Small business owners operating within Nigeria’s informal sector say they are not getting as much patronage as they used to despite the relaxation of the lockdown against COVID-19 four weeks ago.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while announcing the decision to relax restrictions on movement as from May 4, said it became necessary because the lockdown came with huge economic costs and that many Nigerians had lost their means of livelihood.
“Many businesses have also shut down. No country can afford the full impact of a sustained lockdown while awaiting the development of vaccines or cure,” the president said.
While this step has positively affected a lot of businesses, many say they are still struggling to find their feet.
Raphael Ojogbe, an Abuja-based photographer who specialises in taking passport-size photos, closed his shop throughout April not only because of the government’s stay-at-home order but because it was futile opening it.
With the closure of schools and offices as well as the ban on flights, Nigerians have had to depend less on the service he provides.
The father of four said he could only survive the period because “God showed himself.”
His friends and family members reached out to him and supported him financially after he explained the hardship he was facing, he said.
But even since the lockdown was relaxed, Ojogbe said he had only been going for work in order not to stay idle at home, pointing out that in a day, he enjoyed patronage from between two and three persons and could only make N1,500.
But before the coronavirus pandemic, he usually made between N6,000 and N8,000 in the same period, he said.
“Since morning, I have been here and I have only seen one customer who gave me N700,” Ojogbe told HumAngle on Friday. It was around 4.10p.m. and he was due to close for the day in the next two hours.
Wahidi Salami, a meat seller who moved to Abujao in 2012, said that his business had yet to recover after the relaxation of the lockdown.
“We are still managing, the market is not moving. There is no money at all,” he said.
Salami said before the health crisis customers often bought meat in huge amounts with some paying at least N1,500 or N3,000 but now such people could only afford N200 or N500 worth of meat.
“It wasn’t like that before. If it continues like this, only God knows what will happen,” he said.
“Before corona, if I brought N50,000 meat here, I would sell everything and leave some for myself. But now, yesterday, it was only N2000 meat I sold,” Salami said.
He explained that cow meat had become more expensive as well and this had discouraged buyers and blamed the development on policemen and soldiers at roadblocks, who extorted suppliers from Suleja, Niger State.
“Before, this hand,” he tapped a sizeable chunk of meat before him with his knife, “was sold for between N23,000 and N25,000. But now, I bought it for N35,000.”
The story is the same for Gabriel Edima, a barber operating at Federal Housing, Lugbe, who said people were not patronising him because they “have nowhere to go” to warrant their having haircuts.
As a matter of fact, the first week following the relaxation of the lockdown was worse than during the lockdown, when barbers had occasional requests from clients who preferred home service, Edina said.
“Right now, even, the weeks are better than the weekends. Many people just stay at home. That first Saturday after government lifted the restriction, I attended to just one person,” he recalled.
He said it was possible people assumed salons would be crowded because of the announcement but the reverse was the case.
Edima said before the outbreak of COVID-19, he often attended to up to 10 clients in a day on weekdays and double that number at the weekend.
He said that on the average he earned between N6,000 and N8,000 each day of the weekend and between N3,000 and N4,000 on a weekday before the coronavirus crisis but that after the relaxation of the lockdown, things had not returned to normal as he attended to an average of six or seven customers daily.
Jibrin Usman, a motor mechanic in Jos, told HumAngle that life had been difficult since the health crisis.
“Business has stalled, except maybe for food sellers,” Usman said.
A worker at a grocery shop, Umar Abubakar, complained that the supply of commodities had become complicated because of the pandemic and this had affected prices.
Nigeria’s informal sector is estimated to contribute up to 65 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs the majority of the labour force.
Toyin Adeniji, Executive Director of Micro Enterprises, Bank of Industry, observed that challenges facing the informal sector had been “magnified considerably” since the onset of the pandemic.
“The informal sector remains incapacitated [and] the ripple effect will eventually lead more people to regress into abject poverty, undoing much of the progress that may have been made in recent years,” she noted.
“The challenges are multi-tiered, and the current outlook looks bleak, but the road ahead will be determined by the responses of various stakeholder groups today. There is no doubt that for these micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs in the informal sector, the rebuilding process will outlast the existence of the virus.”
Adeniji pointed out that even though the government has put in place a number of relief packages and financial palliatives to many Nigerians, “there are still significant lengths left to be taken.”
(Additional reporting by Murtala Abdullahi)