COVID-19: Business Unusual in an Evolving Socio-Economy

Given the globally evolving critical health situation over the past couple of months which has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it has become clear that the world is facing an unprecedented challenge.

As at the time of writing this, official records estimate that there have been 487,452 coronavirus cases globally, of which 22,027 have died and another 117,582 cases recovered. In Nigeria, as at 8:35pm on Sunday, 29 March, 2020, we have had a total of 111 confirmed cases, of which 107 are active cases, 3 have been discharged and one dead.

Although the disease does not appear to thrive in our clime due, according to anecdotal references, to the BCG vaccine (anti-tuberculosis vaccine) taken by Nigerian children, our weather and just our sheer hardiness, it has become imperative that citizens isolate themselves and not take for granted, the principles of social distancing at this time. The Lagos State Government in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 has enforced certain protocols such as the closure of open markets and ban on gatherings of more than 20 people, Ondo and Ogun states have banned entry into their towns, and the Federal Government of Nigeria, as announced by President Muhammadu Buhari during his Sunday broadcast, has imposed a 14-day curfew on Lagos and FCT (Abuja) for the obvious reasons that they have the highest diagnosed cases of COVID-19 due to their high numbers of economic and political elite.

We commend responses by governments, businesses, medical personnel and international organisations across Nigeria and the world. However, we know that if we must limit the spread of the virus, we must intensify efforts across board, starting with the previously touted ‘draconian’ measures used by China in fighting the scourge – humanely enforcing stay-home orders whilst making provision for food and extra health care infrastructure.

This current situation that we find ourselves has caused, and is causing varying degrees of disruption to normal business, which makes it expedient for businesses and organisations globally to have well-developed Business Continuity Plan’s (BCP) to ensure that we are able to maintain good operations and even better relations with our partners. Even in the face of daunting global realities as this, businesses must find ways to honour current contracts, whilst allowing for flexibility on delivery and quotas, and honouring their employees by keeping them safe. For our economies to bounce back faster, business must go on, though it will not be business as usual. Our actions at this time will define stakeholder trust, reputation and legitimacy going forward.

In Nigeria, businesses such as Access Bank, GTBank – which working with the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and hard core professionals, delivered a 100-bed intensive care unit in 5 days flat – Zenith Bank, UBA, Dangote Group and BUA have stepped up to the plate and issued statements of support to the government in cash and kind, and Nigeria’s richest woman, owner of Famfa Oil, Folorunsho Alakija, with her husband, has allegedly generously donated a billion naira (N1bn), approximately US$2,608,855 to fight the scourge that is COVID-19.

As we watch the news and see open instances of unrest caused by hunger and desperation such as fights breaking out in Italy in popular chain store, Lidl, and other smaller stores, it is clear that even the countries called ‘first world’ are groaning under the massive socio-economic fall out that is this pandemic.

It is clear, therefore, that more businesses – especially big business – need to step in and contribute their significant quota to supporting resolution of the attendant issues around meeting basic needs particularly in countries where there is failed governance. Businesses have impacts on societies, both positive and negative, and when positive impacts occur in societies, businesses stand to gain, and sometimes gains are gotten even during negative impacts, like the research that links higher spending on alcoholic beverages during economic downtimes. Businesses must realise that when we enter into societies, we enter into a pact with the citizens, a commitment of truth, honesty, reliability and sustained development.

Essential service providers such as FMCGs in food, beverages, toiletries and medicines – for whom countless concessions are being for by governments for ease of business – have an ethical responsibility to care at such a time as this, and contribute towards alleviating poverty and curbing the spread of the disease and other social vices. Providing dry foods such as rice, spaghetti, nutritional drinks, toothpaste and multivitamins can go a long way towards

The telecommunications companies are not left out of this chance to alleviate suffering to our circa 250-million-strong population. Phone calling and data usage have increased exponentially since the advent of the coronavirus in the world as people are forced to work and interact virtually and the telecommunications companies in Nigeria are some of the largest companies in the country with billions in revenue and thousands of employees. Case tracking and awareness messages and informational texts in different languages and for different segments of customers can go a long way towards limiting the spread of the disease due to the wide reach of telephonic services.

I am confident that in days to come, we will hear more announcements about the collaborative efforts businesses from all sectors are making in partnership with different levels of government. Whilst businesses may worry about the economic impact of such development contributions, when looked at holistically, such interventions can yield better top-of-mind awareness than traditional advertising and as such, advertising and promotional funds may be redirected as necessary.

Before we close out on this train of thought, I urge businesses to consider this: In just months, the scare of COVID-19 will be a thing of the past. How would your business like to be remembered: A force for good, leading to loyal and faithful customers and partners, or the Ebenezer-Scrooge of businesses with a lesser chance of being a sustainable entity, for the primary fact that you have been unable to connect with your key stakeholder base at the most primeval level?

In the midst of all of this, there is a silent cry for the efficient use of donated resources – estimated to be in billions of naira – that must be emphasised. Many believe that politicians have learnt a crucial lesson in these times where there is no place to run and hide from the pitiable state of our health infrastructure, and so as a people once touted as the most optimistic in the world according to the 2011 53-country Gallup poll, there is a strong hope for a turn-around.

As we grapple with the enormity and human cum economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand that it is human to panic in the face of challenges, but emphasis the clear headedness of taking extra measures to stay safe; we must not forget that gloves make you complacent (do not be), we have to wash our hands regularly, we have to observe social distancing and we must re-connect with our loved ones and business connections.

Yours-in-progress,

Bekeme Masade-Olowola

Chief Executive and Founder

CSR-in-Action



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