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7 days after lockdown: ‘Better to be killed by COVID-19 than hunger’

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COVID-19 lockdown
An empty church

By Mike Ebonugwo, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Levinus Nwabughiogu & James Ogunnaike

Even with the dreaded coronavirus, COVID-19 lockdown, it is obvious that not even the fear of death by the disease can keep Nigerians locked up or restricted from moving out to pursue their daily bread or engage in other activities of interest.

Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, which has been on COVID-19 lockdown, suddenly burst into life with more vehicles and people struggling for space on the roads unlike what obtained in the previous days. Although commercial vehicles were either scanty or absent on major roads, but there were enough individuals at popular bus-stops, markets and roads to suggest that Lagosians are already tired of staying at home.

Most Nigerians were still struggling to come to terms with the frightening reality of the fast-spreading Coronavirus, COVID-19, currently ravaging the world. Then they were jolted when President Muhammadu Buhari, in a rare broadcast on Sunday, March 29, 2020, announced the total lockdown of Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Ogun State in a bid to halt the rapid spread of the pandemic in the country.

In his speech, the President had declared thus: “Based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11 pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States. All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.

“The Governors of Lagos and Ogun States, as well as the Minister of the FCT, have been notified. Furthermore, heads of security and intelligence agencies have also been briefed. We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases. We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other States.”

But barely a week after the presidential order, many Nigerians in the affected states and areas have hit the streets either out of hunger or boredom. For instance, in spite of the restriction of movement, motorists suddenly discovered how to get past the various checkpoints manned by different security operatives, including the police. Curiously also, the much-hated trailers and tankers that went missing in the Mile Two/Berger axis of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway following the lockdown suddenly made a surprise but certainly unwelcome appearance yesterday.

Uncertainty, fears, hunger, confusion in Lagos as COVID-19 lockdown enters second week

Following the Presidential order of total COVID-19 lockdown of Lagos, the state governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, at one of his briefings on situation said: “Let me, again, seize this opportunity to remind you all that while the road ahead remains long and uncertain; I must however, tell you that the bulk of the battle is fought and won in the mind. We must condition our minds and reinforce our psyche to take on that of a winning approach.”

The governor, it will be recalled, had on March 23, ordered the closure of schools, markets as well as stay at home of some specified categories of civil servants from level 01 to 12. He also banned congregation of more than 50 worshippers at a single event in Churches and Mosques. The number was later reviewed downward to 20 people.

Sanwo-Olu also urged operators in the private sector to emulate the gesture of the state government by directing their staff who are on non-essential services to stay at home inorder to effectively combat and reduce the pandemic in the state.

The state House of Assembly had passed the Coronavirus Bill 2020 which the Governor later assented into law in helping the state to combat the Coronavirus, pandemic.

The bill, which was passed in record time, sponsored by Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa, empowered the Governor to spend an initial N20 billion to effectively contain the virus and enforce compliance by residents.

But it soon emerged that these measures were not enough to raise hope as fears and uncertainty have continued to rise among residents,  which cut across all strata of public and private sectors following the spread and increasing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 patients in the state.

Initially, the roads, synonymous with gridlock, were empty and free of traffic as motorists complied with the stay at home order. From Egbeda in Alimosho Local Government Area, to Ikeja which usually takes about three hours drive, motorists spent less than 30 minutes on both sides of the road despite on-going rail and road construction.

Same situation along Ikorodu Road from Anthony Village, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Iyana-Ipaja to Ikotun, Ogba-Agege, among others.

Also, civil servants stayed at home as the entire state Public Secretariat was a shadow of itself.

Malls, offices, shops, supermarkets have remained resulting in low business activities across the state.

Residents who have become rusty and bored from staying at home were seen walking long distances either to visit friends or observe work-out exercises.

Area boys and youths have taken to playing football on the highways and streets. Some defiant commercial bus operators seized the opportunity of relaxed enforcement to operate, especially in the evenings.

As of Sunday, April 5, 2020, Governor Sanwo-Olu announced that over 400 commercial buses have been impounded for flouting the lockdown directive and would be dealt with accordingly.

COVID-19, disease for the rich— Abuja residents; share lockdown experiences

For people living within the metropolis such as Central Area, Wuse 11, Maitaima, Asokoro, Garki, Jabi/Life Camp, the knowledge of the pandemic as well as the application of prescribed safety measures is the beginning of life. But for most of those inhabiting the suburbs such as Nyanya, Karu, Kubuwa, Lugbe amongst others, the virus is only for the rich and the powerful in the society.

But for the strict enforcement of the COVID-19 lockdown imposed on the city alongside Lagos and Ogun by President Muhammadu Buhari to halt the spread of the virus, many of the people would have still hit the streets.

