very likely isn’t telling the true story. If we tested more, we will surely detect more cases.”

As a result of limited testing capacity, many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy, are believed to be grossly under-testing potential carriers of the virus, making it difficult to understand its true impact. With the launch of Drive Through Mass Testing initiated by LifeBank in collaboration with the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), and the delivery of 1.5 million laboratory diagnostic test kits and over 100 tons of infection prevention and control commodities courtesy of The Jack Ma Foundation, the number of officially confirmed cases is expected to rise, weighing heavily on the country’s already weak health system.

An uprising may be staring us in the face

With the complete lockdown of the economy, millions of citizens are already getting anxious about their chances of survival, while many are desperate to access bare essentials. The COVID-19 pandemic will expose the ugly underbelly of the Nigerian system, even as the federal government rallies following dangerous, often fatal delays.

As cases continue to rise, especially in Lagos and other South West states such as Osun and Oyo, government officials are forced to treat the pandemic with more urgency than they normally would. Responses on social media provide an early portent to the kind of reaction the government will receive from citizens cut off from basic sustenance and religious guidance. Many Nigerians already blame the government’s perceived incompetence, inadequacies, and class divisions as the cause of their predicament and will lash out as situations worsen.

Following weeks of enforced ban on religious gatherings, pastors and other religious leaders who wield considerable influence over their followers may begin to revolt, seeing the situation as an assault against their rights to freedom of association.

The Northern Nigerian state of Katsina saw a glimpse of this when at least a person was killed after law enforcement agents allegedly arrested a religious leader for conducting Juma’at service in defiance of the government’s ban against such gathering. Such reactions are expected if such orders are sustained without widespread sensitization, education, and constant engagement with relevant stakeholders on the importance of social distancing in the fight against the COVID-19 disease.

State governors are about to become stars

With a hands-on approach towards flattening the curve in their states, a few governors will gain acclaim and goodwill — even as President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to lead from behind will rub Nigerians the wrong way.

As more states continue to confirm new cases of COVID-19 infection, the pandemic will raise the profiles of Lagos governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Oyo governor, Seyi Makinde; Ogun governor, Dapo Abiodun and Kaduna governor, Nasir el-Rufai as effective and responsive administrators.

Sanwo-Olu, Makinde, and a few other governors are taking advantage of the interest of the private sector in tackling the COVID-19 issue which is becoming evident in the construction of isolation centres and provision of testing facilities in the states. This, many observers believe, will go a long way in slowing the pace of infection in the affected states.

Media consumption will increase, but innovation determines who leads

Just like millions of people around the world, many Nigerians are observing social distancing, or self-isolation when necessary, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. This shift means many people are spending more time online following up on news about the pandemic, connecting with friends and family, or simply just seeking out entertainment.

In a new report, Nielsen predicts that the working-from-home directive in place for most companies will increase media consumption. Typically, employees working remotely watch TV about three hours more each week than non-remote workers — 25 hours versus 22. “We’re almost completely relying on the media for information,” said Adegboye. “That will continue to increase and platforms that have projected intrinsic trust will distinguish themselves and get more share of voice.”

Y! editorial board member, Edwin Okolo, believes change is already happening at a rapid pace in the media space across the world as more platforms are daily creating third party apps to engage mass audiences.

But with the distortion that comes with being flooded with negative, threatening, panic-inducing, and often fake news about the pandemic comes the urgent need for relief from the stress. This will open new,  often-ignored, content on social media and traditional platforms. With many content creators inhibited through shutdowns and mandatory curfews, innovative specialists will begin to arise with ideas and narratives that will resonate with Nigerians during the COVID-19 crisis, and most likely sustained after the pandemic.

A change in corporate culture

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique challenge for companies that have so far resisted culture changes like remote working, collaborative working, and housing for employees. Many executives now see a pressing need to embrace new ideas and policies to help sustain their businesses by ensuring customers get excellent services and staff perform optimally during the crisis.

Before the government issued a mandatory sit-at-home order to citizens, many companies were already mulling the idea of having staff work from home, observe flexible work hours, and enjoy other work arrangements that place staff health and wellbeing into consideration, while increasing productivity and raising the financial bottom line, but the order has now made it almost impossible to operate without such operational changes.

Microsoft Teams, the group-collaboration platform, grew by 12 million users and reached 44 million daily active users in March, mainly driven by the COVID-19. According to the company, users generated over 900 million meetings and calling minutes on Teams each day between 18 – 23 March, 2020. As at November 2019, Microsoft Teams’ number of daily active users was only 20 million active users. Microsoft’s Skype video and audio calling service now has 40 million users, a 70% month-over-month increase, and calling minutes are up 220%.

In addition, Slack added 7,000 customers between Sunday, February 1, and March 18, 2020, compared to 5,000 new customers it added in its 2019 Q1. Just within one month (February 22 and March 22 2020), Zoom application downloads increased by 1,270% (over 12 times), with the high downloads on both iOS and Android platforms. By March 22, the Android version had 8,562,600 downloads while iOS had 8,627,500 downloads.

