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COVID-19 boom in Abuja

THE outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic has grounded the economy, inflicting pains all over the world. It also posed
serious challenges to health of many countries. For COVID-19, it has been a lose-lose situation for many nations.
The lockdown measures adopted to control the spread of the pandemic contributed in complicating the situation. Small scale businesses have been grounded
with many of them incurring huge losses.

Just as in most circumstances, while many are weeping and crying, some others have exploited the COVID-19 situation into huge advantages, smiling
to the banks with their vantage thriving businesses. Those in that category include cash back businesses, the Point of Sale (POS) operators.

The business, thriving amidst the current lockdown in Abuja, is acting as a substitute for banks under lock and key. Bank is part
of those in the essential servicescategory but currently not operating on full scale, has resulted in most people relying on the use of ATM for cash transaction.

However, since most ATM outlets are incidentally not always filled with cash, the situation therefore requires going through longer route sometimes to find a
functioning one.

Our correcspondent investigation in the city centres of the FCT, Abuja, revealed that residents adopted other measures to have cash in
their pockets. One such measure is POS but the experiences have been with mixed feelings.

A POS shop owner in Lugbe Market, Chijioke Kalu, who was among those on the down side, said: “Surprisingly, the lockdown has not increased patronage because of the location of
my shop. In the contrary, it has slowed down the business and reduced patronage because people don’t come inside the market daily.”

He argued that times like this should naturally translate into business boom for the operators.
But due to the location of his shop inside the market and the entry restrictions, patronage has been very low. He added that
most people took time to stock up before the lockdown, making the usual crowd in the market to reduce drastically.

On the rates he charges, he said: “The standard service charge is N100 for every transaction of N5000. But if I see
someone’s dressing and feel they are well to do, I can increase the charge. All these wealthy men that come to shop, they don’t really care about the charge. Some
will even give you tips.
So, when I see those kinds of people, I can charge them N500 instead of the usual N100.”

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Another operator at the busy Phase 2 Avenue, Corner Shops, Federal Housing Authority, Aisha Yusuf, was attending to a long queue of customers. She
said despite the increase in patronage, she has not hiked the charge:

“The standard charge is N100 for every transaction worth of N5000. And that is the rate I have maintained despite the Continued on page 19
boom.” Asked if the lockdown has brought changes to her business, she smiled, pointing out how long it took her to speak with our correspondent.

She admitted that there has been sharp rise in patronage, crediting the circumstances to two major factors: “The first is the
lockdown which has forced banks to render only partial services, which diverted clients to me. The second is, ATMs all around Lugbe are mostly out of cash and are
not regularly reloaded.
“Right now, we have only one ATM machine functioning, that one close to the Total filling station and as you can see,the crowd there was too much.

Most people would rather pay the small service charge and just get what they want.” On her daily income, she laughed:“Business has been doing fine.
I have every reason to thank God.”
A cash back service operator, Prince and Princess Estate, Kaura, Stephen Okolo, equally admitted that: “Business has been great, there is no ATM
close by and for people to withdraw money, they have to go to Gudu. Usually on the day the market opens, there’s a crowd here.

“For every N5000 I charge N200 now. I increased the fee because I risk my life going to queue at ATMs to withdraw money and people just stroll to
cash here. In a long time, I have not experienced this kind of good business so I am enjoying it. I hope it continues for a long time.”

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While the operators are enjoying the boom of the cash back business, some of the users are not happy about the increase in charges and the frequency of their
patronage of the service. A customer, Jubril Adamu said: “I have no choice than to depend on their services. I need cash and going to the ATM is not very safe because
you have to protect yourself.

Some people have increased their sub charges and it is not good, but what choice do I have? Even with the lockdown, the need for cash
still exists. I will use the service until things return to normal.”
It was the same lamentation for Amina Abukukar: “I don’t have a car to go to the ATM so I am happy to use this cash back service. My only problem is the
charges. Things are already hard and expensive and if you are calculating the small change they keep collecting overtime you realise you are spending too much.
“I wish they will stop the sub charges at least we can save now but it is business and they are making their profit. I just wish the government can help us out
of this hardship a little and maybe these people will reduce what they charge.
“I used to patronise the cash back person in Kaura Market but she has added money to hers. For N5000 she charges N250. That is too much and I stopped going there.

I am praying that this pandemic will end soon. Hopefully everyone benefiting from it will go back to normal charges.”


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