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Aba’s COVID-19 response created PPE industry, yearns for support

In response to the new normal, some businesses had to move sale of their products online as physical commerce was impeded when lockdowns were enforced, while others diversified into new businesses in response to emerging needs.

Aba-based Obinna Anoruo, manager at KlotPlanet Global Limited, a large-scale garment manufacturing outfit, who produced garments prior to the pandemic, took to producing personal protective equipment (PPE) items on a large scale after consumers abandoned luxurious goods for essential items like PPE, sanitisers, medication, food, vitamins, etc.

Over nine months later, many companies have continued with their initial business model making some significant changes in line with the new normal, while some have totally revamped their business activities, especially in Aba, one of Nigeria’s largest industrial clusters.

Anoruo said the company took to producing facemasks and PPE in large quantities following the pandemic outbreak. Going forward, his firm that has been in operation for over 20 years, creating various types of garments for customers will combine the production of garments with PPE items. As the use of facemask, face shields, overalls have become an essential part of daily outfit.

“Since we do not know when COVID-19 will end, we just have to continue producing the PPE items. In fact, now we have established a branch of the company charged with the sole responsibility of producing protective kits to meet local demand,” Anoruo said.

According to Anoruo, although the production cost of the kits was high, his firm still received orders for PPE items, as a result, he urged government to support the industry to birth another innovative sector beneficial to the country economically and medically, especially as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement has commenced.

Citing India as an example, he said, “Despite not having a PPE industry before, India managed to become the second largest producer of PPE in 60 days following the outbreak of the pandemic.

“This was possible because of the government’s support. The Nigerian government should also support the growth of the local PPE industry by providing platforms for expansion and improved patronage by medical centres as well as MDAs.”

On his part, Johnson Obasi, CEO, Johnsfrank Global Resources, another large-scale garment producer that ventured into PPE production during the heat of the pandemic, said his company had reverted to its production of garments fully but expressed readiness to continue PPE production, if he receives adequate funding and demand.

“Venturing into PPE production was a necessity at that time as people no longer bought clothes and shoes rather they sought safety items and protective kits to survive the pandemic,” he said, noting, “When the heat reduced, the demand dropped and we started producing garments again, however, if resources and funding are available, I will gladly combine it with our daily production.”

After the outbreak of the pandemic, the Federal Government imposed a five-week lockdown on Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State to curb the spread of coronavirus, an action that caused businesses significant harm.

According to a survey by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries (LCCI), 64 percent of respondents (mainly business leaders and owners) said they lost below N500,000 daily, while 16 percent lost between N500,000 and N1 million each day during the lockdown.

Similarly, 12 percent lost above N5 million each day, while 7 percent incurred between N2 million and N4 million loss daily, during the period. This and many more reasons are what informed the decisions of business owners to strategise business models in adapting to the new consumer needs in the heat of COVID-19.

While for some businesses, the new normal forced them to re-strategise and change their business models in order to stay afloat as the operating environment got tougher, consumer needs changed or ways to reach them evolved, it also presented some expansion opportunities as well. One of such was the PPE production, which now may fizzle out unless a conscious effort is made to make it a permanently thriving industry.

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