NIGERIA began a “phased and gradual” lifting of the lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 on May 4. This followed the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 28 that it had become imperative to ease the lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states because many citizens had lost their livelihoods, many small business had also shut down and that no “country can afford the full impact of a sustained lockdown while awaiting the development of vaccines or cure.” The same measure has now been extended by two weeks, while the ban on inter-state movement, except by workers on essential services, remains in place.
Nigeria announced its first case of Covid-19 on February 27. As of the morning of April 1, Nigeria had 140 confirmed cases and two deaths, while nine people had recovered from the disease. The president ordered the cessation of all movements in Lagos State, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11pm on Monday, March 30 following the steady increase of cases across the country. The lockdown was later extended for another week before it was eased on May 4.As of May 3, Nigeria had recorded 2558 confirmed casesand 2071 active cases with 393 recoveries and 87 deaths. However,by May 14,less than two weeks following the easing of the lockdown, the number of confirmed cases had spiked to 5,162 confirmed cases, 3835 active cases, with 1180 discharged cases and 167 deaths. This gives the impression that the gains of the lockdown are being reversed. The easing of the lockdown has not reduced the risk of spread. Neither can it be argued that the lockdown was effective. This situation is attributable to a number of reasons.
Clearly, the lockdown was not carefully thought out, because provisions were not made for citizens who would be cash-strapped and hungry because many live from hand to mouth. Being grounded for over a month without livelihood support put many in desperate circumstances. Many could not observe the rules, especially commercial vehicle operators. The Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 (PTF) also complained of violation of inter-state movement by security agencies. Once the lockdown was eased,there was a surge in activities. This was particularly evident in the banking halls that were immediately overwhelmed by customers seeking to transact business in Lagos. Social distancing was undermined by the pressure from the precipitous number of customers seeking banking services. The huge crowds in banks would have been reduced if the economy was less dependent on cash transactions.
Secondly, the organisation of the Nigerian society is simply not supportive of the kind of discipline required to ensure social distancing and the observance of other preventive protocols. The PTF has said community transmission could worsen as people stick to old ways. But there is nothing in the structure and organisation of the Nigerian society over time that disposes the citizenry to respecting rules and regulations because the rulers and public officials have been notorious for breaking the rules and regulations they have set. Worse still, there is no commitment to addressing the situation of workers in the informal sector who have lost their sources of livelihood. The federal and state governments promised palliatives such as the distribution of food items, which were never effectively delivered. The supplies were not just inadequate, they were not properly targeted.
The Federal Government promised to raise the number of its cash transfer beneficiaries from 2.5 million to 3.5 million when it lacked the capacity to do so given the challenges of identification, selection and registration for such programmes within a short time. In any case, such a measure cannot be said to have targeted those who have just fallen into poverty as a result of the lockdown. Evidence from scenes from the distribution of cash generated outrage as the crowds did not observe social distancing and other preventive protocols. Nigerians have largely ignored the recommendation by governments across the country to use face masks.
While we call on the government to intensify its public enlightenment programmes concerning the preventive protocols, it must recognise that the citizens cannot comply with this protocols under impossible structures and conditions. The government has not sufficiently demonstrated commitment to the welfare of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable and the poor in the society. Such citizens have no basis to trust that what is being recommended is in their best interest, especially when it directly threatens their means of livelihood.
The PTF has said that the government may be forced to return to a complete lockdown if community transmission spikes. There is no doubt that the consequences of community transmission of Covid-19 are grave, but the government is not in a position to enforce a lockdown. We expect it to continually refine the guidelines that would limit the prospect of community transmission while also guaranteeing the right to economic survival by the citizenry.
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