COVID-19: Nigeria’s Industrialists Rise to the Occasion

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At a time when Nigerian government’s at various levels need all the help they can get to contain an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the private sector is finally coming to the fore, writes Demola Ojo

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has necessitated a response which can’t be left to governments alone. Globally, the private sector has had to contribute both money and materials to stave off an existential threat that does not discriminate based on race, religion, sex or class. With this evident truth, individuals and corporations have pooled resources to support governments in tackling the rapidly spreading virus, and save thousands – potentially, millions – of lives.

However, it took a while for Nigeria’s well-to-do to rise to the occasion. In fact, the elite has been fingered as being culpable for the increase in numbers, with majority of cases being a result of travellers who refused to follow instructions by self-isolating upon their return from countries with a high number of cases.

Last week, the spotlight was beamed on Nigeria’s leading industrialists after Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, offered support by donating medical supplies including 100,000 masks and 20,000 test kits to aid in the fight against the virus.
The immediate reaction on Nigeria’s social media space – apart from profound gratitude to Jack Ma – was to question what Nigeria’s multi-millionaires and billionaires were doing to contain the virus. Thankfully, it took just a few days for a robust response in the form of donations.

Notable among these was by the founder of BUA Group, Abdul Samad Rabiu, who announced a donation of N1bn in cash through the BUA Foundation, as well as placing orders for additional equipment and medical supplies including testing kits and protective gear to nine states across the country. States to benefit include Lagos, Kano, Adamawa, Edo, Kwara, Rivers, Abia, Akwa-Ibom and Sokoto.

Speaking on the donation, Rabiu said it was very important for the private sector to support the government’s effort to curb the spread of the pandemic. He added that the donation will be done through the Central Bank of Nigeria led Private Sector Coalition Committee against COVID-19.

“This donation will not only provide additional needed funds to the government and NCDC’s efforts but will also serve to protect healthcare and medical workers on the frontlines of fighting the pandemic. In addition to donating the ordered medical supplies and equipment to the two most populated states in Nigeria, we have also selected seven states across all geopolitical regions in Nigeria where significant members of the BUA workforce and their families are situated to help preparedness and response to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“Each of these nine states will receive about 100,000 protective facemasks, 1000 high grade medical protection and isolation gear, 2000 protective goggles, 1000 gloves and 1000 testing kits among other things,” Rabiu added.
Rabiu followed up a day after announcing his donation by actually redeeming his pledge. In a statement late Friday BUA announced that the N1billion to the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria has been transferred to the COVID-19 relief fund account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. “In addition, the company also announced another donation of N300million to Sokoto, Edo and Ogun States to assist in galvanizing a coordinated response and adequate preparedness in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in this states. The donations to Sokoto and Edo States were on behalf of its Cement subsidiary, BUA Cement which has its major operations in those states whilst Ogun was also selected as a beneficiary due to its proximity to Lagos which had been the epicenter of the virus in Nigeria.”

He also announced another donation to 9 states of medical and emergency kits and supplies including face masks, testing kits, safety goggles, gloves, personal protective gear – which have already been ordered and should be delivered soon.
In his comments on the additional donation of N300million to Edo, Sokoto and Ogun States, Abdul Samad Rabiu, Chairman of BUA Group said that although these states have been identified for this intervention in the first instance, “BUA is monitoring the situation closely and is also looking at other states that may need additional help. We will continue engaging with these states and relevant partners including the NCDC in the areas where they need support to win this fight against COVID-19.”, Rabiu added.

Rabiu also urged other well-meaning Nigerians – individuals and corporates alike, to join hands in supporting the efforts to put the virus in check in Nigeria, financially and otherwise. “Our country needs us now more than ever. This is the time to come together and support.” Rabiu’s quick action, matching pledge by actual transferring the money is bound to put pressure on others to match words with action.

Fellow billionaire and renowned philanthropist, Femi Otedola also pledged N1 billion to support the “eradication of COVID-19 across Nigeria.” Otedola made this known via his instagram and twitter handles. “We must all do what we can to flatten the curve,” he said. Otedola’s donation comes just a few months after he donated N5 billion to the Save the Children Foundation to support destitute children in Nigeria’s Northeast region which has been ravaged by terrorists.
The United Bank for Africa Plc is also playing its part by announcing a N5 billion donation through the UBA Foundation, which according to the bank is to “catalyse a comprehensive pan-African response to the fight against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.”

The donation will provide significant and much needed support to Nigeria and 19 other African countries, by supplying relief materials, critical care facilities, and financial support to governments. The UBA support programme will allocate N1 billion to Lagos State, N500 million to Abuja and N1 billion to the remaining 35 states in Nigeria and N1.5 billion. Funds will also be allocated to countries where the bank has presence across the continent.

According to UBA Group Chairman, Tony Elumelu, “This is a time when we must all play our part. This global pandemic must bring citizens, governments and business leaders together – and quickly. As we see a rapidly increasing number of cases of the coronavirus in Nigeria and Africa, the private sector has to work hand in hand with various governments, in stemming the spread of the global pandemic.

“We commend the efforts of governments and we are keen to partner and contribute our resources to the collective effort, that will ensure the response to the pandemic is swift and effective,” Eleumelu affirmed.

Meanwhile Access Bank Plc, Nigeria’s biggest lender by assets, is teaming up with Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to provide treatment and isolation centres across the country. The facilities which will have Chinese experts and serve as testing, isolation, treatment and training centres will be ready within weeks, the bank said.

Guaranty Trust Bank, Nigeria’s leading lender, is already setting up a 100-bed Intensive Care Centre at the Onikan Stadium for those that may be infected by the coronavirus. The bank’s CEO, Segun Agbaje, said the centre will be fully equipped with all the necessary gadgets, including respirators and personnel to treat and care for those that may be affected.

On its part, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has collaborated with 33 upstream oil companies to donate N11 billion to the cause. According to the NNPC statement revealing the donation, “…we are immediately providing medical consumables covering testing kits, medical protective suits and ambulances to the highly impacted areas across the federation,” the statement read.

Some of the companies that contributed to the initiative are Shell Nigeria, ExxonMobil Nigeria, Total Nigeria, Chevron Nigeria and ENI Nigeria.

Others include Oando, Yinka Folawiyo Petroleum Limited, Addax Petroleum, SEPLAT and Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Limited. Aiteo, led by founder Benedict Peters, has been known to fund initiatives of national importance including paying salaries of the national football teams’ coaches.

The above named are just a few of the individuals and organisations that have shown they can be counted on when all hands need to be on deck to prevent the spread of the virus which has proven to be no respecter of names and reputations.

The view from advanced economies in the Western world already reeling from the effects of the outbreak, is that African countries need all the help they can get to prevent a catastrophe. So far, Nigeria – through the efforts of the National Centre for Disease Control – has managed to keep fatalities at a bare minimum. And now, with the support of the country’s leading corporations, the doomsday predictions may be averted after all.