In the first week of July, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Okonjo Iweala disclosed that Boko Haram’s five year insurgency had knocked off 0.5 percent from Nigeria’s GDP growth rate; an Ebola epidemic the scale of Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone would in a fraction of that time reduce Africa’s largest economy to its knees, thus the need for the country to avoid such a scenario at all cost.
Nigeria’s GDP, rebased and now Africa’s largest, has maintained a steady high growth rate despite Boko Haram’s wanton destruction of life and property in the north, thanks to the fact that the country’s economy’s key drivers lie in the south, with oil – the country’s main revenue base – concentrated in the Niger-Delta region, and the commercial heartbeat in the southwest- Lagos.
But the entrance of Ebola into the equation could be the spoiler alert for Nigeria’s economic rise, if the extremely deadly virus, that has already claimed two Nigerian lives and infested seven others, is not timely and effectively curtailed. Given that Ebola touched down, through the Liberian carrier, in Lagos – the country’s business hub and Africa’s biggest city with an estimated 21 million residents – its blow to Nigeria’s human (170 million) and material resources (GDP of $522 billion) would be extremely devastating.
A failure to stem the spread of Ebola, which is rapidly approaching one thousand casualties across West Africa, would signify doom for the country, beginning with Lagos. Aside Saudi Arabia, which has banned entrance of people from West Africa, Nigeria currently neither faces external nor internal traveling restrictions as with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; that however may change if the epidemic begins to get out of control. The massive cum frequent traffic of Nigerians to and from Lagos on which many businesses are dependent, especially transportation, would be would become a great risk fear. There are already huge fears of a spread outside Lagos, especially since the driver who conveyed the Liberian Ebola patient from the airport to the hospital was said to have initially fled to his village before he was found and quarantined for further observation.
The fears of this spread could also cause a huge pullout of expatriates from around Nigeria, meaning a shutdown of most foreign led business operations, as is being witnessed in Liberia and others. This poses a real threat to an average $7.1 billion worth of Foreign Direct Investments inflow into Nigeria yearly, especially in the oil sector, given the country’s overt dependence on oil revenue.
Most international Airlines, including Nigeria’s Arik Air, have ceased operations in those Ebola-ravaged countries; should a similar strategy be employed in Nigeria, its estimated $3 billion annual aviation revenue could be hugely depleted. A three day closure of the airport in Nigeria’s capital Abuja in July reportedly resulted in a loss of N2 billion ($ for the airlines with the Airports Authorities losing an estimated N100 million, remittances that it should have gotten from the ticket sales.
Business around the country, closely interconnected especially with Lagos, would also be in jeopardy. With most corporate headquarters concentrated in Lagos, their closure, in the event of a further Ebola spread, would stagnate their branches nationwide. Inflow of goods from Lagos ports, on which the country is largely dependent, would also be greatly affected. Upon announcement of the Ebola case in Lagos, the Anambra State Government in South-Eastern Nigeria issued a red alert because the state is home to the Onitsha Main Market, the largest market in West Africa and regional market of South-East Nigeria; most of the goods in the market are shipped in through the Lagos port in Apapa. Supply of Petroleum products on which Nigerians are dependent even for power could also be disrupted.
Already, the pervasive panic, largely exhibited in Lagos, has seen a spike in the price of hand sanitizers and ironically bitter Kola and salt, after it was rumoured that both Kola and Salt had immunity against Ebola, this could spark a price hike epidemic as more goods are increasingly paraded as anti-Ebola.
Businesses across Lagos are also in panic mode, with some corporate offices and firms obligating their staff to apply strict cautionary measures like the suspension of outdoor marketing operations and attendance of any public event. Staff of an undisclosed company situated in Lagos’ mainland were reportedly “strongly advised” to desist from entering commercial buses, which are often overcrowded, and also to wash “as frequently as possible” their hands – from shoulder to fingers – with hydrogen peroxide. Private hospitals are also in pack-up-mode, especially since an NNPC hospital closed after taking in an Ebola patient.
The panic continues to rise and spread with more cases feared; at the moment there are reportedly 9 confirmed cases and 139 people under surveillance. However, there is a sense of belief that the Nigerian authorities and the international community will be more effective in hampering the virus spread unlike in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.