Only a month ago, life in Lagos was the usual mix of chaotic rowdiness and nonchalant revelry that characterizes the city. People went about their business as routinely as possible despite the looming threat of a global pandemic, sparing a thought only when newer updates about the coronavirus popped up on their Twitter timelines or in discussion with friends domiciled in countries ravaged by the virus. Now, just a mere four weeks later, Lagos is the epicenter of Nigeria’s coronavirus outbreak, and life is changing faster than we can even realize everywhere from the highbrow graces of Victoria Island to the eternal buzz of Oshodi.
On a larger scale, the true extent of the coronavirus on life in Nigeria is just unfolding. With newer cases being confirmed every day, religious and social institutions ground to a halt, lockdowns being enforced in the most states in the country, and the lack of a truly airtight safety net for the most vulnerable members of society, we are acclimatizing ourselves to the reality of a nation practically in lockdown.
We spoke to an investment banker, Koyin Gbenro, on her experience navigating the investment banking/finance world while being in a lockdown and what the future might hold.
Was there a specific moment when you knew the coronavirus was going to change life as we know it?
I think it would be on the day the index case was announced – the Italian. I was attending meetings with my bosses, and I remember everywhere we went, there were temperature checks, sanitizers, and stuff. Prior to that, I kind of figured that it was already in Lagos because the borders had been open, there has been free movement; so, I was sure that it had already been in Nigeria for a while. I knew we were going to have more cases but I didn’t think it would become as deep as it did (become). I think when I knew it was going to be deep was when things started getting terrible in England and America and there were loads of Nigerians traveling that were still there. A lot of people were coming back and they were probably going to import this thing; I think that’s when it hit me that we might need to shut down.
You work in finance; how has the coronavirus affected your industry, from your perspective?
It’s a bit rough. It has affected us terribly. I work in investment banking; the markets have been down since all of this happened. A huge part of the Nigerian market is comprised of foreign investors, so, we’ve seen a lot of people pulling their money out, the market has been down, people have been pulling out trying to protect themselves. It’s been totally depressing on that front. On the other hand, it’s also been depressing for a lot of us who have to work from home, that has been extremely frustrating. It’s still the same – working long hours – but you are just sitting at home.
What’s your day-to-day life like under lockdown? Does the lockdown make it difficult for you to perform optimally?
It’s still the same thing. I wake up, I work out, then I’m at my desk. My routine has always been wake up, work out, go to work. So, it’s still the same. The only difference is that there is no car drive but because I’m not actively interacting with people physically, it is extremely frustrating because of the online routine, the terrible internet at home disconnecting while you are on a work call. I’m personally tired of home, I’m ready for everything to go back to normal.
Do you miss work and your colleagues?
I miss work; I miss seeing people; I miss, like, being in the car; I just miss being able to be free. I hate the fact that I have to worry about germs, that I have to wash my hands all the time. Not that I didn’t use to wash my hands before but now I’m washing my hands up to 100 times a day. It’s super stressful, I’ll still be super careful after the coronavirus but not to the extent that I am currently. When it started, because I worked in a building with many people, I had to be super careful. I was very paranoid, any time I got home my clothes were going off into the washing machine. So, when they said we should work from home, it helped a bit, but now I’m just ready to go back to work.
Talking about the Nigerian economy and coronavirus, how long after it passes before we see anything resembling normalcy?
I don’t know because right now oil is below $20 per barrel. And once oil is low, that’s it. They slashed the benchmark in the 2020 budget to $30 and they’ve been offering it at a discount of $3 lower than that and they’ve still not been picking up our cargoes. So, we are not even selling oil because, obviously, there is cheaper oil to be bought. I don’t know what to expect (after coronavirus) if I’m being completely honest because everything is a mess right now. Our foreign reserves are also below $35 billion
What are you doing to fill the time you’d otherwise spend in traffic around Lagos?
I’m spending it working. When you work from home you tend to overcompensate, I don’t even need to compensate because I get sent work a lot, I have things to do; you try to be overzealous because you are working from home and they can easily think you are not being serious enough. So, you need to be a bit more visible. That’s how it is. I never used to spend a lot of time in traffic because by the time I closed the roads were free.
How well observed is the lockdown order in your area?
I stay in an estate in Ikoyi, so, I think the compliance level would be quite different (from the average level). Some days ago, I was hearing that some people were on the road walking, jogging, and stuff, but my experience has been different. Every time I’ve gone out, the roads have been free, you see people walking around the estate, but that’s just because they are bored; and then, they are still maintaining a level of social distancing. There isn’t any socializing going on, you wouldn’t see any parties going on. From what I’ve observed, the compliance level is good in my side; the estate gate is locked, so, if you are going out it’s like a ceremony. I haven’t left my house except for the pharmacy or the supermarket in the estate.
Do you fear that the authorities charged with maintaining order during this period are going to go overboard?
Of course. That’s why I haven’t tried to go. The supermarket I usually go to is in Victoria Island, and that’s over Falomo, and I know policemen are always at that Falomo bridge when coming back to Ikoyi. I heard the policemen have been constituting a nuisance with people who have not complied, I haven’t seen any evidence, but I know how Nigerian police can be so I’m not even going to risk it. I would rather sit in my house and stay out of their way but I feel they could be a little clearer on people moving around for essential supplies.
What was your reaction when you heard about the alleged connection between 5G and coronavirus?
I feel like there’s too much going for conspiracy theories. I saw something Pastor Chris (Oyakhilome) put up but I haven’t had time to focus on what they are saying about coronavirus and 5G because it sounds absolutely ridiculous. It doesn’t sound like a smart conspiracy theory thing so I haven’t even tried to understand it because I’m too stressed.
In your idyllic world, how does this all end with regards to work and life?
In an ideal world, the lockdown ends this week and everyone goes back to work. But with how things are looking, I’m not sure, we keep recording new cases every day. I don’t know what to expect, I feel like the lockdown is probably going to extend. In a realistic world, if things were controlled, maybe within a month. We don’t know if they are conducting enough tests, we don’t have a percentage to judge with.
Do you think life would change after the coronavirus?
A lot is going to change. I know people are saying when they get out, they are going to party but I think the PTSD will be real. I feel like a lot of people are still going to be very anxious and rightfully so. I don’t think people would assemble in groups immediately and start going out. I think it might take a while after this for restaurants to even open up. I think people would be very careful for a few months.