Empowering Consumers

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Raheem Akingbolu writes on how some service providers went extra mile in bringing succour to businesses, families and consumers to make the period of lockdown less tedious.

From any angle one chooses to look at it, the ongoing lockdown, as a result of a sudden global pandemic, has created a new order across the world. Aside from the fact that it shuts down businesses and social activities, the lockdown has also brought trauma and fear of the unknown to families. Perhaps mostly hit is the world economy, which according to April World Economic Outlook projects global growth in 2020 to fall to -3 percent.

In its April report, the global stance concluded that the world has changed dramatically in the three months since its last update of the World Economic Outlook in January. It further established that the magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed was unlike anything experienced in the entire lifetimes.

However, beyond the tragic health hazards and human consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as pointed out by the report, the economic uncertainties and disruptions that have resulted come at a significant cost to the global economy. For instance, the United Nations Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD) puts the cost of the outbreak at about US$2 trillion in 2020. Today, most central banks, finance ministries and independent economic experts around the world have taken solace in the prediction that the impacts might be sharp but short-lived, and economic activities would return to normal thereafter. This line of thought mirrors the thinking of the events that shaped the 2007 global financial crisis.

Nigeria outlook
Since February, when the first index case was reported in Nigeria, many economic experts have strongly predicted that the country is in the midst of the worst recession since the global financial crisis. The economic downturn in Nigeria was triggered by a combination of declining oil price and spillovers from the Covid-19 outbreak, which not only led to a fall in the demand for oil products but also stopped economic activities from taking place when social distancing policies were enforced. While this continues, it is obvious that the government has simply responded to the crisis by providing financial assistance to businesses, not to households, that were affected by the outbreak.

The monetary authority adopted accommodative monetary policies and offered a targeted N3.5trillion loan support to some sectors. These efforts should have prevented the economic crisis from occurring but it didn’t. Economic agents refused to engage in economic activities for fear of contracting the Covid-19 disease that was spreading very fast at the time. For Nigeria and Nigerians, the Covid-19 spillovers and the structural weaknesses in Nigeria’s infrastructure have contributed in no small measure to the current economic crisis.

In what looked like hard-hitting as Nigerians approached the lockdown, in January this year, the current administration approved VAT increase from 5% to 7.5% with implementation date effective February 1, 2020. Though this was with the intention to boost government revenue but in response, many companies raised their VAT charges by 2.5 percent to 7.5% as the government expects the same tax returns.

On a cursory look, one will agree that working from home over a prolonged period brings its own unique challenges, whether one is a caregiver or simply because most people are used to being around others during the work day, it is unsettling and overwhelming, to say the least.

Working from home and its challenges
Zeroing the global crisis down to businesses, the COVID-19 catastrophe has put many businesses in an extremely challenging situation. Offices are being closed, meetings postponed and employees sent home. Many CEOs are understandably concerned about how best to manage productivity levels, internal collaboration, and rganizational cohesion. But with the right strategy and tools, this crisis may in fact even strengthen internal collaboration on a structural level and ensure that the potential of the digital workplace is fully exploited.

Companies adjusting to the new order

From the financial sector to telecom, entertainment to marketing communications, smart brand owners are fast adjusting to the new order to create bonds between their products and teaming consumers. As a result of what the crisis has placed on their laps, business owners are now compelled to see the digital workplace as a crucial importance in ensuring uninterrupted production now that everyone who can work from home is in fact doing so.

For instance, the Keystone Bank Masterclass series has come and gone, the impact of the series has since remained with those who participated. On April 21 and 23, 2020, the bank held two Masterclasses to equip SMEs and career-focused individuals with the knowledge and tools to help them grow during the pandemic and beyond.

In the same way, Pay-TV company, StarTimes, rolled out a series of initiatives to enable families to socialise. In the wake of the pandemic which saw schools in Nigeria shut down, StarTimes came up with a unique educational television programme for students and children.

The educational TV programme tagged “Home Schooling” airs on StarTimes ST Kids’ channels.
This new educational programme brings relief to parents whose major headache is the fear of the educational standard of their wards depreciating, and the kids getting carried away with too many unnecessary activities.

Managed by seasoned teachers at Dexterity Group, a British-based curriculum school in Ibadan, the ST SCHOOL project aimed at solving the concerns of parents seeking better standards of education for their kids whilst ensuring that the nation’s social values and heritage are continuously instilled. With fully equipped ICT facilities including interactive smartboard, teaching becomes easier and fun for children at home.

At the unveiling of the initiatives, the company stated in a statement that “The homeschooling educational channels, ST Kids Senior and ST Kids Junior, are packaged with great educational content that will inspire learning and spark curiosity in young minds. Homeschooling brings major subjects taught in school.”

To further enable families while the lockdown lasted, the pay TV company also enriched its content with an upgrade of 14 new channel offerings that could be enjoyed in three languages for the delight of television viewers across Africa at no extra cost. The new channels are aired in English, French, and Portuguese on StarTimes DTT, DTH and OTT platforms.

Commenting on the initiative, Eric Xue, vice president of StarTimes, noted: “StarTimes has been operating in Africa for over 10 years and our mission is to ensure that every African family can access, afford, watch and share the beauty of digital TV.”

In April, the company raised the bar when it announced a one month ‘free to view’ service for 4 local television stations on its platform for active and non-active subscribers.
The Pay-TV company also announced the debut of the nation’s leading entertainment station, Ebony Life TV on all of its products bouquet.

The free viewing on some of the local station, the company said is to ensure steady and up-to-date information offering to its subscribers on concerns relating to the global coronavirus pandemic while the debut of Ebony Life is to boost the provision of entertaining content for its teeming subscribers who are compelled to sit at home at the nation’s quest at managing the pandemic.

StarTimes Nigeria recently entered into a digital content sharing partnership that gives phone-users access to a wide range of movies, series and sports through the StarTimes ON mobile application platform.
By this partnership, StarTimes offers over 60 channels and 2000 video-on-demand (VOD) content to MTN subscribers who will use their airtime to subscribe