Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
The raging coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 has continued to spread its tentacles with celebrities and even some heads of state catching the disease. World Health Organisation has already designated it a pandemic while also describing Europe as the new epicenter of the disease as it engulfs that continent. United States of America has announced a national emergency on coronavirus just as it banned all flights from Europe. Italy and some other countries are on lockdown while the largest, foremost organized religious body, the Roman Catholic Church with headquarters at the Vatican, Rome has suspended all church services in Italy. Robots and the internet have come in very handy as inter-personal relationships nosedive because increasing number of persons are being isolated, quarantined and under treatment. Except for China, the originating country where the number of new infections is reported to be decreasing and South Korea where those that have recovered from it after treatment are said to be higher than number of those being newly affected, coronavirus is claiming more deaths every day. Thus, one cannot give exact figures of persons afflicted or killed by it as the numbers keep changing every time. Suffice it to say though that all countries in the world are affected in one way or other.
Although Nigeria, nay Africa, is reputed to have the least statistics of COVID-19 infections and deaths, it is nevertheless, not immune to its effects as Europe and others scramble to curtail it through drastic measures. Saudi Arabia has cancelled this year’s Umrah (lesser hajj) which in Nigeria is performed mainly by the elites. India that shares boundary with China has meanwhile suspended issuance of especially tourism visa to other countries. One is not sure whether medical tourism is included in this ban. If it is, then it would hit Nigerian elites significantly as India is a major destination for them in that regard. India itself often advertises its high caliber medical facilities and personnel on the internet. The United Arab Emirate (UAE) that harbours Dubai, the preferred destination spot for Nigerian celebrities and high net worth individuals in both private and public sector is banning foreigners from entering its shores. Quite apart from what is stated earlier about European travel ban, many countries have also banished Chinese airlines from their soils. Nigerians at home and in the diaspora are amongst the most travelled people in the world. Indeed, a Nigeria or one of Nigeria descent can be found in virtually any part of this globe. It goes without saying that any travel ban of whatever kind would affect Nigerians wherever they are, not least Nigerian businessmen/industrialists that are increasingly turning to China and the outside world in general for importations, Nigeria being an import-dependent country.
Therefore, a fall out of this coronavirus pandemic would be increase in prices occasioned by twin problems of transportation hiccups and shut downs in countries that are our major trading partners. Already there has been a slight rise in cost of utility services like phone calls and electricity following implementation of new value added tax rate. The fall outs from this rampaging disease could further depress retail prices of goods and services especially as we are not wholly self- sufficient.
Consider that oil prices, Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner, are dipping in the international market because of the Coronavirus. Although Nigeria had been making efforts to shore up non-oil exports, it is still heavily reliant on crude oil exports for its revenues. The shrinking of oil prices to less than $40 per barrel, below the $57 per barrel figure on which the 2020 budget is premised would among others, force a rethink of the budget. And the resultant shortfall in foreign exchange earnings would lead to devaluation of the Nigerian currency which in turn translates to hike in prices, to wit, increased inflation rate and reduced purchasing power for the average Nigerian. It is doubtful if government would be able to reflate the economy under such circumstance. Will our government be tempted to borrow yet more money from abroad in order to bridge this slide in foreign exchange earnings? Would the Nigerian economy relapse into recession? Only time will tell.
Yet another fall out of the coronavirus epidemic is on the sports sub sector, especially football. All European football matches have been suspended. And analysts say even the April 3 tentative date for their resumption is doubtful given the current situation of the disease on ground. We are aware that Nigerian youths and men are more or less addicted to European football. Indeed, a gamut of ancillary enterprises have sprouted around this sport, among them, viewing centres and betting shops that have multiplied like mushrooms in neighborhoods. Unemployed and underemployed youths flock to betting shops to place bets in an apparent bid to get some quick cash through little sweat; while they jam-pack viewing centres at weekends to see the matches for live results. While some people may harbour reservations about the moral value of betting companies, the owners/operators point to the thousands of youths they employ as well as to the billions of naira they remit in various taxes as justification for their existence and contributions to the society.
Multichoice, operators of the digital satellite television (DSTV) is raking in lots of money from Nigerian subscribers that constitute its largest patronisers for the simple reason that it has the sole and exclusive right to transmit live broadcasts of especially the English premier league. That, is its unique selling point. And it makes effective use of this its monopoly by regularly reviewing its prices and bouquets, aware that though Nigeria constitute its largest market in its entire operating zone, its citizens have no choice than to patronize it, given Nigerians’ addiction to European football. Remove the Supersports channels from DSTV, its revenues would tumble dramatically. Now, should the current suspension of football activities drag on beyond this season as experts fear, then Multichoice (DSTV) would be in dire financial straits and may even collapse as a thriving business. Other enterprises that revolve around it such as viewing centres, betting shops and its agents/ branch offices in major cities nationwide would also face hard times.
And Should the Confederation of African football follow the UEFA example by postponing all football competitions including the African Cup of nations tournament billed for January next year, then our national football teams would not be in action for quite some time. Remember that on match days our national teams are a veritable tool of distraction from the country’s fault lines, providing us a platform to display some patriotism if only temporary, by cheering them in unison. It is hoped that this coronavirus would disappear sooner than later. Otherwise, its direct and indirect costs may be suffocating should it persist for a long time.