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Buhari’s lockdown extension over COVID-19 stirs controversy

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Many Nigerians have expressed mixed reactions over the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari during a national broadcast on Monday to extend the lockdown by 14 days to enable the country further contain the spread Coronavirus pandemic. While the majority of the respondents agree that the extension is a child of necessity and sacrifice that must be paid, they also appeal to the Federal Government and the 36 governors to earnestly put measures in place that would see the country out of the economic and social quagmire the lockdown will engender while also providing palliatives.

In his reaction, the Deputy National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Southwest zone, Dr. Eddy Olafeso said though it hurts, “it is a decision we must all support the government to achieve.” He appealed to Nigerians, especially politicians, not to politicise the issue of COVID-19 otherwise “we would all be at risk; this is going to teach our political leaders a great lesson to do what is needful and, at the same time, our electorate to ensure that the right people are voted into public offices. It has really exposed that Nigeria still has a long route to go.”
 
In another reaction, a retired Archbishop of Methodist Church, Ayo Ladigbolu, said the government took the decision to extend the lockdown in the best interest of Nigerians, adding, “Although the decision is abnormal, we are also in an abnormal situation and there is need for abnormal decision and determination to address it. This is a sacrifice we need to make now otherwise we would pay seriously for it considering what is going on in some advanced countries.”

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The cleric, however, urged the various security agencies to sit tight and stand up to the challenges of crime-fighting that may ensue.
 
Chairman, Board of Trustee of South-South Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Billy Harry, expressed concern that the economy would continue to suffer and dwindle as a result of the lockdown, because people would not go to work. He explained that those providing essential services like petroleum products and retail outlets’ owners would not be able to sell their products as expected. 

“In an actual number of growing the GDP, we will not,” Harry said. “It will continue to slide down. We urge the government to look at Small Medium Enterprises’ funding because most people are running out of cash. People are already calling each other to ask for as little as N2,000. It is really bad. Ordinarily, when people are working nobody will be asking for N1,000, N500. That shows where we are”.

Secretary-General, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF0, Dr. Alfred Mulade, observed that though the extension would cause further hardship as noted by President Buhari, Nigerians must be willing to comply with government and medical experts’ directives in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“One cannot but encourage everybody to comply so that this thing does not spread,” Mulade noted. “COVID-19 is spreading all over. You can see that the entire world is locked down. The impact is going to be much, but we are also happy, just as the President noted, the palliatives should be brought down to the masses so that people can benefit more. For now, the impact is not being felt. It should be more liberal so that people can have a means of cushioning the harsh effect of this lockdown.”

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A chieftain of APC, Mr. Fouad Oki said the extension did not come to him as a surprise, noting, “it was bound to happen since many Nigerians have refused to come to terms with the reality of COVID-19 and that’s part of the reasons many disrespected the first two weeks lockdown directives.”     
 
Oki expressed fears that the president would most likely announce another two weeks’ lockdown the second 14 days’ expiration, which would be the third phase “if we decided not to stay-at-home. And from the look of things, if the situation does not improve, I foresee a situation whereby Mr. President will quarantine Lagos, Abuja and Kano to stop the pandemic from pushing the country down.”
 
Oki said the first phase enabled the country to stop imported coronavirus and “we are now going to address community infections, which is more difficult and tedious.”
 
On the issue of rising crime wave, Oki enjoined Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to re-energise the activities of agencies like LASTMA, KAI and neighbourhood watch to assist the police in taming crime. 

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On Nigeria’s efforts to contain COVID-19 and the President’s extension of lock down, a former Commissioner for Lands in Cross River State and a chieftain of PDP, Mr. Etubom Bassey Ndem, said Nigeria should adopt a system of “Let’s Adapt and not Adopt”, noting, “Nigeria is making a mistake by the wholesale adoption of the policies announced by WHO rather than adapting those policies to fit our own peculiar environment and circumstances. 

“This is not to say the measures do not work. Among the elite, these measures, if stringently applied, will certainly reduce or stop the spread of the virus. But amongst the vast majority of our people, the measures are simply unworkable for various reasons”.

On the extension, Ndem said, “This measure is very effective, but it assumes that the economy is robust and there are safety nets and strategic reserves of food or cash that can be released to the vulnerable citizens. That is certainly not the case in Nigeria and our circumstance is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of our urban poor live on daily paid wages - hawking, street trading, and other petty and informal means of livelihood. Lock down/stay-at-home order of even one week spells doom for such persons and resistance, breakdown of law and order will occur very quickly as people are forced to choose between death by starvation or death by COVID-19. This has already started taking place in some localities.  
 
“It is clear therefore that the recommended protocols work in other countries and may work with the elite in Nigeria, but are unworkable and shall attract very high non-compliance if applied to the majority of our citizens. 

“But the good news is that Nigerians have survived various pandemics in the past and quarantine and other methods are not new to us… For the urban dwellers, we need to shift our focus away from the death toll and work to increase the already high survival and recovery rates for COVID-19.”

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Edem appealed to Nigerians to heed the lockdown directives so that economic activities could quickly come alive again.

While calling on the government not to neglect the private sector in the palliative programme following two weeks’ lockdown extension, Action Democratic Party (ADP) urged President Buhari to quickly look at increasing security threats in Ogun, Lagos and other cities.
 
In a statement the National Publicity Secretary, Mr Adelaja Adeoye, signed, the party urged President Buhari not to neglect the private sector, which has a larger number of employees in their palliative giving. The party noted that it was commendable that Mr. President highlighted the efforts of the government so far. It, however, noted that critical sectors of the economy must not be forgotten in the provision of palliatives.

“We must prepare not only to contain the Coronavirus but also consider the effect of the lockdown on the employers of labour and their employees,” Adeoye stated. “Some of them might resort into down-sizing after the pandemic is over, because of how bad they may have been affected. To avoid massive job cuts, government at both federal and state levels should work out some relief packages for these employers, in the form of supports”.

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Adeoye stressed further that this is the time taxpaying employers needed governments’ support the most, as there is a projection that the economy might plunge, which would affect many of them, especially entrepreneurs and small scale businesses.  ADP also appreciated Buhari for increasing the social benefits from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million, but added that there must be transparency and accountability in the process of making these funds available to the beneficiaries, so that the real vulnerable Nigerians would benefit so the palliatives would not be shared amongst politicians and their followers only.

The party, however, called the attention of President Buhari, Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and Prince Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State to another worrisome development, where citizens now sleep with one eye closed at night due to the increasing rate of gang robberies, attacks and all forms of criminality under the guise of lockdown.

According to Adeoye, “We noticed that Mr. President did not mention the rising cases of attacks against Nigerians during this lockdown, specifically in Lagos and Ogun States, while making his nationwide broadcast on Monday evening. It is a very serious matter. Many residents have been calling for help on social media while many of the videos online are very disturbing, as these assailants invade their neighborhoods. 

“We are of the opinion that security forces should not only enforce the stay-at-home order but must respond swiftly to any security threat experienced by all Nigerians at this time.”

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Also reacting, Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike said: “Nigerians have since lost faith and confidence in the government of President Muhammad Buhari such that they are no longer interested in his policies and programmes. How can a government that is sensitive to the yearnings, hardship, suffering and cries of lamentations by the citizens, who have been imprisoned for two weeks, without attention by the government, extend these sufferings, hardships and lamentations without addressing what the citizens are facing?

“The main objective of the government is to cater for the welfare and security of the people that it governs. When a government fails in these core mandates, such a government is dead in the minds of the people and has therefore lost the confidence of the people. It rules by coercive means and not the trust of the people.

“In some countries of the world, their governments are providing credible and verifiable palliatives for their citizens that can be sincerely monitored to ensure that every citizen benefits from the palliatives. It is not like here where agents of the government, who are in charge of the process, see the palliatives as goldmines for their families, friends, relations and associates, and not for the people. 

“When Mr. President addressed Nigerians, we expected that he would announce credible palliatives or measures to enable the people to feed their families for the next two weeks and cause state and local governments to follow suit. We expected that the president will address the serious issue of a gross allegation of diversion of goods and foodstuffs donated by sympathetic institutions and individuals and the embezzlement of funds donated by the same sources and announce sanctions for those who allegedly committed these crimes or set up of a panel or commission of enquiry into the allegations peopled by honest and sincere Nigerians.

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“He did not talk about the plight of Nigerian businessmen and women who are locked down in China among other national issues.

“CLO expected Mr. President to react to the confessions of his Secretary to the Government, Mr. Boss Mustapha, about the hopeless state of our health sector which is a true reflection of the state of the entire government systems in Nigeria. Who is even sure that the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria is not a concoction meant to plunder the country further and suffer us? Otherwise, how credible has been this process of investigating and tagging people victims of coronavirus infection?”

SECOND Republic lawmaker and elder statesman, Junaid Muhammed, has asked the government to provide justification for the extension of the lockdown. While reacting via telephone with The Guardian to Buhari’s extension broadcast, Mohammed said, “There must be a rational reason coming from the medical field not just to announce the extension secondly. As the COVID-19 confronts the country now, what do you do after you announced the lockdown, because in Nigeria today, there are people who live from hand to mouth. 

