Time to end the lockdown in Nigeria
Governments across the country should end COVID-19 lockdown today, not tomorrow. Owing to the sudden halt in commercial activities, which has exacerbated the economic downturn in Nigeria, private organisations are laying off their workers. Some companies are paying their staffs 50 per cent or 25 per cent of their salaries. Some firms are not paying at all – they are not making money; they are no longer in business! If private primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions are to remain closed, then governments across the federation must bail them out financially, as they do not depend on government subvention or grants in order to pay their workers. They generate their own income through the services they offer to the public. For now, the only Nigerians whose jobs and emoluments are secure are public sector workers, who are not up to five per cent of the country’s population.
The present situation, occasioned by COVID-19 lockdown, can degenerate to social anomie. Worst hit are the private educational institutions. They can only pay salaries from school fees. For months now, the children are not in school across the federation as a result of COVID-19 lockdown. In the absence of bailouts from the central and state governments, the private academies are in dire financial straits. Any further delay in removing completely the lockdown may spell doom for the country. At the moment, the unemployment situation has skyrocketed. Prices of goods have shot up astronomically as a result of economic paralysis occasioned by the lockdown. An economy already on life support is now in the throes of complete annihilation as inter-state movements are still banned.
In my earlier piece, “Of Lockdowns and Social Inequalities”, I pointed out the injustice of using the resources that belonged to all to cater for a few: “There are ten hungry and famished homes in a street as a result of the lockdown. Because of limited resources, you give to one home while nine other homes watch with dismay… You have one million vulnerable citizens but governments are only able to provide food palliatives to twenty thousand! But how do the remaining nine hundred and eighty thousand citizens react to this intervention, when it is very clear that the resources that went to only twenty thousand people belong to all? This situation rankles. It breeds indignation and social resentment. The present condition has led to the inescapable conclusion that Nigeria still appears to operate within Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, the state of self-preservation, the survival of the fittest! Under this condition, law and justice are absent. Crimes are inevitable. The life of man is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short!’” The article addressed the lot of the people in the informal sector, who constitute 80 per cent of the working population in Nigeria. Economically, they’ve been rendered hors de combat by the lockdown across the country since their existence depends on daily wages.
While these 80 per cent of the working population still reel under the yoke of the intolerable conditions imposed by the lockdown, the continued lockdown has further threatened the livelihoods of a substantial number of the workers in the formal sector – who work for private organisations. Currently, there is a dangerous surge in crime. States are battling with rise in teenage pregnancies, cases of rape with murder as a result of closure of schools. Idle hands work for the devil! As livelihoods of citizens are wiped off, the rate of suicide as a result of frustrations will increase. We appreciate the efforts of governments across the federation to protect Nigerians from the infectious disease. Now is the time to end the lockdown and restriction of movement of citizens across the country. We cannot kill a million in order to protect a ten. Currently, more Nigerians are dying from other diseases than COVID-19. We sympathize with those who lost their loved ones to the pandemic. Our hearts are with them.
In one state alone, the infant mortality in this year is higher than the number of citizens the nation has lost to COVID-19. In another state, the maternal mortality is higher than the total number of compatriots that have succumbed to the pandemic. Malaria still continues to exact more tolls on the lives of compatriots than coronavirus. Chances are more Nigerians have lost their lives as a result of fear of COVID-19 than the number that actually succumbed to the dreaded contagion. There are lamentable tales of preventable deaths of citizens just because the health workers in the hospitals refused to attend to them for fear of COVID-19 infection. These people did not fall sick because of an attack of coronavirus. Nigerians had been falling sick before the advent of COVID-19, how can we then conclude that all those that have health issues during the lockdown must have been infected with coronavirus? The families of those Nigerians that lost their lives as a result of being neglected by health officials for fear of coronavirus infection have not died nor tested positive to the disease months after their loved ones had been buried! We cannot continue to waste lives in this manner. Nonetheless, we have to admit that the fear of health providers equally has a foundation.
As experts have predicted, coronavirus is not about to disappear even if we lock down Nigeria for the rest of the year. A degeneration of the social anomie is inevitable if the lockdown with the inter-state travel restrictions is not totally removed. It’s time to end the hysteria about coronavirus. With the high rate of disregard of Nigerians for safety regulations such as social distancing and use of face masks, especially in markets, bus stops and bank premises, millions of Nigerians should have succumbed to the deadly disease! Could it be that the survival instincts of Nigerians are underrated? This is not to suggest the infectious disease is not as deadly as assumed. The efforts of governments across the country are appreciated. But now is the time for the nation to move on with life. The lockdown is not sustainable.
Normal life should return. Schools should reopen while managements should ensure compliance with social distancing and use of face masks. Worship centres should reopen with adherence to safety regulations. It’s time the lockdown is terminated in Nigeria.
Opeyemi, a media practitioner and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.
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