Coronavirus: Lockdown will bankrupt, kill many —Traders
•Prisoners, prostitutes, traders, Okrika sellers, others speak too • We can’t free rapists, murderers because of COVID-19 —Police •Prisons locked down, visitors barred
SEGUN KASALI, LEKAN OLABULO, SUBAIR MOHAMMED and KEHINDE AKINSEHINDE-JAYEOBA monitored the effects (on the vulnerable) of the ban on trading in markets by the government as part of efforts to tackle COVID-19 in Lagos State.
The partial lockdown of Lagos State which began on Thursday over the Coronavirus epidemic is creating different blues for different classes of residents of the mega-city as everyone tries to grapple with the effects of the restrictions on their daily lives, living and livelihood. A prominent feature of the ban is the closure of 17 major markets across the state and for a 22-million strong population, the impacts have not been only immediate, many traders affected by the ban believe it would take a while to recover from the future effects, noting that the seven-day closure, to mainly allow for the fumigation of the said markets, could be so adverse to the extent of bankruptcy.
Govt sending us into bankruptcy –Balogun, Oluwole traders
Speaking on his projected loss in the coming days, a trader at Balogun market, Alhaji Maruf Adewunmi, disclosed that millions of naira would be lost to the closure. According to him, the state government’s directive is a misnomer as there are better, and more humane, ways to deal with the pandemic than subjecting the already impoverished populace to further hardship.
He stated that traders in Balogun market had been battling with bad sales with little or no returns on investments, expressing fears that the closure might worsen their situation.
Adewunmi said: “We are going to encounter a huge loss on our investments with the closure. Before this directive, we had not been making enough sales and profit due to the instability in the economy. And now with the closure, many of us will be forced out of business, especially those that operate on bank loans. In spite of our low sales, many victims of job loss and close relatives rely on us for their daily bread. Now that our market has been shut down, we are not the only people that would be affected, they would be affected, too.
“Many people will die, not from the virus but of hunger because seven days of trading inactivity could send many traders into indebtedness and bankruptcy. Many traders depend on bank loans to survive. They repay on a weekly basis and failure to pay at the stipulated time attracts additional payment. If the shops are not opened and there are no sales, how would they pay back these loans? Won’t they be burdened with accumulated debt? The economy is bad to the point that many of us are living from hand to mouth. We are only managing with the little sales we make from here.”
He stressed the need for the government to see beyond anti-human policies by promoting welfarist policies which would put food on the tables of Nigerians.
Commenting on Lagos State government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, he said: “The government does not have the interest of the populace at heart. I was in Wuhan, China, when the virus broke out. It grounded trading activities in the whole of China but today, trading activities have recommenced in Wuhan. Why? They feed well. They eat varieties of foods and their immune system is strong enough to fight against the virus.
“But here in Nigeria, how do we eat well when sales are poor, when traders are not profiting from their trade? Now they have announced the closure of markets.The United States of America recently announced the closure of its economy, to be reopened on April 14. They injected $2 trillion into their economy to douse the impact of the closure on its citizens, but what has our government done to alleviate the suffering on citizens? Nothing other than imposition of multiple tax systems on Nigerians.
“The United Kingdom and Spain recorded more deaths when they shut down their economy because many people returned home infected and spread the virus to other members of their families. What we need is sensitisation and house-to-house enlightenment campaign as it is being done in China. If the Lagos State government shuts the market for seven days, when it is reopened, the crowd will gather and things will return to normal. There is nothing magical about the way the Chinese handled the Coronavirus pandemic. They engaged in door-to-door campaigns. The Chinese environmental officers visited their markets, spoke to market men and women on how to handle the virus and they all adhered to instructions.”
He advised the state government to assign health officers to all markets and engage traders on personal hygiene and other safety measures, noting that “rather than close the markets, the best the government should have done is to assign their health officers to the market and speak to traders on the virus and the need for social distancing and not shut down the market which will impoverish and further subject traders to hunger.”
Another trader at Oluwole market, Habeeb Aliyu, lamented his inability to meet up with his weekly loan repayment plan. According to him, he pays the loan that drives his clothing business every Monday, but with the closure, he said: “I can’t imagine officials of the microfinance bank that granted me the loan with which I keep myself in business, running after me for repayment. There are other approaches to dealing with the Coronavirus. When they shut down all our markets because of Coronavirus, how do they want us to feed? Our children are at home because they have closed down schools. Our businesses, too, are suffering. I don’t think this is nice at all.”
We are open for business 24/7 –Sex traders
When Saturday Tribune reached out to those in the commercial sex business, they brushed aside the virus and government’s efforts at curtailing it.
Sugar Girl resides in the Lekki area of the state. She told our correspondent that she was ready to go out with him as long as he was ready to pay the bill, noting that her business did not support social distancing. “What is my business with social distancing? Coronavirus or no Coronavirus, I am on. Where am I going to see money to take care of myself? If you are ready, let me know, please,” she said.
Simbi, who plies her trade around Allen/Ikeja area of the state, said she had no business with the pandemic hence she was not scared of going about her business. She lamented that much was being said about precautions by the government without necessary provision of basic necessities to make stay-at-home or social distancing the best advice. She also noted that social distancing was never going to work for her, considering the nature of her job “except I want to go hungry.”
Simbi: “I don’t even care if the Coronavirus is real or not. For the fact that I stay clean and I make sure that whoever I go out with stays clean, I don’t have any problem going about my business. The government is talking about stay-at-home approach and all that. What provisions have they made for those who will stay at home because once you stay at home, you know that you lose some money and how are you going to feed yourself? As a matter of fact, social distancing is never possible as far as my job is concerned except I want to deliberately go hungry which is not possible for me because I don’t have anyone to run to.”
On her part, Mary expressed serious awareness about the pandemic but she also criticised the government for not providing the basic necessities to observe the stay-at-home/social distancing order. She, however, said she was making personal efforts to stay safe.
Oyingbo, Katangowa, Abule Egba blues
Mrs Onigbinde, a vegetables trader at Oja Oba market, Abule-Egba, seemed not too aware of the virus which she referred to as ‘koro’. According to her, she heard about the pandemic in the course of a discussion with a fellow trader and a customer. She said: “I don’t really understand this ‘koro’. All I know is that a lot of people have died abroad as a result of the virus. But I am yet to see or hear of anyone dying here in Lagos. So, why should I be scared?”
Mama Chigozie, another trader at the market, displayed more awareness about the virus than her co-trader and expressed optimism that the threat would soon fade away. “My son showed me videos of those infected with the deadly virus in China. It is pathetic. He also informed me of the huge number of people affected in China and other countries. It is alarming. But the government is not doing enough to sensitise the public on the virus. Just like Ebola, it won’t be long before the country forgets Coronavirus. It will not spread like it did in other country despite our leaders not doing enough to sensitise the public. Although some said the virus can be transmitted through exchange of Naira notes, how do I know if the money is infected? I have to collect money from my customers. How do I go about that? I pray that God will protect us all in this country,” she said.
One would expect the state’s largest second-hand clothing market, Katangowa, to have become a ghost town even before the closure of markets, considering the deadly impacts the disease has been having on foreign countries where such used clothing come from. But up till the point of closure, Katangowa was bubbling and likely to resume its bubble once it is reopened.
When Saturday Tribune visited the market at Abule Egba, along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, traders were more worried about the demolition of the market by agents of the state earlier in the year than Coronavirus. But despite the demolition, buying and selling continued amidst the rubble.
A trader at the market who gave his name simply as Olumide told Saturday Tribune that prices of clothes had increased since the demolition and this had driven many buyers away and consequently reduced patronage. Speaking on the Coronavirus outbreak, he said for now, people were not entertaining any fear as the goods that were now being sold had been in the country since last year. “Most of us have had the goods in store since last year. Even at that, it takes several months, sometimes close to a year, before fairly-used goods imported to Nigeria get to the market. Second-hand goods get to the neighbouring countries, especially Cotonou (in Benin Republic), then transported to Nigeria through the waterways to the port since the land borders have been closed. We are not afraid of the virus and so are our customers not scared of contracting the virus through the use of second-hand goods. However, the current situation might make our customers become more careful and wash the clothes properly before putting them on which, of course, most people ordinarily did even before the virus thing,” Olumide said.
Mummy Blessing, another trader that dealt in second-hand children outfits, said the news of the virus had not affected her sales in any way. According to her, sales always go up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday when she opens new bale. She said: “As you are aware, second-hand goods are life savers for many who cannot afford to buy new products. On Monday, you will see people scrambling to buy our goods because our prices are fair and the goods are first grade. Even if there is Coronavirus, will these people go about naked?”
Mrs Okunade, a resident, explained that although she had temporarily stopped buying second-hand clothes for her children because of the COVID-19 outbreak, she would not hesitate to get one if there was a pressing need for it. “There was this virus scare that prevented me from getting some play wears for my children but from what I have heard, the virus cannot be imported into the country via fairly-used clothes from the United States, United Kingdom or China because it takes months for these goods to get here. And anytime I buy second-hand clothes, I wash them with hot water and disinfectant. I iron them before putting them on. I wonder what sort of virus can possibly withstand all this,” she joked.
