COVID-19: A Wake-Up Call for Collaborative Action Towards a More Sustainable Nigeria
COVID-19 has brought significant disruptions to the economic and social lives of Nigerians and people all over the world, with significant adverse effects on vulnerable communities. Beyond the financial cost to individuals and the government, the cost of human lives cannot be overemphasized. In the fight to curb the spread of the coronavirus, there has already been a considerable economic impact on businesses that have had to close in the hardest-hit states, and on the large number of people in the informal sector who have to be in their homes without any savings to fall back on for their daily needs.
However, there are lessons we can learn in humanity’s response to the pandemic — in particular, the positive actions by corporate organisations to help ameliorate the impact of the crisis on consumers and the general public. What we have observed from the crisis so far indicates that the upheaval could push individuals, governments, business organisations, and institutions to adopt more responsible behaviours and could potentially trigger the adoption of a more sustainable approach to business and to life in general.
The following are trends worth noting notes from Nigeria:
1. Support for the Most Vulnerable and Needy: It is an undeniable fact that COVID-19 and associated lockdowns of many economies around the globe is creating an additional economic burden on people without stable incomes or savings. In response to this, Nigeria has seen increased action by individuals and organisations who provide support for vulnerable segments of the population.
- The Lagos State Government has set up subsidized food markets on the campuses of government schools in all local government areas in order to provide food security for the poor in the state who cannot afford to store food during the lockdown period. There have also been records of individuals making donations in cash and kind to orphanage homes and other communities that have been adversely affected.
- Tolaram Group’s Hypo Homecare Products Limited has slashed the cost of their bleach bottle unit product by 50%. The company hopes this will give more Nigerians access to a safe & well-disinfected environment as a supportive measure to further restrain the pandemic surge.
- First Bank of Nigeria Ltd has pledged support efforts in education to minimize the disruption resulting from schools’ closure. Working with the United Nations Global Compact and innovative technology firms such as Robert & John, the Bank hopes to provide e-learning solutions for students across the country.
- Jumia, the Pan-African online trading company, has donated face masks to the Nigerian Ministry of Health and has done the same in some other African countries. The company has also made available its logistics network to aid the distribution of health products for local authorities in Nigeria.
- Lifebank, a health start-up that deals in the delivery of blood for patients, has developed a national register to provide data on hospitals and health facilities with functional ventilators and respirators in a campaign to provide needed medical equipment for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the country.
2. Support to Ensure Continuity in Business and Daily Life: In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis which has necessitated social distancing and reduced physical human interactions, telecom companies around the globe have responded to the call to ensure that connectivity functions effectively and at an affordable cost. Their contribution to maintaining business and social connections helps to keep businesses thriving and to build a sense of community needed for the well-being of people. To this end, the Association of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers (ATCIS) of Nigeria have called on telecom companies in the country to increase access and reduce the tariff for voice and data services as a way of exhibiting their value as responsible corporate citizens. Additionally, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has created a relief fund of $136.6m to support households, SMEs, airline service providers, hotels, health care merchants and other businesses in this period. This fund and the recent reduction in the monetary policy rate — which is expected to have a reducing effect on average interest rate in Nigeria — are geared towards sustaining lives and to cushion the negative economic impact of COVID-19 on businesses.
3. Reduction in Carbon Footprint: One of the key corporate behavioural changes in Nigeria and elsewhere in the wake of the present crisis is the rapid transition to “work from home” operations. In a country like Nigeria where most vehicles are powered by fossil fuels, this behavioural change helps to reduce the national carbon emissions significantly as workers no longer have to commute to and from work on a daily basis. Furthermore, the adoption of remote meetings and video/phone conferencing in the advent of COVID-19 is a practice that, if adopted on a more permanent basis, could reduce the massive road traffic in busy cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt, aside from the positive impact in terms of decarburization of the economy.
4. Improvement in work-life balance: In a situation where most people are working from home, individuals who would have had little time with their families now have the opportunity to spend quality time with family in a way that will enhance work-life integration in the working population.
5. Donations by Corporations and High-Net worth Individuals: The Nigerian business community and wealthy individuals are channelling more funds to support the government and nation through their corporate social investments.
- The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and 33 of its partners donated $30m dollars to support the efforts of the government to curb the spread of COVID-19.
- The United Bank for Africa, Zenith Bank, Keystone Bank, First Bank of Nigeria, Access Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank, Union Bank, BUA Group, Dangote Group among others have all made huge donations to support federal and state government efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
- Top business tycoons including Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Tony Elumelu and others have pledged donations to support the fight against the virus in Nigeria.
As we brace up as a nation to face the COVID-19 crisis, the saying that “Together we stand, divided we fall” is becoming much more relevant in the quest to build a more sustainable Nigeria. Individuals, the government, corporations and nonprofit organisations are being presented with a unique opportunity to exemplify responsibility and to make significant contributions towards building resilient systems that can manage national crises, reorganizing the economy for more inclusive growth and developing systems to provide support for the poor and most vulnerable in our society. Indeed, the nation has a rare opportunity to reengineer its development course and create a story that posterity can look back and take positive lessons from.
Paul Appiah-Konadu, Oreva Atanya and Angela Omiyi are members of the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre