Things will not be the same even when the corona virus COVID-19 pandemic has been substantially tamed.
Social relations, ways of conducting businesses and life generally will still be heavily influenced by the lingering impact of that viral disease.
We have seen its devastating effects on the lives of the citizenry, exposing the vulnerability of a health care delivery system that has over time, been neglected and starved of the needed investments.
The world economy was shutdown to restrict movements and general interaction given that the virus is largely transmitted through human contact.
Though a nexus exists in the protocols for the containment of the pandemic by countries, their effects differ between and among countries.
So it is with us here in Nigeria. The shutdown has brought with it serious challenges for the nation’s economy.
Our productive sector was put on hold for a couple of months. But the contradiction between continued shutdown and the imperative of survival led the government to a gradual and phased reopening of the economy so that life can return.
We are approaching the third phase of the ease of the lockdown even with infection levels still escalating. The situation is still very fluid.
It will thus, appear hasty to start estimating the overall impact of the pandemic on the Nigerian economy. Nobody knows for certain when the scourge will be over, its overall toll on human lives and the larger economy.
But estimates by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, which put global recession above three per cent as a result of the pandemic, give a grim picture of the emerging scenario.
The figure could be much higher for Nigeria with weak structures and weak institutions.
No doubt, COVID-19 has triggered serious crisis within the public health sector with debilitating effects on the Nigerian economy especially with the sharp drop in the price of oil in the world market.
Given the centrality of oil in the revenue profile of the country, reduced revenue earning is bound to take a negative toll on all sectors of our national economy.
This is already evident in the sharp rise in inflation with the concomitant fall in the value of the naira. It is also manifest in the wave of retrenchments and salary cuts going on within the private sector.
The private sector has been badly assailed by the fallouts of the shutdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps, the banking industry is among the very few currently (albeit temporarily) spared of the gale of retrenchments and salary cuts pervading the private sector.
The Central Bank of Nigerian CBN and the Bankers’ Committee had to wade in to suspend retrenchment or layoff of any staff of banks whether full or part time.
This followed feelers that banks were about to retrench. The CBN said it took the measure to minimize and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on families and livelihoods. The apex bank requires its express approval to be sought if such layoffs become absolutely necessary.
Before the CBN action, Group Managing Director of Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe was reported to have mulled the bank’s planned mass retrenchment of its workforce on account of the COVID-19 lockdown.
He had said via a video conferencing in a town hall meeting with staff that most of those to be affected by the retrenchment are outsourced staff and those offering non essential services.
But its permanent staff is not completely left out as the bank also intended to effect pay cuts across the board. Wigwe rationalized the proposed action on some of the measures occasioned by COVID-19 including the fact that some of the bank’s branches’ will remain closed till December. So, “everybody may have to make some adjustments of some sort”, he reportedly said.
Access Bank may not be alone in this predicament. Perhaps, the only difference is that it was the first to voice out the dire straits in which the banking industry has been mired on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps also, the timely intervention of the CBN has not allowed the true picture of extant challenges of the banking industry consequent upon the corona virus pandemic to emerge.
But they can be discerned from the frustrations of customers desiring banking services.
Social distancing and some of the protocols to stem the pandemic have led banks and other business concerns to evolve new ways of doing business.
These are bound to activate some form of business and organizational restructuring with fewer people at work stations. There appears to have emerged a new normal within the banking industry.
While some bank branches are yet to fully open for business even with the ease of the lockdown, others have had to make do with skeletal services as staff are rotated every other day. Yet, some other staff members operate from their homes.
These measures are beginning to define the way banking business is conducted both within the period of the pandemic and thereafter.
One thing that remains certain is that things are not going to be the same for the banking industry. Before now, technology had taken much of the job of human capital in the banking industry.
Increasing reliance on digital technology and e-banking had already pruned down labor force within the industry very substantially. This trend is bound to be given added fillip by emerging events as banks battle to remain in business.
The CBN order may have given temporary succour to workers in the banking industry. This is understandable given the spiral effect of unrestrained retrenchments on the national economy at these perilous times.
But for how long will the CBN sustain this directive without putting the operations of the banks in jeopardy? To what extent can we obstruct the dynamics of demand and supply as major forces in determining efficiency in commercial organizations? These are the issues to contend with.
It would seem the CBN is not oblivious of this interplay. That is why it left a window requiring banks that find it absolutely necessary to retrench to get its express approval.
That may as well be. The reality however, is that banks are not faring well in the face of the pandemic. This is not peculiar to Nigeria as global trends bear it out.
Unemployment and job losses have shot up globally in the wake of the pandemic. Latest figures from the US Labour Department (as of May, 14) showed that 36.5 million American citizens filed unemployment claims since the pandemic forced the shutdown of the US economy.
Additionally, the overall unemployment rate shot up to 14.7 per cent in April, the worst figure on record since monthly jobless statistics began to be compiled in 1948. That is the story of the US.
The reaction of the US government to such emergencies saw to the deployment of public funds to bail out ailing industries.
It called this into action to save the automobile industry, the banking sector and others from insolvency during the financial crisis of 2008.
That government has reportedly injected $2 trillion bailout funds for companies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
Just last week, the World Food Program of the United Nations warned that COVID-19 may lead to loss of 13 million jobs in Nigeria.
This figure paled into insignificance when Vice President Osinbajo led Economic Sustainability Plan Committee told the nation that COVID-19 pandemic has caused 33.6 per cent astronomic rise in unemployment indicating that 39.4 million people will be unemployed by the end of 2020 if proactive steps are not taken to arrest the situation.
That says it all. Job losses in all sectors of the national economy are palpable. It requires the direct action of the federal government through bailouts, injection of huge funds and investments in the productive sectors to stem the looming gale of unemployment.