What a year 2020 has been on so many levels. For me, a major event was the #EndSARS protests.
The #EndSARS protests, as many of us know by now, ended horribly. Hired hands, recruited to wreak havoc, infiltrated the protests and from there began the pockets of violence, which quickly escalated as they grew bolder and in numbers.
It was no surprise to most when the Lagos state government declared a curfew on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, in response to the increasing attacks across the state. What did surprise was the incredibly short timeline (announcing a 24-hour curfew to start at 4pm just a few minutes before noon).
Traffic in Lagos, which is normally a nightmare and had been even more so in the week since the protests started, making it near impossible to move about the state, meant that many were still on the roads as 4pm rolled up.
At some point during the afternoon, images taken of some people alleged to be working with the Lagos State government and the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) removing cameras at the Lekki toll gate circulated on Twitter and street lights in the vicinity of the toll gate were turned off. The cameras were later confirmed by the Lagos State Government to be laser cameras, which read the electronic tags on vehicles, and not CCTV cameras as earlier publicised on social media.
The curfew was moved to 9pm, but just before 7pm, officials of the Army arrived at the Lekki toll gate and opened fire on unarmed and, by all accounts, peaceful protestors. According to Amnesty International, at least 12 peaceful protestors were killed there that evening.
After that, all hell broke lose across the city. Malls, shopping districts and countless businesses were vandalised and looted. In Lekki phase 1, banks along Admiralty Way were attacked. Driving down the major road after the lifting of the curfew, I saw gaping holes where many ATM windows used to be and more shattered windows than I could count.
The Novare Mall in Sangotedo – Lagos, the Circle Mall in Jakande, the Lennox Mall on Admiralty Way and the Adeniran Ogunsanya Mall in Surulere were thoroughly ransacked and trashed. Circle Mall was not only stripped bare of all goods in the shops, but it was also burnt.
Adeniran Ogunsanya, where I co-run a bookshop, looked like a war zone. Going to inspect the shop, shards of glass and debris lay everywhere and crunched underfoot. The looters were methodical. Starting from Shoprite it appeared, where they helped themselves to food – among everything else the mega-store sells – they obviously replenished themselves as they worked their way through the stores. Leftover food was evident all over the mall and the looters had also eased themselves in some of the shops, as the call of nature took hold. By Saturday, after the curfew was eased and when I visited, the entire mall stank unbearably from the decomposing food and excreta.
To anyone who owned a shop or business there (or in any of the other malls) and who poured in the kind of sweat and care into it that most entrepreneurs would, the unbridled carnage left behind, was tantamount to a head-spinning slap on the face followed by a roundhouse kick to the gut. For entrepreneurs who are barely eking out a profit from their business, this could signal the death of the enterprise.
At this point, I have been an entrepreneur for most of my working life and I understand how your business is your baby that you tend to and care for so lovingly, so that one day, it can not only stand on its own, but it can multiply the investment put into it with respect to profit, jobs provided, impact in the community (if that matters to you) and spinning off of other businesses.
This train-wreck of violence that has run over many businesses across Lagos and other parts of the country, is devastating. While a few businesses – with access to a cushion of cash reserves and insurance – will more easily bounce back, for others, it will be a real struggle and without any type of significant assistance, many will die off.
Over the next few weeks, I came across a few offers of help from various state and corporate actors. Depending on their terms and conditions, these could be the lifeline that most businesses need to survive.
Entrepreneurs are typically extremely resilient, creative and tough. You are either born that way or you learn to be. Business anywhere in the world – and particularly in Nigeria – is not for the easily-crushed. We will find a way to make it, to go on. And not just to survive, but to bloom.
But in case it wasn’t clear before, we must recognise more than ever that pockets of financial and business success within a poverty-stricken and hope-depleted country is no success at all. As long as your neighbours are hungry and can easily be bought to anarchy with a few thousand Naira, as a country we can never truly prosper.
This is not to excuse the looting and vandalisation by any means, because what happened was abhorrent. However it is a recognition of the reality that as we move forward as entrepreneurs to rebuild our businesses in a country with almost zero public social welfare, we MUST participate more energetically in socio-economic development initiatives (especially within the communities where our businesses are located). This does not automatically prevent future re-occurrences of the horror of the last week, but perhaps it can reduce it.
We must also get more involved in governance. We have a government that most would agree is unresponsive and uncaring of the well-being of its citizens. We have to do something about it. It is no longer okay to shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to bad governance. And the last two and a half weeks have shown what we can do if organised and committed.
Entrepreneurs will want to do any of the following (in no particular order):
Review the assistance packages on offer and apply
Take a break from work
Think through their business model and perhaps come-up with a better or totally different one
Spend time with family and loved ones
Get back to work
And we should all:
Talk about all that’s happened over the last few weeks
Document it: The story of the hunter is the one we hear and never the prey’s. Let’s tell our truth in the ways that are most appealing to us (Write, Draw, Blog, Post on Social Media, Make a Video)
Share your story: Let’s take charge of this narrative and not have the events on and leading up to October 20, 2020 erased or revised (remember George Orwell’s Animal Farm?).
For me, I will not lose hope no matter how hopeless the present circumstances may appear. I will find joy even in the dismal situation. I will press on and encourage others to press on. I will draw strength from Jeremiah 29, verse 11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.“
Because some good has to come out of this tragedy. It must. We can’t waste this opportunity.