“When there is going to be some kind of semi-permanent lockdown, what are they going to tell their families and how are they going to feed themselves? Clearly, the social interventions have not worked and it is not going to work; there is already a crisis and there is a different opinion within the government itself. I am concerned not by the lockdown, but the economic consequences as the handouts are being pocketed by some people.

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“So as people are concerned, there must be serious steps to ensure that the resources that are going to be thrown into the social intervention programme must be clearly stated and we must know who and who is going to be responsible. We must know the amount and we must know the criteria with which people are going to benefit from this, because previous ones by this government failed woefully and, in the end, the implementing authority must be in the office of the vice president, who benefited and up till today, we don’t know how much was disbursed and what were the bases.

“The real poor in many parts of the country did not benefit. Telling Nigerians lies does not help and can never help. As far as I am concerned, lockdown per say cannot stamp out the virus and it is very unlikely to overcome it.” 

Also speaking in the same vein via telephone, Senator Dino Melaye said the government must extend its focus and attention beyond the ‘poorest of the poor’ to virtually everyone in need.

“There is a need for government to get funding to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMES) that have their businesses shut down with five to 20 people in their employ,” he said. “They are not earning any revenue and still have their fixed costs going and can’t pay or support their staff. They are now thinking of laying off some staff and that will exacerbate the dire economic situation post lockdown.

“We don’t need any more unemployed people where the unemployment rate is already at 30 per cent. It is time for the federal government to show that it cares and is passionate about the poor and middle class.”

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He said he supported the extension based on his advocacy for the poor and vulnerable in the society during the lockdown. 

In another reaction, a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSO) working to support government’s anti-corruption efforts with the backing of MacArthur Foundation has pledged to support the federal government and the 36 states in the ongoing efforts to contain the spread of Coronavirus that has currently forced lockdown on several nations.
 
The coalition, which comprises of Actionaid International, Nigeria, Action Health Incorporated (AHI), Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN), Connecting Gender for Development (COGEN), Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) and others while applauding the steps governments at different levels have taken so far in terms of technical, financial and social responses, noted that the initial sum of N15 billion donated to support the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic is a significant contribution that puts Nigeria on the map of countries that are giving the pandemic the serious attention it deserves.
 
In a statement jointly released yesterday, the group said it was important to put in place accountability structures and measures that would ensure that the full value of the investment was realized.

It said, “It is with this background that we call on the federal government, under President Muhammadu Buhari, and all the state governors, their cabinet members and the entire government architecture to re-commit themselves to the fight against corruption even as we battle the Coronavirus pandemic.” 

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The group expressed readiness to render support through the various structures/mechanisms being put in place by the respective governments, work with the different community-based groups and individuals to complement the efforts of government by monitoring the proposed federal government’s distribution of food packages to households which have children in public schools and are current beneficiaries of HGSFP in their various communities.  

The group promised to share the findings of its involvement in the on-going exercise at different levels for learning and decision-making purposes. It said government at different levels should consider its support as an action for the common good of the Nigerian people.
 
Other groups in the coalition include Girl Child Concern (GCC), Nigerian Popular Theatre Alliance (NPTA), The Education Partnership Centre and (TEP CENTRE) and Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON).
 
Also, a Southwest socioeconomic group, Yoruba Ronu, said though the lockdown extension was necessary, the road to Nigeria’s economic recovery would be tortuous thought achievable.

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President Yoruba Ronu, Mr. Akin Malaolu, said, “Now that Nigerians and Nigeria are in the middle of a pandemic, then questions that would be asked due to COVID-19 consequences on our economy would arise, hence the answers must begin to interest every Nigerian now that our reliance on the oil though not total. The energy our government applied on redirection of our economy between 2015 and 2019 is no longer to be noticed.

“It is obvious for all leaders to see and measure the damage done by COVID-19 to advanced countries of the world. We must avoid begging for aids, but our focus should be on trade mostly. Or else we may be snubbed. We are hereby offering ways out of the woods.”
 
He added that the revision of budget 2020 is necessary and the focus should be productivity and developmental in character. The revival of our rail transport must continue in earnest, because of its capacity to move heavy and bulky goods from one place to another. Mining sector must not be neglected but encouraged due to its advantages for employment and to its multiplier effects.
 
According to Malaolu, “On the agricultural sector, our productive population should be encouraged to take to farming while the animal rearing sector must be made to settle under ranching arrangement for good rewards in meat and milk.
 
“However, government must recognise the strong presence of the informal sector and everything must be done by governments to help improve on the quality of the health sectors, good roads and electricity. It is the value we place on our land that can give value to our self-efforts and to our currency.

“Finally, we urge Nigerians to trust their governments during these bad times, so that focus on navigating us out  of turbulence is achieved with comforting speed.”

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