Friday, August 14, 2020

Nigeria and the Pain of the Pandemic

In Alapere, Lagos, This working-class Lagos community has been reeling from job losses, a collapse in informal services, and rising food and transport costs.  For Africa’s largest economy, the pandemic has precipitated a crisis at a time when many people were already in difficulty. The pandemic has wrought a swift descent from struggle into crisis. Millions of job losses are projected this year. 

Juliana Chokpa, a 38-year-old cleaner, pay of 35,000 naira (£70) a month, working in a lavish home 20 miles away in Banana Island, the city’s most affluent enclave, was suddenly halved in March when her employers left the country as coronavirus cases began to rise. Weeks later, with government lockdown measures taking hold, her husband, a driver for an international corporate firm, was told his pay would be cut by two-thirds because the staff he had been driving were working from home.

 “We don’t see any virus but we see suffering,” she explains. “What do we do? Things are a struggle and we have children. They don’t know what these difficulties mean. They just want to know they can have their cereal, can enjoy things. Sometimes we borrow, sometimes we get help from people. It’s only God sustaining us,” she says.

The fallout from the pandemic has tipped economic ecosystems over the edge. While Juliana wealthier employers’s have been affected by the lockdown, they are better insulated from the disruption. The knock-on effects further down the chain are more profound.

“Cooks, cleaners, house-helps, they’ve lost their jobs or had their salaries reduced. It’s the same thing: their bosses have travelled, or have less income so can’t pay them like before,” she says. 

Transport costs have doubled since the government introduced social distancing, limiting passenger numbers to half of normal capacity. Transport providers, also contending with rising fuel costs, responded by raising fares. For millions on low incomes, increases of 200 naira (£0.40) are upending. “My husband stays at work during the week now because to go back and forth is too expensive,” she says. Now she often has to care for their four children alone. 

The troubles of many businesses impacted by lockdown measures and trade restrictions, had affected nearly all parts of economic life. A crash in oil prices in April, has further depressed Nigeria’s already strained government revenues according to Mma Ekeruche, an economist. “The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unique,” she said, affecting aviation, hospitality and entertainment businesses among the most severely. “Another group that will be hard hit are those in the informal sector, who are dependent on daily income and are without recourse to savings,” she added. The government have quickly responded with financial help, including loans to medium and small business and cash transfers to some poor and vulnerable households. While the programs are likely to have an impact, criticisms have grown that they do not effectively target those in need. “The very poor such as the artisans and rural farmers are likely to be financially excluded,” Ekeruche said. A national register collated by the government to identify poorer citizens eligible for social welfare, only captures a fraction of those requiring help. 

42% of employed Nigerians have lost their jobs during the pandemic, a sobering survey by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in June, and 80% of households contacted reported lower incomes compared with last year. Already, 82 million Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. Nigeria’s economy was predicted to contract by 5.4%, the International Monetary Fund said, while the government anticipated that unemployment could rise by half to 33%.

No comments: