On 25 February 2020, the index case of the novel Coronavirus, Covid-19, was announced in Nigeria. Since then, the number of cases has risen to 627 confirmed cases with 170 discharged and 21 deaths as at 20 April 2020. This global pandemic that has taken the world by storm has necessitated a significant change in life and work as we know it with many countries experiencing partial or total lockdowns, deceleration in economic productivity, increase in unemployment and several other effects.
To minimise the health, social and economic impacts of Covid-19, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (“NSE” or “the exchange”) has taken significant steps to preserve the health and safety of our stakeholders and ensure that there are no disruptions to our operations.
Activation of remote working and trading
Since the announcement of the index case in February, the Nigerian Stock Exchange deployed precautionary health measures across our offices through thermal temperature checks, use of hand sanitizers, screening of visitors and minimizing access to our premises. Given the dramatic rise in the number of confirmed cases in the third week of March, an emergency virtual meeting of the National Council was convened on Saturday, March 21, 2020 to deliberate on additional proactive steps to minimize the impact of this global pandemic on our people, business operations and stakeholders.
This led to the activation of our Business Continuity Plan which saw employees transition to remote working for an initial 30-day period effective Tuesday, 24 March 2020, and the temporary closure of our trading floors as our brokers transitioned to remote trading on Wednesday, 25 March 2020. However, our offices have since that time remained open to essential staff and a representative of the Executive Committee who will ensure the smooth running of The Exchange, while all our brokers have been provided with the requisite platforms to trade remotely and seamlessly including FIX Protocol, X-NET and VPN access.
Provision and Amendment of Guidelines for Capital Market Stakeholders
Given these unprecedented happenings, financial markets – particularly the capital markets – around the world have seen levels of volatility that are only comparable to the global financial crisis of 2007/2008. The Exchange has, therefore, prioritized the provision of an enabling environment for its stakeholders to operate effectively. Consequently, we have provided frequent updates to our Issuers (listed companies) and Dealing Member Firms, provided technological support and released several guidance documents to address regulatory matters as follows:
- Notices to Issuers on the conduct of 2020 Annual General Meetings (AGMs);
- Circular on CAC’s guidelines on Holding of Annual General Meetings (AGMs) for companies via proxies;
- Extension of the deadline for filing returns for Issuers;
- Notices to Dealing Member Firms on the extension of time to complete the 2020 Self-Assessment Form;
- Guidance to Facilitate Effective Virtual Meetings for Stakeholders Amidst COVID-19;
- Circular to Issuers on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Extension of Time to File all Financial Statements.
Transitioning to Business as Usual
Following the activation of our Business Continuity Plan and our transition to remote working and trading, The Exchange has been resolute in its commitment to ensure that there are no disruptions to operations for any of our stakeholders. We have leveraged our existing digital assets to ensure there is continuous flow of information and activity in the market and are exploring creative solutions to enhance our stakeholders’ experience during this period.
In conducting our business over these four weeks, we have also made significant strides to maintain the flow of information, deepen activities in the capital market and widen the pool of investment instruments for investors. We have achieved several listings on the floor of The Exchange including the N20Bn Flour Mills Bond; N16.5Bn Primero BRT SPV Bond; N1.2Bn supplementary listing of Golden Guinea Breweries Plc shares; and several Government Bonds worth over N160Bn. Furthermore, we have hosted several capacity building sessions online for capital market players such as the “Using Alternative Investments Classes to Navigate Uncertain Times” webinar for institutional investors, and “Dimensioning The Next Curve: Knowing What is Coming and Strategically Preparing for It” for corporates within our ecosystem.
We were also particularly pleased to rekindle the long-held tradition of sounding the closing gong by hosting our first-ever digital closing gong ceremony to commemorate the contributions of Sterling Bank Plc – one of our Issuers who has made significant contributions to the fight against COVID-19. The closing gong ceremony held on Thursday, 16 April 2020 via Instagram Live and was well-received by our stakeholders both online and offline, and we will continue to seek out other avenues for digital expression.
Ultimately, we have made concerted efforts to ensure that we play our role as responsible corporate citizens to take precautionary measures to protect our stakeholders during this pandemic, while doing our best to maintain the integrity of our market and stimulate economic growth. As stated by Chief Executive Officer, Oscar N. Onyema, OON: “The exchange remains committed to providing corporates and investors with access to the market in meeting their financial and investment needs during this period and beyond. While we are hopeful for a quick resolution to his pandemic, we will continue to adapt our operations, leverage all available opportunities and maintain open lines of communication to all our stakeholders.”