Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State Governor, says his government will review the nearly three weeks-long lockdown in the state in the next seven days.
THISDAY reports that the governor, at the second virtual meeting with Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) on the COVID-19 Business Challenges and Support, assured them that “strategic relaxation of the lockdown may be implemented.”
The meeting was convened under the aegies of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), and attended by 28 managing directors/CEOs of organised businesses and companies in Nigeria.
Sanwo-Olu also promised the CEOs that he would speak to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to address the issues of charges on cash deposits and cheque clearing, especially during the lockdown.
The governor would also speak with the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, to facilitate the fast-tracking of clearance of essential raw materials from Lagos ports as well as speaking with his colleagues in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to enhance the ease of access to passage for businesses in their states.
“More assistance will be given to (business) organisations involved in packaging to enable them to support other essential sectors,” Sanwo-Olu said.
The governor, however, sought the assurance of the captains of business community that supply and distribution of essential goods and products would continue in the state.
He urged them “to ensure stability of prices during this critical period and post COVID-19 period as the purchasing power of the masses would likely be weakened and adversely impacted by the scourge.”
Sanwo-Olu also urged businesses to “endeavour to ensure that job security is guaranteed.”
He assured them that his office would “be open to further collaboration and suggestions in writing from organised businesses on how to drive growth and development in Lagos State.”
“The government has set up the Post-COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Agenda with the view of fast-tracking economic recovery,” he said, adding that he “will invite organised businesses to a breakfast or lunch session within one month after the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss and review how to strengthen the collaboration.”
Sanwo-Olu also addressed the security challenges threatening the distribution of food products in the state and assured the members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) that “from today (Wednesday) there will be additional deployment/presence and patrol (24/7) of mobile policemen, the military and paramilitary personnel in Lagos State.
“The security architecture is being led by an Assistant Inspector General of Police. The security agents have been briefed to act professionally and responsibly while businesses were encouraged to be more security-conscious and take pro-active steps to protect their staff and properties.”
The OPS members commended the governor for the proactive steps he has taken to address the challenges facing businesses in the state and briefed him on emerging threats to business continuity during the lockdown.
The issues brought to the governor’s attention included security, the stimulus for businesses, the need for banks to scale up/increase operation scope and the fact that “most of the police checkpoints are now extortion points.”
According to the CEOs, businesses in the state are faced with the worsening problem of security situation and the risk of escalating civil disturbance.
They noted that “risks of attacks on the branded company trucks by hoodlums in highly populated” have dwindled supply to retail malls and outlets.
“For the retail markets, the inability of suppliers to transport supplies to shopping malls and retail outlets have remained a big concern in view of the worsening security situation,” the CEOs said.
They also called on the state government to intensify the publicity of the 28 emergency markets set up in different schools to boost patronage.
The CEOs asked the state government to consider specific stimulus and palliatives for businesses, noting the need for banks to scale up their services instead of the current skeletal services they are rendering during the lockdown, which has hindered smooth business operations.
“Also, with the volume of cash transactions that is ongoing, it will be necessary for the state governor to speak to the governor of the CBN to suspend the charges on cash deposit and also relax the embargo on cheque clearance,” the CEOs said.
The CEOs added that companies in need of packaging materials, especially pharmaceutical, were facing a paucity of materials as all the companies producing the packaging materials were not allowed to operate by the lockdown order.
“It is important for the Nigeria Customs Service to give priority to the clearing of foods raw materials, drugs, pharmaceuticals. This is presently not the case.
“There have been reports of frustration of company trucks and delivery vans by the police, even when necessary means of identification are provided. There is an urgent need to stop the excesses of the police.
“As most of the markets are closed, there is the need to assist wholesalers to take their products from warehouses in the closed markets to the retail outlets.
“There is the need for Lagos State governor to assist in reaching out to other state governments on the lockdown to ensure free movement of essential goods and provision of security for organisations,” the CEOs said.
They also expressed concern about whether the foods and materials donated by corporate organisations and individuals would reach the targeted group of most vulnerable and elderly people.
The governor, however, assured them that there “is ongoing engagement with over 200 local food vendors in Lagos to provide at least one meal a day to people in densely populated neighborhoods.
He added: “Government has identified religious and political leaders in all Local Government Areas (LGAs) and the Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). They will serve as distribution points for bulk food stuff. This is to decentralise the food distribution activities of Lagos State Government and also complement the efforts.
“Data collection is ongoing using the telcos and other means with the view of facilitating cash-transfers to youths and residents of Lagos State. Interest waiver for three months for all the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises under Lagos State Employment Trust Fund.
All arrested and impounded vehicles during the period of the lockdown will be released at the end of the lockdown without payment of any penalty/free of charge,” adding that “day-to-day food delivery to the most vulnerable and elderly is still on-going.
NECA director-general, in his concluding remarks, appreciated the governor and his team for providing leadership and supporting the organised businesses in this critical time.
The director-general, however, “noted that the business community will be willing to host the governor rather than him hosting the business community.”
“This is to allow for a more inclusive attendance/for other CEOs that could not attend the meeting to participate in the breakfast or lunch meeting,” he said.
He also appreciated the management of the Nigerian Breweries Plc for its support that made the virtual meeting possible.