COVID-19: Between lockdown, hunger and insecurity

Fear, frustration, anxiety have become the potpourri of realities following the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic across the world and in Nigeria in particular. In this report, KEHINDE OYETIMI highlights the general outcry against the negative impact of the lockdown and the seemingly long night of despair. The critical issue has become finding a balance between halting the spread of the virus and arresting the biting hunger occasioned by the lockdown.

 

As at April 22, 2020, 873 COVID-19 cases had been recorded in 24 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). 197 persons had been discharged, while 28 deaths had been recorded. Lagos currently has the highest figure of confirmed cases with 504 patients, FCT has 119 patients, while Kano has 73 patients.

This is coming almost two months since the index case was recorded in the country on February 27, 2020.

The spike in the number of cases has led to lockdown declared in states across the federation. However, from artisans to office workers, students, civil servants, traders, and persons involved in business, reports from Nigerians across the country show that the lockdown has had a significant level of negative impact on the country.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, the tag #JusticeForSeyiAkinade berthed on social media.

Seyi Akinade, said to be a forex trader, was reported to have committed suicide five days after he narrated his frustration as a result of being low on funds, after allegedly being arrested by SARS officials in February 2020.

At exactly 3am on April 17, 2020, Akinade had narrated how he was harassed by the policemen, concluding his tweets via his handle @Akinadeoluwa17, thus:

“Without having anything incriminating on my phone! That day I lost almost $20k trading and I missed my presentation in school. They still wanted to collect bail after beating and harassing us for nothing. Since then I’ve been in massive debt, I couldn’t complete my education and my life has been in shambles. I have receipts for everything I said here in case anyone thinks I’m lying. Suicide has been the only thought on my mind every day. So in case I hurt myself and anyone is curious as to why I did it. This is my story.”

His last tweet on April 21 read: “I guess it’s goodbye now…no one heard my cry for justice and this had to happen haha…bye world.”

Several states in Nigeria are currently under government-directed lockdown, banning movement in the states, while persons on essential services are exempted.

On March 30, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus infections across the country.

At the time, more COVID-19 cases were recorded in Lagos and Abuja, and Ogun was also put on lockdown because of its proximity to Lagos.

However, after the initial two weeks, the President declared an additional two-week lockdown, scheduled to end on April 27, 2020. Buhari also directed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to add one million beneficiaries to the 2.6 million persons expected to benefit from the palliative measures offered by the Federal Government. According to statistics, Nigeria currently has a population of more than 200 million people.

Several states have also declared lockdown as part of efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states are on partial lockdown as well, and efforts from government and the private sector are ongoing to provide palliatives for the people.

Although at a press conference recently, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation’s Director-General, had said: “Make no mistake: we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time,” many Nigerians seem eager to return to their daily routines, with not a few complaints about the negative impact of the lockdown. The WHO at another forum advised that African countries must find homegrown solutions to build their economies while the pandemic lasts.

 

Many African countries don’t have the buffer for fiscal relief in times of crisis —Ezekwesili

Obiageli Ezekwesili, former vice president for the Africa region at the World Bank and a former minister of education for Nigeria, in an article published on April 16, 2020, in The Washington Post, acknowledged the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on African nations.

“Most of Africa’s countries simply do not have the buffer required for fiscal relief in times of crisis, because they were already severely constrained by budgetary crises caused by poor domestic revenue mobilization, high public debts and low productivity. The parlous public finances of these countries worsened due to volatility in commodity prices as the pandemic worsened,” she wrote.

 

You can’t hold down young energies for long —Ayade

Ben Ayade, Governor of Cross River state, has also stressed the importance of understanding the peculiarities of the impact of the lockdown on Nigerians.

Speaking in Calabar, the state capital, on Wednesday, Ayade said: “With prices of oil falling, locking out is far better than locking down because another two weeks of lockdown will find this country under siege by young people. There is no way you can hold down these young energies for too long.

“It is demographic; it is statistics. Sixty-five percent of the population is below the age of 35 and the virus itself does not have penetrative force in such demography and that is what we have to recognise as a country.”

 

‘Effective lockdown not feasible when people are dying of hunger’

Nigerians across social media have also expressed frustration with the consequences of the lockdown on their finances and general state of well-being.

@cchukudebelu wrote: “I’m in week 3 of a government mandated lockdown. No palliative measures from government have reached me, my finances are low, I have no electricity. Am I supposed to “understand the inner workings of government in Nigeria” before I state the obvious; government is incompetent?”

@Omojuwa wrote: “Nigeria must find a balance between stopping the spread of the Coronavirus and stopping the spread of hunger and anger due to the lockdown. That balance has become a life or death issue.”

