COVID-19: Businesses crumble, owners count losses

IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI writes that coronavirus  (COVID-19) has dealt a mortal blow on businesses across the country, even as business owners groan under heavy revenue losses with only a thin hope of making a comeback soon.

 

At the entry of the New Year, many Nigerian business owners had drawn well calculated work-plan to achieve bigger results in 2020 than the previous year. Based on these plans, many of them had made financial projections, including the likely expenditure and gains to make for each of the three quarters of the year. Small and medium scale businesses too made similar forecast hoping to smile to the bank on daily basis even before the pandemic coronavirus began to spread across the world, affecting business negatively and sending many employees out of the labour market while poverty deepens.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of the year 2020, owners of most event and conference centres in Nigeria had taken bookings for all their halls throughout the year with fees paid in advance. In preparation for what promises to be a busy year at least from their job order booklets, most of the event centres had also used the first few days of the New Year to put their facilities and halls in befitting order while the caterers, event planners and the merrymakers have started pressing certain buttons as their services would definitely be needed when the various social and corporate functions start taking place.

With the social, corporate and religious engagements, it is believed generally that those in the printing business too will definitely make millions of naira because people will reach out to them for printing of fliers, posters, magazines, souvenirs, banners and some gift items. For the printers particularly, the months of March and April are mostly fruitful because of the various Easter printing works that churches and organizations will do. With different celebrations within the first quarter of the year, many people were expecting to make good turn overs as Nigerians are notably known for large and elaborate festivities.

But at the discovery of the first confirmed case of the deadly Coronavirus in the country on February 28, panic set in. Within the space of two weeks, people started cancelling their various programmes slated to hold within the first quarter of the year, thus, dashing the hope of many businesses. Those that had already booked at the various event centres started pushing for refund which translated into heavy loss for the businesses.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, businesses in Nigeria and others countries of the world have been suffering especially those involving large gathering of people such as event centres, cinemas among others. Also affected are the event planners, Masters of Ceremony, caterers and other people whose services are often needed in social gatherings. Though the Federal government only proscribed movement of people in three states; its ban of all social gatherings in the country has seriously grounded the event centre activities particularly and several other businesses in the country.

An insider told Sunday Tribune that an event centre like Eko Hotel Convention centre was often booked and paid for a year ahead. Coronavirus has today changed that scenario.

The manager of Dayplan Events and Conference Centre, Ibadan, Oyo State, Mrs. Aderoju Henry-Ogunjobi told Sunday Tribune that “All the events that had been booked till June had been cancelled by the clients. Some of them even collected back their money because they didn’t know when the virus will end. Some of the events billed for February were cancelled while some were postponed. But the ones slated for March, April and even June had been cancelled. It has really affected our business, honestly. We just pray the whole lockdown and epidemic end soon because so far as you can see, there has been no business; everywhere is under lock while our staff have remained at home. Yet, we will pay them despite not making any money for the month,” she said.

The manager of Jogor Centre, another popular event centre in the city, Mrs. Adebusola Oni, narrated similar account of losses when contacted by Sunday Tribune.

According to her, “The ban and lockdown has really affected our business too. Not just ours alone, but all other businesses as you can see. We have not been able to take bookings because people are scared of picking dates while those that have booked before the lockdown have postponed the events till further notice.

“In normal circumstances, we do have events every week in all our six halls. There are some Fridays and Saturdays that all our halls will be fixed at the same time. Our halls range from over a million naira to hundreds of thousands. So, for us not to have a single event for almost a month now, you can calculate how much that has cost us,” she lamented.

Manager of FilmHouse cinema, Ibadan, also said it has been difficult quantifying the losses so far in monetary terms because the losses started early in the year as movies from United States of America reduced from their international partners thereby affecting the level of patronage.

He noted that “a daily average of 200 patrons gradually reduced to 70 and it came to about 30-40 patrons as the news was filtering around and all these were affecting overhead costs such as diesel, electricity and staffing which would remain the same no matter the number of people, thus when the state government took the decision to restrict the number of people who could come together we had to shut down despite efforts made earlier to see how we could manage the situation.”

