Nationwide curfew: Our businesses are under siege

Operators of small businesses lament

In this report, BIOLA AZEEZ and JUDE OSSAI, write that businesses that thrive in the evening have been seriously battered by the nationwide curfew imposed by the Federal Government, causing serious economic damage to their operators.

 

EVEN before now, the economic climate had been inclement but businesses continued crawl all the same, while adapting to the situation. With the coming of the coronavirus pandemic and the steps taken by the Federal Government to impose a nationwide curfew to run from 8pm to 6am, a sledge hammer landed on businesses which thrive mostly in the early evenings till late night.

Some of these businesses include nightclubs, beer palours and pepper soup joints and movie theatres. Since the curfew took off, most of these businesses have either closed down practically or had their revenue seriously affected. The effect is felt nationwide.

Not even the nation’s capital has been spared of the effects of the imposed nationwide curfew. Businesses have been paralysed while patrons have disappeared with increased criminal activities targeted at the businesses.

Drinks and pepper soup joint operators including cinemas and clubs in the federal capital were unanimous in their views when Sunday Tribune spoke to them that incalculable damage had been done to their businesses while asking government to be more sensitive and considerate in their policies.

According to them, customers who often come from their offices to relax at the various joints after the day’s work have basically disappeared in order to beat the 8:00 pm curfew deadline.

According to Godwin Ukpong who operates a drinking joint, “before the total lockdown, I normally make between N20,000 and N30,000 every day, but today, I hardly make up to N5,000 in a day.”

“If government wants to be sincere, they should allow us to continue our businesses. We can still maintain social distancing if we are running the business. It has affected me seriously. I find it so hard now to feed my family.

“I know the virus is real, but my appeal to the Federal Government and FCT administration is to look inward and have a rethink about the policies.”

Abiola Oyelere, a restaurant barman said the curfew has indirectly increased crime rate as his shop has been burgled twice while his cat fish, beers and some other items were carted away before daybreak.

“The first time my shop was burgled, I left about eight live cat fishes there. I normally close before 8:00pm because of the curfew. So that very day, I left my shop around 7:00 pm so as to meet up with the deadline. Unfortunately, I came back the following day discovering that the shop had been burgled while the whole fish including my bucket were parked away,” he lamented

Monsura Ajibola, a pepper soup seller, said her business was booming before the curfew but today, she hardly makes N2,000 in a day.

“You can see by yourself, I hardly have three to four customers in a day. Everybody is complaining. Apart from the curfew, there is no money in circulation. Our customers sometimes ask for credit because there is no money. The situation is so pathetic. May God heal our land,” she stated.

Makurdi, the Benue State capital, also used to come alive in the evenings, but not anymore. Today, it is now a ghost town any time from 7 p.m when the curfew takes effect.

A beer joint operator located at High Level area of Makurdi popularly known as Madam Doshima, described the situation as terrible.

According to her, “We no longer open for business again o because of the restriction on movement. The little sales we have is always in the evening from 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm.

“Latest 6.30 pm, customers would have left for their various homes; the opportunity I have is that I live within this environment.”

For Lady Theresa who sells food and pepper soup, the situation is the worst time for her business.

“No market again; you should know that we love social life in Benue but the coronavirus has destroyed everything. The peak time for our business is evening till around 11.00pm but now the few people that come here don’t have the money to socialise.

“As I talk to you, I’m being owed thousands of naira; few customers that come around 4.00pm will tell you they only came out for sightseeing after staying at home since morning.

“Many of our people have left the business, at least for now. Look at that side [pointing], you cannot differentiate between that area and here in the past because of the number of people that always troop to this area to drink and socialise. But you know that people socialise more in the night; we are making do with what we have,” she said.

When asked how she has been coping with the lull in business, Lady Theresa said that she still cooks for customers starting from noon till 6.00pm.

Sunday Tribune also observed that business activities at the suya spots in Wadata, a predominantly Muslim area of Makurdi, have reduced drastically and this is as a result of the restriction of movement and the Ramadan season.

Elder George Ode, an economist, explained that the situation would worsen if the curfew is extended to the next few weeks. He stressed that many young people eke out a living in the evening businesses.

“I know of some young guys who engage in this type of business to sponsor themselves in school, though schools are closed now but it would have been an opportunity for them to save money before resumption.”