The rich and the educated had taken the advantage of the closure of courtrooms by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Tanko Muhammad; the two weeks sudden adjournment by both chambers of the National Assembly; the suspension of Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting and the announcement that federal civil service should stop work one week before Buhari’s broadcast to stock their houses with food items. The closures, to them, were early warning signals that a total lockdown was in the offing. And so, they prepared.

But for the poor, the situation was telling even from the first day. Barely 24 hours after the total lockdown began, some hawkers who literally depended and fed on their daily sales were already on the streets and major junctions of the metropolis to “arrest” hunger.

Besides hunger, they also contented with poor power supply and the harsh weather conditions during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Their presence was a loud message to the government which, perhaps, was what necessitated the easing of the lockdown by the authorities on April 2, just about three days after the president announced the partial opening of Abuja markets to operate between the hours of 10am and 2pm daily.

A drive to the major markets in Utako, Wuse and Garki by our correspondent yesterday revealed a strict compliance to allotted time by the traders. Besides, the markets were only opened for food times and nothing more.

Meanwhile, even with the opening of the markets, compliance to the lockdown had been total in the city centre of Abuja.

The roads had been empty. Some areas such as Banex plaza in Wuse 11 and Berger Junction, Jabi considered as the busiest places had been deserted. Big shops and departmental stores had been under lock and key.

The same situation also applied to Area 1 and Area 3 junctions in Garki part of the town.

Similarly, major intracity highways like Nnamdi Azikwe and Ahmadu Bello Way in Wuse were empty except for a  few vehicles on essential duties.

One week after the COVID-19 lockdown, being forced by a presidential order to stay at home, away from their offices and business premises, Nigerians have said it is better to be killed by coronavirus than by hunger.

Especially in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun, residents have been telling tales of woes to whoever cares to listen. For most of them, it is a case of being asked to choose between two evils: coronavirus and hunger.

Some of them readily chose to dare the deadly virus in order to fix what has become a ravaging hunger.

This has created serious enforcement challenges for men and officers of the Nigeria Police Force, Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIOs; Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, NCDC in Abuja, for instance. They have had their hands full at major junctions and residential areas while trying to enforce the orders.

Ikaro Attah, Chairman of the FCT Task Force on COVID-19 told Vanguard the level of compliance was good. He said: “It differs from place to place. In the city centre, we can say it is 95 percent. Karu, Nyanya, Kubuwa, we can say it is about 60 percent. The people at the suburb see it as a rich man’s sickness. The metropolis has strong compliance. The religious bodies, churches and mosques complied. As at yesterday, Sunday, it was about 97 percent compliance, churches and mosques”.

But it is obvious that following the enforced compulsory holidays, boredom has become the lot of the people. Though the lockdown  was necessary, the experience to some residents is however not palatable. Some of them shared their experiences with Vanguard.

Better to be killed by Coronavirus than hunger

Akachi Nwachukwu, a banker living in the satellite town of Lugbe, said: “My experience is that the lockdown has not served the purpose it was meant for. It is only the city centre that is being observed and also civil servants are enjoying because at the end of the month they receive alert of their salary.

“In the satellite town like in Lugbe where I stay, it’s not being observed as all business places are opened, including those not running essential services. For the children who are at home, they engage their time playing football which is a body-contact sport. Our economy is built on the informal sector, so government did not take such into consideration before issuing the COVID-19 lockdown. The palliative is not seen. So, most residents said instead of hunger virus to kill them at home, it is better they have the Coronavirus.

“For the few that have decided to comply, Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC is not helping matters as the power situation is appalling and the weather is not helping matters also. I think a review should be done taking into consideration the indices as the figures continue to rise instead of decrease since the lockdown started”.

I now imagine life in Prison— Arnold Anucha, President, Ohaneze Ndigbo Youths, FCT Chapter

“My experience has been passive as I have no option against it. While daily routines of waking up early by 5.00am to prepare the children for school, rushing to the office and or meeting up with several other appointments, hanging out with friends, arranging clothes and wears according to appointments and many other daily routines are adversely affected. On the other side I have learnt a lot, had enough rest, do physical exercises, read and watch TV more often.

“The COVID-19 lockdown has more adverse effects than expected and it has also taught me humility. To enumerate, the following are a brief experience I have gathered within this period: Financial limitations: I have been limited financially, daily business could no longer be conducted. Buying and selling at will becomes a mirage. And my spending urge and desire completely reduced.”