Walking through the cinema halls, it was observed that rodents have been causing damages to the seats and rugs as a result of the complete shutdown.

Mr. Atiba Musa Olaide, the CEO of Atmos Clothing Int’l, a fashion designer, also lamented a decrease in income as celebrants stopped their upcoming events, adding that “even those we have sewn clothes for do not want to release cash to pay as they often cite the need to hold on to any cash available.

Nightlife businesses have stalled. Mr Olakunmi Lawal, the manager of GQ Lounge situated at Bodija, Ibadan, told Sunday Tribune that though there was no lockdown in the state, the curfew in operation has shut down their business.

“You know the curfew starts by 7pm daily and that is when our own business starts too. So despite some businesses moving a bit, we are on total lockdown. We have almost 80 staff in our branches at Bodija and Agodi Garden. Right now, they are all at home with no job to do. Apart from direct staff, we also have indirect staff too such as the food sellers, security and the like.

“We gave all of them stipends during this lockdown, but even after that, they have been calling us for something no matter how small just to survive. Yet, we are making nothing as a lounge and restaurant.

“We, the management and staff are not happy with the situation at all because we are not making money and the little cash we saved before the lockdown has finished. Things are now very difficult for us. We can’t wait for everything to come back to normal,” he added.

Olurobi Moses, the Chief Executive Officer of His Praise Printing Limited, one of the top printing presses in Ibadan, told Sunday Tribune that the prohibition placed on social, religious and corporate gatherings has had a detrimental effect on the printing businesses too. He added that printers are feeling the heat more than others.

“If not for the lockdown and ban which has completely shut down our businesses, we would have printed programmes, magazines, fliers for people having one ceremony or the other. We have so far recorded massive losses. Because our business survives on social gatherings, banning them has dealt us a huge blow.

“In fact, since the fear of the pandemic started increasing, people have stopped doing printing works. The printing hub of Ibadan and other printing presses located in other parts of the country especially in the Southwest are now dry. I know, because we printers communicate often.

“In fact, I struggled to pay last month’s salary. As it stands now, I don’t know where I will get the salary to pay our workers this month even if it will be half. Our own problem started even before the government ban on movements because six days to that time, people have stopped giving us jobs.

“They rather used their money to stock their homes with foodstuffs. Meanwhile, after paying last month’s salary, I sent all my workers home. One of them who travelled to Lagos during that period saw hell before getting home. When the bus conveying him from Ibadan dropped him at Berger, there was no vehicle to take him home. So, despite having a bruised leg, he trekked from Berger to Abule-Egba for over three hours and almost fainted,” he explained.

Perhaps the worst hit business is food supply business because goods worth millions of naira are often supplied to retailers while the payment is made at the end of the month after the customers might have sold the goods. But since the lockdown has prevented the retailers from opening their shops especially those in troubled states, payment for goods has definitely been greatly affected.

Mrs. Omotunde Ayankoya, who is into supply business told Sunday Tribune that “This ongoing lockdown has dealt 80 percent of businesses in Nigeria a huge blow. We, the suppliers of goods are the worst hit because unlike the event centres that offer services, we produce and supply products to people. And we don’t get paid until all the goods are sold at the end of the month.

“Now, I have goods that I have supplied to places like Kano, Oyo and even here in Ibadan. We are supposed to collect the payment at the end of this month, but that has been disrupted now because a lot of people we supplied were not allowed to open shops in different part of the country. The retailers have been at home since, yet, we have millions of naira to collect from them.

“It is not funny at all. But our governments have not been supportive especially to us, the employers of labour. Even before the whole epidemic started, they kept stunting our growths with multiple taxations and dues.  Now, they said they have ordered banks not to disturb us for the facilities we collected. But is the interest on these facilities not piling up? Of course, it is!”

“No doubt, the ongoing situation is in favour of workers, but it is heaping problems on us the business owners. This is because instead of supporting us, the governments have been milking our businesses,” she lamented further.

 

—Additional stories by LUCKY UKPERI, DEOLA OTEMADE, FUNMILAYO AREMU and PHILLIP THOMAS.

 

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