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COVID-19: MSMEs Sustainability and Risky World of Delivery Agents

In many countries around the world, doctors, nurses, lab scientists and other frontline health workers in battle against Coronavirus are being celebrated and honoured. They deserve the honour as our heroes, who put their lives at risk so we can live as the world continues to fight an invisible common enemy called COVID-19.

While countries as part of steps to halt the spread of the virus implement ‘stay at home’ orders and social distancing measures, remote or virtual office and online shopping have been keeping what is left of the disrupted business ecosystem and livelihood going. 

However, unlike the healthcare professionals, the bridge connecting the virtual and reality divide is relatively uncelebrated. As individuals in the last-mile delivery value chain – agents, drivers and bike riders working for e-Commerce companies like Jumia and the rest, despite also providing humanitarian services and risking their lives all in bid to get essentials such as foodstuff, toiletries and medicines to people at homes, have remained largely unsung heroes. 

In fact, amidst the lockdowns, the world of last-mile delivery workers and those providing logistics is a challenging one. According to a section of them spoken to, driving on virtually empty roads carrying essential items to people’s homes, the fear of contracting Coronavirus and the frequent sad news of increasing number of confirmed cases and fatalities over the media channels are real threats they dread most every day. 

In the words of Adebisi (not real name as he pleaded anonymity), a Jumia contactless delivery agent, hopping on the bike taking delivery of tons of orders for groceries, foodstuff, sanitary and hygiene products to people at home and medications to the sick and the elderly persons in their homes, is an assignment that comes with lot of pressure and hazards. 

“A lockdown means there are increased orders for groceries and other essentials on the e-Commerce platforms like Jumia and this puts more pressure on the delivery department.  I leave home every morning putting on all protective kits provided by the company, but still wary of the risk involved in the process even with the limited human contact,” he said.

Being human, Adebisi further explained the reality he and his colleagues are faced with in the discharge of their job amidst the pandemic. “We are always scared that the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Nigeria is increasing by the day, which means the risk of contracting the virus is high. We get orders and go out for deliveries, but we know that the more you go out, the higher the risk of contracting the virus,” he asserted.  

Sharing the same sentiment, Stanley (who volunteered his first name only), said having smooth ride on the usually busy traffic-prone Lagos roads often reminds him of the danger posed by the faceless pandemic. His words: “Whenever I remember why the roads are free and what is keeping people indoors, I quickly adjust my helmet to ensure my face is well covered. Of course, we now do more delivery of groceries and other essential items like toiletries within a few minutes, but it’s at a higher risk.” 

While further buttressing the work risks associated with providing logistics at this challenging time, Godwin, a Byte Labs Logistics rider, said his recent delivery of medical items at the gate of the Infectious Disease Centre in Yaba gave him a good idea of the pandemic just seeing fully kitted doctors, nurses and other healthcare givers from afar in their personal protective equipment and kits.

“I know the risk of what I am doing at this time, though I have hand sanitizers and disinfectants, which I use on my hands and my bike every morning before setting out and at regular intervals. I am scared anytime I hear in the news that some doctors have died of Coronavirus infection. Those doctors had more protection than us, yet they couldn’t help it,” he stated. 

Excited by the humanitarian interventions by e-Commerce operators like Jumia, a Lagos-based barrister at law, Esther, who admitted that she has not stepped out of her residence since the lockdown began, disclosed that since her first experience of taking food delivery via O’Food a few months ago, she has used Jumia Food delivery six times in the last two weeks. “Getting six orders delivered within two weeks with the present reality, mean these guys are doing a great job. And they are also risking a lot in doing so,” she enthused. 

In spite of the risks associated with being at the forefront of delivering groceries, food and essential items to people at their homes, another significant thing worthy of mention is that e-Commerce operators like Jumia are not only supporting the humanitarian needs in efforts to combat COVID-19 pandemic, they have also been supportive of many Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to stay afloat while the lockdown lasts. “Many restaurants, kitchens and pharmacies now use the logistics channels of e-Commerce operators to reach their customers during this lockdown,” Godwin added.

Sunday Animashaun, who works with MPT Logistics, could not hide his joy about the positive impact the e-Commerce operation has had on his finances amidst the lockdown. According to him, due to the close down of businesses by most of his customers providing non-essential services, his association with some delivery agents working with e-Commerce operators motivated his foray into the delivery of foodstuff and groceries to customers at home. 

“I was not used to doing foodstuff delivery, but I must confess that I’ve had more connection in this regard since the lockdown. Majority of my deliveries these days are foodstuffs. I interact with riders from the likes of Jumia, and I was motivated to be involved in the supply of essential items especially foodstuffs. It’s these guys that make groceries delivery. But I’m now fully into it as well,” he stated. 

As the world continues the search for a cure for Coronavirus and government especially the federal and state governments in Nigeria intensify efforts to flatten community transmission of COVID-19, it is hoped that the strategic role of last-mile delivery workers as front-liners that keep lives and businesses afloat in time of lockdown would be accorded its rightful place.  

By Segun Koiki

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