Speaking on a possible ban of those products in the country, Communications Manager, Cars45, Awala Bemingho, noted that second-hand wear had always been known to cater to a certain demographic: the low income earners. He explained that “to impose a ban is to close that opportunity for this segment of the society. With enlightenment campaigns, I am sure that people will wash these wears thoroughly when they are purchased before wearing them so as to mitigate potential risks,” he said.
A human resource manager at Aller Aqua, Esezobor Esele, said banning second-hand wear for now should be on a temporary basis. “Second-hand wear have been of great help to the underprivileged world because it is able to provide clothes for people who do not have money to buy new wear. As I said earlier, to halt the spread of Coronavirus, second-hand clothing should be banned for a little while. Then after solution has been provided to the pandemic, we can all go back to our normal lives,” he said.
Oyingbo bubbles before closure
At the Oyingbo ultramodern market on the Mainland, traders and buyers appeared to be unmindful of the government’s social distancing order as they mingled freely in multitudes hours before the closure. The same situation played out at Ikosi/Ketu Market and Sabo Market in Ikorodu on Thursday. Both markets, unlike Oyingbo, didn’t come under official lock but the crowds there were in excess of the approved 20 persons at a time.
Advancing reasons for the non-compliance to the social distancing order by Oyingbo traders, a dealer in perishable items at the market, Paul Azuka said if the order was carried out, it would amount to loss of income to council toll officials and union workers, whose daily income and survival depend on the number of traders and stalls that operate in the market daily.
He said: “If a limited number of people are allowed into Oyingbo, it will slow down trading activities and also amount to loss of revenue to the facility manager, council toll collectors and union workers who collect trading tolls from traders. If visitors to the market are controlled, how are we going to pay these people? And failure to pay their dues means that they would not allow us to trade that day. If they want us to comply with the law, the government should tell the facility manager, council and union tax collectors to stop demanding for payment. Then we will know that we are not under any pressure to pay anyone. Oyingbo Market is too busy for such an order to be carried out but we comply with personal hygiene measures. We don’t just sit at our stalls and expect buyers to come to us, we scout for customers. We struggle among ourselves to win buyers to our sides. So, in the midst of this, do you think a customer would want to wait a minute longer to be attended to? The government should quickly find a cure for the disease. The idea of distancing ourselves cannot work in a large market like Oyingbo.”
Debunking the allegation of non-compliance with the social distancing order, chairman, Oyingbo Market Perishable Traders Association, Victor Chukwuogo said traders in the market were meeting on ways to go about maintaining the social distancing order.
He said: “We are trying to put those measures in place. We got the information last night. So, I can confirm to you that we will be meeting on the control of movements in the market. We will embark on an enlightenment campaign to educate our traders on the importance of social distancing, especially on the advantages of practising personal hygiene to contain the spread of the virus. So, we strictly obey orders given by the state government and henceforth, Oyingbo Market traders will enforce the one-or-two-people-at-a-time instruction to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.”
With a population of over one million inhabitants, Oshodi-Isolo Local Government Area has located within it, the Lagos State General Hospital, Isolo, which sees to the health needs of residents within the area. Isolo General Hospital, as it is referred to, on a daily basis, plays host to thousands of patients in various departments who seek medical assistance for one ailment or the other, thereby overstretching the public facility.
When Saturday Tribune visited the facility to assess the level of compliance with the social distancing order, a member of staff who preferred anonymity explained that the hospital, since the outbreak of Coronavirus, had been checking the number of patients at every department at a given time so as to ensure compliance with the social distancing order.
According to the source, the hospital adheres strictly to all protocols given by the World Health Organisation. The personnel added: “We are observing all protocols given by WHO. Apart from constant training of our staff, we are creating awareness and educating our patients on the best ways to prevent and contain the disease. We also give safety tips to our patients. For instance, we tell them to wash their hands with soap and water. Apart from this, at the entrance, we measure the temperatures of our patients so as to detect anyone with high body temperature so that we can treat him/her differently in keeping with the preventive measures.
“As part of efforts to curb the transmission of the Coronavirus, we provide personal protective materials such as face masks and hand sanitiser to our staff members. We also advise that there should be no over-crowding in all departments. We ensure that we vet attendance at every department, particularly at the out-patient department. We are also working to ensure that those that are in need of emergency services are not denied. As many people as want attention, we give it to them in accordance with standard best practice. We have also fumigated the entire premises.”