Going forward, organizations who see the merits of this arrangement will maintain them. Many forward-looking brands have already embraced progressive work environments but the restriction of movement necessitated by COVID-19 will serve to accelerate it. Throwing corporate investment in voice technology, broadband internet, and other tools into the mix will definitely establish this as a workplace culture game-changer.

Rising interest in home cooking

Young Nigerians, especially single residents in urban areas, are known to spend more money in fast food restaurants. As more restaurants close shop and isolation increases, many will have to learn or relearn how to cook. If it takes the government longer to fix, urban sit-down will have to invest in more activities and promotions to regain and attract new customers.

Social distancing, including other preventive measures against the spread of the virus, means many more families and individuals have to depend on home cooking. “Before the complete lockdown came into effect I made sure I cooked my food before going to work as it became too risky to trust food not prepared in my kitchen,” said Toluwalope Omoyeni, a communications executive with Lagos Business School. “A lot of my friends are currently doing the same and I don’t see the trend stopping anytime soon — not even after the COVID-19 scare dies down.” In a straw poll conducted during the lockdown, 6 out of 10 people who live in Lagos confessed to already developing an affinity for home cooking, even while their favourite cafeterias are allowed to open since they are classified as essentials in specific states.

With the most available data provided by Nielsen exploration across 74 markets, consumers in Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam are choosing to have a rethink and re-prioritize eating at home. For Nigeria, while there is still no evidence of ‘mama put’, fast food or its packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19, consumers have to follow strict food safety and hand hygiene measures, which becomes less effective when one has to make orders.

Conversely, we will see takeout finally become a viable business model for Nigerians. In developed countries, takeout and home deliveries form the bulk of restaurant revenue and post COVID-19, Nigerians — especially those living in urban centres such as Lagos — will embrace paying a small token for the convenience of hygienic delivery to their homes.

More global and regional tech innovation

Several tech companies are already on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19,” said Adegboye. “I believe they will continue to play a huge role from making available cheaper and faster test kits to delivery services to telemedicine and e-learning platforms. All of these and more will contribute towards flattening the curve.”

The Nigerian technology ecosystem is developing digitally inspired ways and means to tackle the pandemic – through increased information spread, raising awareness, collaborative contact tracing, and more. Instead of focusing on mobile mapping applications to understand traffic jams and finding the closest restaurants, there will be a massive mindshift towards big data, machine learning, and crowdsourcing to facilitate access to goods and services, manage social distancing, and minimize large gatherings.

In March 2020, CcHub announced funding and engineering support to tech projects aimed at curbing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact, posting an open application to provide $5,000 to $100,000 funding blocks to companies with COVID-19 related projects. To help slow the spread of the virus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria, Paga made fee adjustments to allow merchants accept payments from Paga customers for free.

With a home-based workforce, remote desktop technologies will be essential until native born-in-the-cloud applications can run core business functions. This will occur using enabling technologies such as containerization (bundling applications together with its related configuration files, libraries and dependencies required for it to run efficiently across different computing environments and microservices) because VMs and IaaS are computationally very expensive.

According to the Vice President, Prof. ‘Yemi Osinbajo, there are “young Nigerians developing and contributing innovative tech solutions to confront the Coronavirus pandemic, and are collaborating with the Presidential Task Force and other stakeholders to deliver relevant, real-time, cutting edge public health responses.”

The second coming — are we ready?

For Dr. Anthony R. Fehr, Assistant Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Kansas, USA, and one who has studied Coronaviruses since 2012, there will likely be another outbreak of a coronavirus, just like the one that has shut down the global community. Adding more precision to the frightening projection, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who spearheads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said Coronavirus will likely return in a second wave in the United States in the October-November period.

At a time the world continues to recover from the shutdown and borders are being reopened, Nigeria’s healthcare system may be left vulnerable to a second wave of infections as the country recovers from the first. Even if Nigeria flattens the curve and discharges the confirmed cases, there are definitely many who are asymptomatic (those who are infected and are not showing any symptoms, which study says might be close to 25 percent) and current preventive measures have to continue (frequent hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and environmental cleaning and disinfection, as well as the importance of maintaining physical distances and avoidance of close, unprotected contact with people with fever or respiratory symptoms).

While China is already brazing itself against a second wave due to newly-reported cases, experts have called for more support for African countries with weak health systems and debt infrastructure.

This piece is woven from intelligence out of the Culture Intelligence (Ci) team at RED. Ci’s methodology is based on five key elements: random sampling surveys, meta-analysis of existing quantitative data, our proprietary focus group model, data points from the backends of our media products (TV, web and social) and The Resonance Test filtered via our curated panel of producers and editors. Intelligence customized for clients includes access to raw data.

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