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Coronavirus: Surviving the lockdown in Nigeria

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“United we stand, divided we fall”, this has been the mantra of many Nigerians for many generations. Since independence, the country has faced many challenges, from the upheavals caused by the civil war in the late 1960 to the oil boom and subsequent bust in the 1970s. Throughout all these challenges, there was still a hopeful “e go better” (it will be better) attitude in the country. As Nigerians, the survival instinct has always been present, so the outbreak of coronavirus is yet any challenge the country now has to deal with. At the same time, we are very social by nature, used to seeing our family and friends whenever we want. The smallest occasion, a new job, a promotion, a birthday or child’s wedding is a time to celebrate.

So, how are we as Nigerians supposed to stay at home with no contact with our family, churches, mosques, parties, restaurants and markets? President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a 14-day lockdown due to the coronavirus epidemic on Sunday, 29 March 2020, via a national broadcast to Nigerians. In his words, “I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State.”

It is now Day 2 of the 14-day lockdown and to put it mildly, this is a hard pill for Nigerians who live daily hand-to-mouth. About three quarters of Nigerians make a living in the informal economy. The construction site labourers, market stall traders, handymen and taxi drivers. For these people, life as they know it is about to become even harder than they have experienced in the past. How will Nigerians deal with the economic hardship and ripple effects that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown is causing? Unlike many countries in Europe and the United States, many of these individuals have no access to social grants to see them through this difficult period.

Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) are the bedrock of the Nigerian economy. The day before the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, many were seen scrambling to adjust in an attempt to reduce the unprecedented impact of the shutdown. Aderonke runs a poultry farm with her husband and two siblings. Her major clients were restaurants and supermarkets to whom she supplied crates of eggs. Restaurants have long stopped operations in Lagos and Abuja so demand dropped. The chickens did not get the memo and she was left with crates of unsold eggs. The day before the lockdown, she was forced to do an emergency clearance sale of the eggs at prices below her usual cost price. Her resigned response to why the eggs were so cheap was; “At least it is better than them going bad”

The psychological effects of being on a compulsory lockdown are real and evident. Screaming children, potential conflict between spouses, a house full of people who once spent a few hours in a day, are now together for 24 hours, 7 days a week for 14 days (assuming there is no extension). Nigerians have taken to social media, online forums and messaging platforms like WhatsApp to share their experience, staying at home and facing the lockdown. It is a mix of tales with people learning new skills in cohabitation, teaching children, cooking for families in the face of food shortages, understanding, communication and giving space.

For Elizabeth, a Project Manager in the FCT, she lives with her husband and sister. Her organisation granted its staff members a two-week work-from-home pass on 23 March 2020, a week before the lockdown order from President Muhammadu Buhari. She expressed her frustration with the experience, which she deemed “new and challenging”. “It is a whole new world compared to working in an office with colleagues all around”, she says.

More than anything, the overarching concern of many Nigerians is the uncertainty the lockdown is bringing. What if the lockdown lasts more than 2 weeks? What happens then? How would we know when it is safe to come out? It seems that the one fact keeping many Nigerians calm in this period is that food markets still remain open. At least, “hunger no go kee person”.

It is still a little too early to say definitely, but for some Nigerians, this may be a welcome break from everyday hustle and bustle. While we are concerned about the mental strain staying indoors will cause, would we also see a rise in productivity (for those who are able to work from home), family relations and a general reduction in work-stress related mental issues? Nigeria is not Europe, North America or Australia. We do not have access to constant power, water or Internet connectivity. What becomes of us after lockdown, or most importantly, after the COVID-19 pandemic?

In as much as the challenges are numerous, the most important thing is to weigh the long-term benefits and apply a positive mindset in order to make the best of this stay at home period. As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. The home stay is an effective way to ensure social distancing, buying the relevant agencies time to break the transmission of COVID-19. Remember, stay home, stay safe and take responsibility! We are one and have to be in this together.

*Olubunmi Oyebanji is the Programme Manager at Nigeria Health Watch


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