Police, prison authorities speak on over-crowded facilities
As concerns mount over the fate of inmates of detention facilities in the state, and the call by human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) to release all detainees on bail until the virus is put under control, the police in the state said it was not possible to set all detainees free.
The image maker of the state police command, Bala Elkana, told Saturday Tribune that the authorities were currently setting those with minor offences free but could not release those with capital offences like murder, armed robbery and rape.
“I refer you to my statement last Saturday. The Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, was the first to give that order last Saturday. If you follow the trend, you will see that the statement was issued on Saturday and then on Sunday, the Force Headquarters issued their own. On Saturday, the CP, after meeting with all Area Commanders and DPOs, instructed that all suspects who were arrested for minor offences be released immediately. All of them [the DPOs] have complied. It has been a total compliance. All those with minor offences have been released except those with capital offences. You cannot release notorious armed robbers who have killed people to go into the street and kill more. You don’t expect rapists to be released so they can go back to continue the act. Those with capital offences are still being held while all those with minor offences have been released. I said full compliance, because we have gone round and there is also a team still going round. A team has gone round and has submitted its report.”
Saturday Tribune observed at Area M Police Command, Ejigbo Police Station and Ikotun Police Station, a reduction in the daily movement of people in and out of the stations. The police cells in many parts of the state are also not empty but there have been a reduction in the number of suspects in most of them.
A prisoner’s note
Saturday Tribune investigations revealed that much as there was caution by people in prisons, police stations and at bus stops, the social distancing order was not being properly complied with, even at official level.
An inmate at the Kirikiri Medium Correctional Centre who spoke with Saturday Tribune under a special arrangement said there had been awareness and sensitisation about the virus but pointed out that the prison was still overpopulated, an assertion corroborated by the service’s spokesperson.
The inmate said: “Yes, they have been telling us about Coronavirus and how deadly it is. In fact, they have been emphasising it for the last few days and they encouraged us to be washing our hands.”
The inmate, however, pointed out that “the problem is overpopulation. There are still too many people in each cell. The capacity of this place is less than 2,000 and we have over 3,000 inmates and you can imagine if a single person is infected with the virus. They have brought some kits but they have not started testing us.”
The Kirikiri inmate also informed Saturday Tribune that the authorities of the prison had told inmates that visitors would not be allowed to see them until the dreaded virus is contained. The spokesperson also confirmed this claim.
According to the inmate, “they told us that they would no longer allow visitors to see us; that we must make that sacrifice.”
We’ve locked down prisons –PRO
The spokesperson of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Chuks Njoku, a Deputy Comptroller, while speaking with Saturday Tribune, said prisons all over the country were now in a lockdown and that they were not admitting new inmates to the already overcrowded centres.
He explained that officials of correctional centres in different parts of the country were also made to undergo specified testing for Coronavirus at every point of their resumption for duty and visitors were not allowed for now.
DCP Njoku said: “Before the first index case for Coronavirus was recorded in Nigeria, the Comptroller General, Ja’afaru Ahmed, had inaugurated a committee. Let me tell you that during the time of Lassa fever and upsurge of other diseases, we never recorded any case in any of our correctional centres and no journalists have given us kudos for that. We have about 70,000 inmates. We were able to prevent these diseases from getting into the correctional centres all over the country. This will not be an exception, by the grace of God. We will not experience any problem. We want the public to relax.
“The court has made it easy for us. With the direction by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, no court is sitting again. We are not receiving any new inmate now. We have also suspended visits to any custodian centre. The comptrollers of different states have been asked to go and sensitise the inmates in their states. They have been asked to tell everybody, including me and you, that we are sacrificing something. The inmates should sacrifice visits for their lives. There is a partial lockdown in most of the states. If we allow visits, some of their people who are based overseas may want to come and visit them. This is what we cannot guarantee. The best thing to do is to suspend visits. Our staff members that are coming in to work every day are made to undergo the necessary procedures required by the National Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health.
“Also, in all the correctional centres, there is an isolation centre. If any sign of sickness of any nature – runny nose, fever or cough – is detected, the affected person will be isolated to that place where he or she will be observed for a period of time and if there is a suspicion of COVID-19, the victim will be transferred to the centre nearest to that correctional centre. With all these in place and with a task force [Rapid Response Monitoring Committee] that we have put in place in all the states, and they go round all the major facilities that we have like Ikoyi and others, we assure all Nigerians that we will do our best to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in our centres.”