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Lockdown and emerging traffic in Lagos 

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The return of traffic in some parts of Lagos and major highways despite the lockdown order on the city as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is worrisome and unfortunate in the extreme. It shows clearly that we are not serious and law-abiding even on life-threatening matters. Specifically, on Wednesday this week, traffic surfaced on the Third Mainland Bridge. That was the day Nigeria recorded 362 cases and 11 deaths across the country.

But that really is a simplistic way of explaining away a serious issue that borders on governance. Should Nigerians be described as recalcitrant and undisciplined? The extent to which Nigerians trust and believe their leaders is a point at this issue. Yet this is not a political matter. It is a public health issue. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic is like heaven falling, which no one can escape. It doesn’t respect any class or status. It is making even the most powerful nations on earth to be trembling. What is more, these wealthy nations that boast of their hi-tech powers are now beginning to observe COVID-19 basic rules to prevent transmission of the deadly virus that has claimed about 130, 000 lives and affected more than two million people worldwide.   

It is surprising that barely seven days into the first 14-day stay-at-home order by the Federal Government and enforced by the Lagos State Government, traffic snarls resurfaced in some parts of the state as sizeable number of residents seem to have begun to flout the directive.

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Reports from different parts of the commercial capital of West Africa have shown that most residents are always on the roads walking, driving or having group fitness exercises, thereby making mockery of the social distancing policy and restriction order. This is curious and unhealthy.

In the Lagos Island axis, for instance, there have been pockets of traffic on the Lekki-Epe expressway. The traffic in Lekki reportedly stretched and lasted for a long time as some motorists who tried to cut corners drove against traffic when this trend emerged the other day. 

The traffic in Lagos has been irritating especially to persons who are on essential services and are being unduly held up on the roads for hours.

In an attempt to enforce the law, police operatives who have also been reported to be collecting bribes for illegal passage, are now on routine monitoring to arrest some disobedient motorists. Early monitoring reportedly took the police to Maryland, Ojota, Ogudu, Agboyi-Ketu, Alapere, Mile 12, where they made arrests and impounded vehicles. Over 500 vehicles were impounded before the expiration of the first order.

There are some critical matters arising from the blatant flouting of the restriction order. Why do citizens disobey order in a city that is as populated as the New York City in the United States where most deaths have been recorded since the scourge began? Some legal practitioners have even argued on whether government has the power or authority to impose the order thereby restricting freedom of movement, which is against the constitution. But this is not a constitutional issue. It is a doctrine of necessity to save lives. 

To start with, it is not just enough to order people to stay at home without a complementary plan to meet their needs. The order came without notice and so people were unprepared. Once people’s basic needs are not met while staying at home, it would be difficult to obey the order.  

Some ad-hoc attempts are being made to give people support by way of providing food rations but the palliatives are being organised in a chaotic and unfair manner. Besides, the gesture has been a drop in the ocean. Since there is no database to guide the process, it is corruptible.  The relief package has not been properly organised. And no state is expressing satisfaction about relief package, let alone Lagos that has been so overstretched. 

Besides, sharing loaves of bread with some items to families makes a mockery of social cushioning in crisis time. Most families are not getting anything at all. This is happening even as the prices of basic food items have skyrocketed. Many poor families have no money to buy food. There are issues that cannot be ignored. These issues are what leaders face all over the world: how to take care of the vulnerable ones at this time. 

Ordinarily, the law should rule. Order must be obeyed. One must obey before complaining. But that is in normal times. Unfortunately, we are in unusual critical times when people cannot move out of their homes to look for food.

There are millions of Nigerians who depend on daily income for survival. How do they stay and obey the stay-at-home order? A hungry man is an angry man, so goes the saying. The dire straits that many people face can even spark off riots if the hunger is not ameliorated, in this regard. There is no doubt that most people are becoming desperate and may decide to dare the authorities. There are reports of robberies in parts of Lagos and Ogun states already. This is not the best of times. This must be acknowledged.

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As things stand, government must show willingness to make people obey by way of providing massive support or palliatives to the people, especially the poorest of the poor. 

When a person can’t go out to earn money that sustains him and his family, and there is no support coming, there is a problem. Is it to stay at home and die? Already, there are reports of desperation for food already. The situation may get worse.

Desperate times require desperate measures. While it is a fact that government can’t satisfy everyone, government should not give the impression that it is weak and unable to manage the ugly situation including the one that has triggered traffic amid lockdown in Lagos. 

All told, this is a time for a deep reflection on the state of the nation. It is not a time for blame game. It is a time to focus on action that can assist us to stay alive. This time calls for discipline from every citizen as government does everything within its power to bring the situation to normal. Meanwhile, there should be continued civic education on the need to stay safe, especially by our local leaders as we noted yesterday. Besides, leaders of faith-based organisations, and sundry groups of people should reach out to their people at this time too, especially about the need to stay safe even as we scramble for food. 

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