Recently, the nation was engulfed in a spontaneous EndSARS protests experienced across various cities in the country with damage to businesses and means of livelihoods. Following the rampage, the organised private sector (OPS) condemned the looting and destruction, saying Nigeria as a favourable and investment-friendly destination to foreign investors over the years would suffer a serious setback. TAIWO HASSAN reports
Indeed, like a volcano waiting to erupt, the EndSARS protests, which started as a peaceful gathering of Nigerian youths agitating against police brutality and other condemnable social vices in the country, snowballed into nationwide protests, condemnations and anger of unimaginable proportions with Nigerian economy now counting huge losses. The situation has added to problems already on ground that were also compounded COVID-19 crisis and othe challenges. All these have put test to the business friendly environment, which is likely to scare local and foreign investors.
For the OPS, which is the umbrella body of all private sector groups and mouthpiece of all chambers of commerces in Nigeria, dialogue would have taken care of the problem if only the government had moved faster.
For the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), the violence and destructions put lots of SME businesses, manufacturing firms, local and foreign investors concerns at risk with profound trajectory. In her reaction, the National President, NACCIMA, Hajiya Saratu Iya Aliyu, noted that NACCIMA was calling for calm and dialogue for an immediate end to the orgy of violence, killings, looting and wanton destruction of properties. She said: “Unfortunately, a hitherto peaceful, legitimate protest has been hijacked by thugs and miscreants, resulting in attack on businesses, destruction of government properties, burning of police stations and correctional centres to free prisoners. “Let me express condolences of our Association to immediate and extended families of all those who have lost dear ones in the violence being witnessed across the nation. This is indeed disheartening. “We recognise the right of citizens to peaceful legitimate protests, but we condemn and are totally against the wanton destruction of properties and looting by hoodlums who have hijacked the peaceful protests. “We cannot sit by and allow the looting and other criminal acts by hoodlums to go on unchecked. We must work with others to put an end to the violence and lawlessness we are now witnessing. “We are equally concerned about the deployment of military forces to confront the protesters which resulted in unsavoury consequences as witnessed, especially at Lekki Toll area in Lagos recently. We are therefore calling for an end to the involvement of the military in current situation.” Speaking on the impact of the crisis on the economy, the business mogul explained that “the impact of the crisis and wanton destruction of property as being witnessed is clear for all to see. Billions have been lost in arson and looting going on.Business operations have also been seriously impacted.”
According to her, NACCIMA’s effort, as a national chamber to help project the country as a favourable and investment friendly destination to business partners abroad and other foreign investors over the years, is now suffering a serious setback. “At a period we are still struggling with the negative impact of COVID-19 on our economy and working on economic recovery, we must not, by acts of commission or omission, aggravate our economic situation. “We must therefore step back and work together to end this violent crisis,” she stated. On dialogue, she said: “Towards this end we are calling for frank dialogue between the leaders of the protesting youth and various arms of government at all levels; including State and Federal governments to douse the tension. “The prompt agreement on the initial 5-point demands of the protesting youth including disbandment of SARS is a reflection of possibilities of what can be achieved through peaceful and meaning diaogue on the various contending issues.
“I am therefore using this opportunity to call on Chamber members across the country to reach out to influential opinion leaders and other stakeholders in their respective states to make contacts with such leaders and initiate moves that can take help curb the violence for an end to the crisis.”
Following the mass disruption of goods and services LCCI disclosed that the Nigerian economy suffered an estimated N700 billion loss to the protests within 12 days. The President of LCCI, Mrs. Toki Mabogunje, in a press statement, made available to New Telegraph in Lagos, revealed that the N700 billion loss would definitely have dire consequences on the already fragile economy that is yet to come out of COVID-19 impact. The LCCI president said: “The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry is, however, concerned about the negative impact that the protracted nature of the EndSars protests has on business activities across the country. “Over the past 12 days, economic activities have been crippled in most parts of the country and has been particularly profound in the urban areas. The Nigerian economy has suffered an estimated 700 billion loss in the past twelve days.”
She condemned the high rate of damage to goods and services, alluding to the fact that dialogue is the best option in resolving the crisis. According to her, it is necessary to reduce the massive disruptions, blockades and barricades around major cities and interstate highways. She said: “The #EndSARS protest has been impactful and profound. It has demonstrated in unmistakeable terms the power of the people and the potency of the energy of our youth to bring about change. “The protest has achieved some significant outcomes given the reawakening that it has generated in reforming the shortcomings in our political governance and the fact that some of the demands of the protesters have been met. “The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose mandate is to be the voice of business and protect the livelihoods of all those in the business community, wishes to recommend that the protesters progress to the next stage of civic engagement, which is the dialogue phase of this struggle. This is necessary to reduce the massive disruptions, blockades and barricades around our major cities and interstate highways.”
Multiplier effects on economy
The renowned industrialist explained that these actions had been at great cost to the economy and the welfare of Nigerian citizens. “It should be noted that our economy is still reeling from the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to recover from its devastating effects. “We have begun to witness various unintended outcomes of this protest. There is a great risk that the situation may degenerate into a case of the complete breakdown of law and order which is certainly not in consonance with the objectives of the #EndSars peaceful protests. It is important to avoid a situation where even more hardship is inflicted on the very citizens that the protesters are seeking to protect,” she added.
On its part, Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ONICCIMA) also condemned shooting of the protesters by soldiers, saying every Nigerian had the right to freedom of speech, association and peaceful protest. ONICCIMA’s President, Sir Chris Ukachukwu, said: “ONICCIMA feels that while every Nigerian is guaranteed the right to peaceful demonstrations, care should be taken by organizers of the peaceful rallies to distance their protest from the looters, robbers, and hoodlums that have embedded themselves in the crowd. “This is more so as the hijacking of the protest by people with sinister motives would inevitably lead to a crackdown by the authorities as no responsible government will stand idly by while lives and properties are destroyed in the name of demonstration.”
Ukachukwu explained that “the chamber wishes to commend the government for its prompt disbandment of the dreaded SARS outfit. However, efforts should also be channeled towards a comprehensive reform and overhaul of the modus operandi of our law enforcement agencies. “The issues of conditions of service, remuneration, availability of working tools, housing, life insurance, e.t.c should be taken into consideration. A total reorientation of their mindsets and attitudes, the integrity of their recruitment processes and increased level of quality training should be activated urgently. Promotions and incentives should be based on merit to reduce frustrations and internal grievances in their system. After all, these law enforcement agents are our brothers, sisters, cousins, fathers and mothers. It behoves on the government to study both the immediate and remote causes of these protests/agitations with the aim of solving them expeditiously.”
With the havoc already done, it will definitely require trillions of naira to fix the affected businesses, damaged infrastructure and destroyed properties after COVID-19 had hit the Nigerian economy severely.