Is this the end of the world?— Mrs. Chinyere Uzoma

“I am an international business woman operating from Garki Model Market. Sitting at home has cost me alot. Right now, I am very, very tired not knowing what to do. For the past six or seven years, I have never sat in a place for two days without moving around, without doing my business or meeting friends. Sitting down at home doing nothing except my spiritual growth, spending money without replacing same. Sitting at home has made me to add weight, visit friends and relatives and loved ones. Sometimes I get tired and lazy and I don’t like it. It has compelled me to do things I don’t like. My visa to China is about to expire; I can’t buy or sell. Is it the end of the world?”

In everything, we give thanks to God. I work from home —Alex Kamalu, staff of Family Health International, Abuja

“In everything we give thanks to God. The Abuja lockdown has not been easy but we really need to stay home to stay safe. We made sure the family had enough food at home before the lockdown directive by the Federal Government. My office provided us all that is needed to work from home. We hold virtual meetings via teams and zoom. We spend time to sleep, rest and recuperate. The family also spends time in prayers to God for His intervention in this pandemic as we believe it’s only God that can save us from this crisis. ”

High compliance in Ogun State

The COVID-19 lockdown only began in the state on Friday, April 3. And as it entered the third day, towns and streets were totally deserted and commercial activities were grounded. Our Correspondent, who moved around major streets in Abeokuta, the state capital to monitor the level of compliance of the lockdown, reports that major streets, parks and markets were empty as combined security forces manned strategic areas to monitor and enforce compliance.

Commercial centres, including Kuto market and motor park, Panseke, Omida, Ita Oshin and Lafenwa markets, Sapon, Oke Ilewo, Obantoko, Adatan, all in Abeokuta, in the state capital, were deserted as traders stayed at home. A resident of Ota, in Ado-Odo Ota local government area of Ogun State, who identified himself as Kunle Odumoye said the sit-at-home order in the area recorded about 90 per cent compliance.

People who engage in sales of food stuff were the only ones seen displaying their wares, but there were no vehicular movements as everybody stayed at home. Mr. Jide Omifenwa, a resident of Ado-Odo town testified that residents of the ancient town and its environs such as, Owode-Yewa, Atan-Ota, complied with the sit-at-home order. He said: “If I am to grade the level of compliance with government directive on the lockdown order in these areas, I will say we have 90 per cent. To me, it is a good mark.”

Also, from Ijebu Ode in Ogun East Senatorial District area of the state, residents cooperated with government by observing the COVID-19 lockdown order. Meanwhile, the state Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun said, the lockdown will be lifted by 7a.m. and 2p.m. on Tuesday (yesterday) and subsequently every other day to allow operations of essential services.

Welfare package distribution brouhaha

As part of incentives to encourage people to stay at home and to cushion the discomfort of the lockdown announced by the Federal Government, the Lagos State government had initiated a welfare package to support the indigent and the vulnerable, including those who earn daily income. But the implementation of this was soon subsumed in controversy with claims in many quarters, especially in the social media, that it has been hijacked by some government officials for their own selfish purposes. There were also reports that the distribution of the relief items left much to be desired given the fact that the process usually lead to riotous gatherings of individuals, thus undermining the social distance policy of breaking the spread of coronavirus. This certainly was the case in most local governments visited by Vanguard.

ALSO READ: [UPDATED] COVID-19: Buhari may extend lockdown or not ― Presidential taskforce boss

But in his response to the allegation of inadequacies in the relief distribution process, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lagos State, said: “For the avoidance of doubt, the first stage of the welfare package was designed to cater for 200,000 households, comprising a father, mother and four children across the 20 local governments and the 37 local council development authorities. It is a misconception that it was meant for all Lagosians. No. All aged residents who are above 60 years old and registered with the Lagos State Residents’ Registration Agency, LASRRA, were sent text messages and requested to confirm the accuracy of their details, such as name and home address. They have since responded to the text messages so as to benefit from the package. The food relief materials for the above 60 group are being delivered directly to the beneficiaries by representatives of the State Government based on the data with the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency. The other category of beneficiaries comprises the indigent and vulnerable within the various communities at the grassroots.”

Extend lockdown to community level— ActionAid

While taking stock of the COVID-19 lockdown so far, an international non-profit making organisation, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, expressed concern that government has not done enough to check the spread of coronavirus at the community level. Although commendeding the Presidential Task Force on some of the steps taken on the control of COVID-19 so far, the group noted thus: “More needs to be done quickly and promptly. With the cases of infected persons increasing within a week, Nigeria needs to be ready for the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, the concept of social distancing and self-isolation remains a mirage to many Nigerians.”

The organisation may have spoken against the backdrop that in spite of the lockdown, the rate of infection has increased in one week from 81 to 120 in Lagos and 25 to 47 in Abuja.

Vanguard

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