It is going to have serious effect too on the nation’s economy aside that some people have been forced into labor market while the money in circulation has also reduced drastically.

That is exactly what is happening to Bosede Olumide’s customers. Before the curfew, Bosede’s customers were flooding her fresh fish pepper soup and drinking joint located on Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Ilorin, Kwara State to enjoy themselves as dusk set in.

She used to prepare almost half a dozen pieces of fresh fish daily which she cut into pieces and sold for N400 per plate.

But since the lockdown and curfew directives began, Bosede’s long list of clientele has shrunk considerably. Customers no longer have the liquid cash to patronise her.

“I now cook one or two fishes in a day as against four (or more) before. Market is no longer moving. It’s quite tight nowadays,” she lamented.

Bosede is not the only one affected by the new developments. Sam Kayode sells beer and other assorted drinks. His customers have also stopped coming and sales have dropped drastically.

“We were selling more than 25 crates of beer before ‘coro’ [COVID-19] came, but not again. Only few people come to do faaji [relaxation] now. It’s not encouraging at all. Now we struggle to sell five crates per day.”

There is no part of the country protected from the current situation. From Benue State to Plateau the experience is the same. Money is in short supply, profit has dipped while focus has shifted to the basic necessities of life are the main focus today

Before lockdown and curfew came into effect, Kalu as he wants to be identified was operating a beer joint in Enugu and was making N20,000.00 daily and N50,000.00 during the weekend. Now things have changed and he would not mind being a beneficiary of government’s palliative to survive.

“Now things are crumbling. I make just N1,200.00 daily as my customers would normally leave in droves shortly before 8 0 clock to avoid being arrested by the police.

“The authorities should make their palliatives to go round and to the right people. They should use BVN to reach the target audience, that is, the underprivileged in our midst,” he said.

For Ikenna Okorie, another beer parlour/pepper soup joint operator at Agbani Road, Enugu, closing down the business is now on the card because he could no longer afford to pay the salary of his sales girls due to dwindling fortunes.

“Although, we are not harassed by the police or any other security agents but we have been recording poor sales since the lockdown. Our customers are not there. They are not coming and even those who manage to come do not stay long.

“What do you expect me to do now? Even when schools reopen, where do you think I will get the money to pay my children’s school fees? Government should come to our aids as we live on daily pay,” he added.

 

The business angle

The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics reports that small businesses in the country contribute at least 50 per cent to the national economy. Speaking on the contribution of the nightlife businesses to the Nigerian economy, a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan (UI), Professor AbiodunFolawewo said, “Our economy in Nigeria is dominated by small-scale businesses as they account for 70 percent of our Gross Domestic Products (GDP). Coming down to state level, most of them like Oyo State for instance are not commercial states except for Lagos and few others. As such, what most people rely on in these states are the entertainment clubs and other small nightlife businesses. Though there is no longer total economic lockdown, the imposed curfew also restricts movements and poses severe threat to the survival of the businesses especially the nightlife ones.

“Apart from the fact that the closure of these nightlife businesses hinders or reduces income generation for their owners, their closure also has huge effect on the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state governments. This is because at the end of the day whatever taxes the businesses will pay depends on their revenue and profits they were able to generate. And as the curfew has stopped their activities, their income has been affected. Hence, they won’t be able to pay the usual taxes they used to pay to the government,” he added.

Explaining the effects of the closure of the nightlife and other small businesses on the Nigerian economy, the donsaid further, “Same thing holds sway at the national level because the Internally Generated Revenue of the Federal Government will be seriously affected. It will be more difficult now for the government because her major sources of revenue, oil, is already declining. With the curfew and lockdown affecting businesses and resulting in job losses, the implication is that the personal income tax and company income tax which Nigerians and their companies pay to the central government will no longer be available due to the slowdown in economic activities.

“Generally, whichever way you look at it, either at the state or federal level, the breakdown of the businesses is going to hinder government abilities to provide goods and deliver capital projects because of the declining effects on their IGR. Also, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on our GDP just as it has increased the rate of unemployment because many companies have downsized. The aspect that will pain Nigerians the most is the inflation that it will bring which has already set in, soaring the prices of goods and services, yet the incomes of the citizens have reduced greatly,” he further said.

 

—Additional report by JOHNSON BABAJIDE, ADEMOLA ADEGBITE and IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI.

 

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