@Tife_fabunmi wrote: “I heard Canada gave their citizens 2k dollars each for this pandemic but Nigeria wants her citizens to be blind, handicapped and spiritually unstable before they can be eligible for 5k, 5-thousand naira! Now it’s 32 in Lagos & Ogun wants to do shift with their lockdown. Comedians.”

@saula_tobiloba wrote: “An effective lockdown is not feasible in a country where the weak and feeble are dying of hunger. All this mess could have been prevented if government had provided relief materials for vulnerable Nigerians.”

@Hard_Knockks wrote: “The lockdown will collapse if it gets shifted the third time. It’s obviously not working; the government should come up with another plan but definitely not lockdown.”

@MrsPreciousEze1 wrote: “In as much as I don’t believe there is coronavirus in Nigeria, but the Audio cases would have increased more without lockdown, the Federal Government should also know that with the hunger in Nigeria, we can’t achieve 100% lockdown. May God save us.”

@ifeenma wrote: “The impact of #COVID19 on Nigeria’s economy is not known yet…are we ready? I doubt…is the government ready? Any plan to help hundreds of thousands that will lose their jobs during and after this pandemic? What is the recovery plan or road map to it. The #lockdown ll continues.”

@akinolaadedira9 wrote: “40 million Nigerians have BVN verified bank accounts. It will cost the FG only ₦100 billion to pay ₦250k into each account so Nigerians can buy food for themselves and their families during the #CoronaVirus lockdown, if Nigeria can budget ₦150 billion for a National Assembly.”

@ayosogunro wrote: “Meanwhile, in South Africa, the University of Pretoria is providing online education with zero-cost data service for staff and students during the lockdown. Tell me, what are universities in Nigeria doing to ensure continuity in education + access for less-privileged students?”

@May7ven, a singer, wrote: “The amount of calls and messages I am getting from Nigeria is unbelievable from the impact of this lockdown. I have never ever had so many bank account details sent to me at the same time… everyone needs help.”

@McShaffy wrote: “My income by the end of this month if lockdown continues will be zero! It went down by almost 80% at the beginning of the lockdown. If any unforeseen situation happens & savings gets depleted, I would have gone from the fake middle class straight into poverty. That’s Nigeria for you.”

@Hideeworldwide wrote: “We face hunger and starvation at home like we don’t have government for the people. I’m sure the lockdown might still be extended but yet no food provision. We face robbery, also. All these we face like it’s our fault the virus came to Nigeria. I’m so devastated.”

@Black_JPMorgan wrote: “This lockdown alone, my father has had to do cash transfers to 10 family members who’ve had their sources of income quashed because of the lockdown itself. Nigeria underestimates its middle class; they’re the closest to the poor.”

@kenzyodias wrote: “Poverty has so much dealt with Nigerian youth to the point where giveaway is the most effective thing that draws their attention to be your fan in all social media platform. God, please help my dear nation and make Nigeria great again.”

@BiggieMonzie wrote: “You guys don’t understand that we’re really poor in Nigeria. It’s not even up to a month of lockdown and everywhere don red, people are out of funds and food; some don’t know if they will even get paid this April. It’s crazy right now.”

 

Our goal must be that the people live neither with disease nor in hunger —Tinubu

In a document suggesting measures to address the pandemic, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said: “We dare not underestimate the twin dangers posed by the virus itself and the economic consequences of the public health response. Our goal must be that the people live neither with disease nor in hunger. This situation presents a historic chance to establish a more beneficial social contract between the government and the governed.

“If we so utilize this moment, it will be recorded as a pivotal one in our national history. If we allow this moment to slip, history will not be obliged to treat us with great mercy.

“The worst of this dark potential can be avoided if the government is prepared to act in ways that not only feed people but protect the basic contours of our private-sector economy so that it can more quickly revive once normal conditions return.”

 

If you ask people not to come out, what will they eat? —Seyi Makinde

Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State has also said a total lockdown in the state would be considered as the last resort, because of the consequences of the lockdown for ordinary citizens.

He said: “Lagos can be on lockdown, Ogun can be on lockdown; Oyo State, yes, people have been saying should have a total lockdown and then I have been asking them questions. What will be the benefits here? Are there alternative courses of action for us to take?

“If you ask people not to come out, you lock down the market places, there are people whom the profit from today’s activities is what they will eat tomorrow. There are plenty of people like that within our environment. So, are there alternatives available to us? Can we do selective lockdowns?

“I think, everything is on the table but it has to follow a logical pattern and it will need the input of experts. We are not just going to lock down because everyone is locking down.”

 

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NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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