COVID-19: traders decry low patronage on Campus

Oluwaseyi Omiyale, Nancy Ogbu-Nnachi, Charles Ozioma, Abiola Shoyoye

It is no news that the Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic has badly affected the Nigerian economy. However, no sector of the economy has been harder hit than the small and medium enterprises (SME) industry as students vacated the campus.

To gauge the impact of COVID-19 on SMEs, UNILAG Sun talked to small businesses on campus.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, running an SME was already challenging. However, SME owners told UNILAG Sun reporters that they face far greater challenges in the wake of the virus.

Mrs. Ekpe, who runs a cybercafe-cum-stationery business on campus, said that the nationwide lockdown order issued in February affected her operations.

Although the lockdown was aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, it grounded Mrs. Ekpe’s business to a halt. Students, who were her main patrons, were unavailable, as the lockdown involved the closure of UNILAG and other federal universities.

“Sales, since the beginning of the pandemic, have been tough. For six months this shop didn't open [due to the lockdown].

“When I opened, I noticed that all the systems have spoilt. The photocopy machine; we are still repairing and have not finished. The printers, rats damaged everything. In fact, we are still repairing and buying new printers,” she said, narrating her ordeal.

However, the middle-aged businesswoman expressed optimism that the eventual resumption of students would bolster profits for her business.

Closed restaurants and cafes on campus

“We are still praying that everything will be okay; let the students come back so that we will achieve our aims of coming here. Right now, we don't have anything at hand — no money,” she told our reporters.

Another telling effect of the pandemic is the increase in prices of food items nationwide. Ever increasing inflation in the country has caused costs of foodstuff and other basic commodities to go through the roof. This has affected the operations of food vendors on campus, prodding to serve smaller quantities to the chagrin of customers. 

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But, the food vendors said they can only sell according to what they buy, meaning food quantities may get smaller and more expensive if prices continue their upward trend.

Kiosks on lockdown

“[The price of] everything has gone up, including prices of oil, rice, and yam. Our customers are complaining seriously that our food is expensive, but there is no way we can sell with the amount we buy — we sell according to the way we buy,” Moses Nwankwo, a food vendor explains. 

But for some businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be a blessing in disguise, while most of the businesses incurred losses due to the absence of students. 

Chima Ukiwe, one of those who have felt the negative impact of the pandemic said it was getting difficult to pay rent for his shop, “For me, (COVID-19) has not contributed to the development of the business…it has had no positive impact on our business, only negative impact.

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“Right now we don’t even have money to pay for the shop. Any little thing you manage to get now will be for your upkeep and we haven’t talked about family expenses or house rent.”

“What we have now is basically just for feeding,” he added.

Scanty campus shuttle park

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for SMEs, some see it as a learning curve. For instance, Mrs. Oshodi, a petty trader, said the period had taught her invaluable lessons about running a business.

According to her, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened her eyes to the danger of putting all her eggs in one basket. Now, she plans to have multiple businesses to prepare her for a time like this in future.

“COVID-19 has taught me not to put my eggs in one basket. I wish I had another shop outside school, where other businesses are open and are selling. It is only the school environment that insists students should stay at home and all the hostels and shops should be locked.

“I won’t have such experience again. [Next time], this COVID-19 experience won’t be surprising or shocking to me again. Whether I like it or not, I’ll have to look for a shop outside and run one or two shops outside. This experience has taught me to have a plan B for my business.”


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