Rev. Kingsley Ogbonna is the General Secretary, Ugwuagba Obosi Old Motor Spare Parts Market. In this interview with POLYCARP ONWUBIKO, he spoke on behalf of the chairman of the market, Chief Samuel Ogbuefi Ezeobodo on containment challenges of COVID-19 in the market and the economic impact of opening Onitsha Port and other ports in the south. Excerpts:
HOW did the traders in the Old Motor Spare Parts, Ugwuagba feel on the reopening of the market for business transactions?
The traders for about five weeks suffered so much since most of them depend on daily sales or hustling to make ends meet. We were all very happy and thanked Governor Willie Obiano, (Akpokuedike Global).
We thank him for feeling the pulse of the traders since they are not like public servants who are paid salaries in spite of the economic lockdown. He is doing very fine going by the structures he has put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Could you make a reasonable estimation or quantify in monetary terms what has been lost by the traders and even the state government in terms of internally generated revenue [IGR] on the inevitable lockdown?
Honestly it is difficult to quantify it in monetary terms because it runs into billions. Since there was no landing of trailers from Apapa Lagos Port, many traders being owed by buyers were nowhere to be seen and what they could have used the money for was not done and time is money, they say.
Had the lockdown any discernible effect on the spread of the global pandemic in Anambra State?
From my perspective, I believe that the economic lockdown has tremendous effects on the possible spread of the epidemic. It was a reasonable measure to adhere to the World Health Oganization (WHO) protocols since they know more than the national and sub-national governments.
If people have been allowed to mix without restraint, the spread would have been faster and difficult to contain by now. So, the intention of the lockdown worked wonders and the measures dictated by the state government should be religiously adhered to because life should be given priority over every other thing.
Could there have been a more convenient way to go about the containment of the COVID-19 scourge in view of the great loss on the economic activities and exasperation of many people being restricted to their compounds?
There could have been a better way to tackle the spread of the pandemic by the federal and state governments by providing testing kits all over the country so that the infected persons would be sent to the special centres immediately.
It is unfortunate that the federal-unitary arrangement in the governance of the country has made vital institutions like health-care delivery system poor and grossly inadequate.
Otherwise, these testing kits and other clinical instruments are taken for granted in countries that have adequate healthcare delivery system at work. The most hit economically are people who are not really traders with shops. I mean wheelbarrow pushers, artisans, hustlers in the market, tricycle operators and even commercial buses. These set of people’s feeding and that of their families depend on the daily earnings. So you could imagine the hell they passed through because of the lockdown.
The lockdown was a somewhat precipitate action as government never expected such horrible outbreak but advanced countries of the world really know that such exigencies could come up as they read history of global pandemics like smallpox and other deadly diseases that occurred during the world wars.
The federal and state governments did not envisage that there could be something called palliatives and to that extent, the palliatives were a drop in the ocean, in addition to the usual discriminatory distribution of money and palliatives by the federal government.
How has the management of the Old Motor Spare Parts, Ugwuagba, implementing the WHO protocol in addition to the state government’s directives to contain the spread of the virus?
The management of the market is in sync with the state government directives and the implementation of the WHO protocols and to that extent; the traders are quick to comply because of the fear that if they fail to obey, the state government might impose another round of lockdown.
For instance, a military man, without a face mask, forcefully entered the market to make purchases but our enforcers prevented him from doing so and asked him to come to our office for permission. When we interrogated him, he said that he forgot to put his face mask as it is in his vehicle.
But to his greatest surprise, we asked him to go back to his vehicle and collect it before he could transact business and he had no option than to comply.
Has the management of the market dictated any case of coronavirus? If yes, how was it handled?
We have not seen anybody like that.
Do you think that there is need for the extension of the lockdown?
No, there is no need for another round of lockdown. The government should purchase test kits and procure the necessary facilities in the special centres to take adequate care of the victims.
Again, government should enhance healthcare delivery system in the urban as well as rural communities and ensure people practice good sanitary habits which will minimise contracting diseases and viruses since there is possibility that such dreaded pandemic could rear its ugly head in future.
Has the market organisation made donations to the state government’s COVID-19 funds or given out food items for the poor and vulnerable?
Yes, our market organisation is one the earlier donors because we have provision for corporate responsibilities.
What economic impact will the opening of Onitsha Port have on the markets in Onitsha and environs?
It is very sad that the federal government has not come to grips with the imperative of economic diversification. If the long expected Onitsha Port comes on stream, the cost of goods will be reduced because traders pay a lot to carry their imported materials from the Apapa Port to Onitsha.
A lot of money changes hands along the road from Lagos down here. If you fail to grease the itching palms of Customs men, police, Federal Road Safety Commission officials, your goods will rot away in the premises of these offices.
The federal government should be conscious of the fact that discrimination on economic matters like refusing to reopen Warri, Port Harcout, Calabar and Onitsha Ports will not lead the country to wealth creation and full employment of youths roaming the streets searching for non-existing jobs; and this is what diversification of the economy means.