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#PayUsViaBVN trends in Nigeria as lockdown hardship bites harder

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As parts of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, enter the third week of coronavirus lockdown, the people are demanding that the government should hand out cash to ease off hunger.

The International Monetary Fund said in 2017 that the informal sector was responsible for about 65% of the country’s GDP. The bulk of the people who make up the sector depend on daily earnings to make ends meet.

The country’s economy has been hanging by a thread for the past two weeks as the country’s commercial and political centres – Lagos and Abuja respectively – as well as Lagos’s neighbour Ogun shut down to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Many other Nigerian states have similar restrictions on movements of people and business operations in place even before President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun on March 29.

The additional two weeks extension of the lockdown in the three locations was announced by President Buhari on Monday evening. The announcement was immediately greeted with misgivings and complaints by the people the president wanted to protect.

“The cessation of movement, physical distancing measures and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus,” Buhari said in a national broadcast on Monday.

He said by carrying out “extensive testing and contact tracing” and sustaining other measures already in place, “we can take control and limit the spread of the disease.”

But a cross-section of Nigerians said staying indoors without food and money may do more damage to the government’s bid.

“You have about 38.5 million people on the BVN already,” said Segun Sowunmi, who was the spokesman for the People’s Democratic Party’s Campaign Committee in the last general elections. “You can look at their bank balances and get the idea of those who cannot sustain themselves in the lockdown and put something in there directly.”

BVN, the acronym for Bank Verification Number, is an identification system that gives each customer a unique universal identity in all commercial banks in Nigeria.

Already, Lagos State is using its Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA) number to identify those who can benefit from its stimulus food package.

Although Buhari said during the broadcast that the national social register will be expanded to more than three million households, as claims of nepotism and warped implementation continue to trail the social register, many believe the government can do more good by putting cash directly into the bank accounts of those who need them.

A banker, however, said using BVN will not solve the problem entirely. Ibrahim Akinola said cash transfers to the vulnerable via BVN will be disadvantageous to the unbanked, who will also need government’s cash handout.

As at 10:55 am on Tuesday, more than 50,000 tweets with the hashtag #PayUsViaBVN have been posted.

“We are tired of randomly trying out our luck under giveaway posts because the economy has been crippled due to the lockdown,” said Yemi Hazan, who tweets from @Yemihazan. “14 more long days pay attention to our welfare!”

More tweets are below:



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