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COVID-19: Angst, despair, hope…As more states lockdown

By Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond, Adetayo Adeowo, Onyinye Ezeilo (Lagos), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Michael Egbejule (Benin City), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti), Ayoyinka Jegede (Uyo), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure) and Anthony Otaru (Abuja)
04 April 2020   |   4:20 am
“My family will die of hunger if I adhere to this lockdown. As at when I left home around 12noon, my wife and five children have not had breakfast. The dinner we had on Tuesday night was the last meal from the money I made on Monday.

Security operatives enforcing the stay at home order in Osun State. PHOTO: NAJEEM RAHEEM

“My family will die of hunger if I adhere to this lockdown. As at when I left home around 12noon, my wife and five children have not had breakfast. The dinner we had on Tuesday night was the last meal from the money I made on Monday. The lockdown met me at a very wrong time because I have no dime home and abroad. My wife has been very ill for the past one year and I have been the only breadwinner of my family. I don’t understand Nigeria government; you mandate people to stay home in the name of a supposed deadly virus without provision for poor and vulnerable citizens.”

With these words, Stanley Dike, a resident of Ilamoshe in Oshodi-Isolo Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos State lamented the hardship his family was passing through as a result of the lockdown imposed on residents of the state as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The Guardian met Dike, a commercial motorcyclist, last Wednesday at Canoe bus stop in the area where he was waiting for passengers to convey to their respective destinations. Asked why he was disobeying the government’s directive, he angrily lamented hunger and frustration arising from the lockdown. The 45-year-old said the Lagos State government was giving out relief materials in the form of foodstuffs but lamented that nothing had got to his family. He noted that although some rich people within his area had been donating food items to poor families, the number they could reach was very minimal as their resources was limited.

“I have queued in two of such individual relief centres since Tuesday but the food finished before it got to my turn. So, I have no choice than to hit the road to source for some quick cash in order to put food on the table because if I don’t, my family will be in serious hunger crisis,” he fumed.

Dike is just one of many millions of Nigerians who are not finding life easy with the lockdown which has become order of the day in most states. Mrs. Kachi Obinna was found on her way back home from a relief materials centre funded by the Chief Executive Officer of ‘Seed of Messiah College’ on Alhaji Ganiu Street, Ilamoshe, Okeafa, Lagos. She had about five kilogrammes of garri and a tuber of yam. According to her, getting the two food items was a tug of war due to the large crowd that showed up.

“I had to smuggle my way to the front. You know garri is now an essential commodity as the greedy sellers now sell the smallest paint bucket of garri that used to cost N350 for N1,500. I am still marveled at the malice at which these people inflated the price of garri. We make garri here in Nigeria; it’s not imported. So it is obvious that Nigerians are their own enemies. People take advantage of crisis situations to perpetrate wickedness. If you ask me, the people who inflated the prices of food items and other items are more deadly than coronavirus and government should first of all find a way to quarantine them,” she said.

The Guardian was confronted with the sight of a large crowd in the premises of Isolo Local Council Development Area (LCDA) when it visited the place. The people were waiting to collect the foodstuffs the Lagos State government pledged to distribute to indigent residents to cushion the effect of the lockdown.

One of the officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity said they were yet to receive anything from the state government, adding that the moment they receive any, “we would begin to disburse them immediately.”

“Why would we keep it? As I am talking to you now, we have not seen anything, neither foodstuff nor money has reached us and I don’t know why they (pointing to the people waiting outside) are insisting that they are here to collect food. Look around for yourself. Can you see anything resembling food here?” he asked.

However, a woman who refused to give her name claimed that the foodstuffs had reached the officials but it was promptly shared amongst them. When pressed on how she knew that the officials received and shared the relief items, she said: “You press people should dig deep and find out what happened to the materials. Every other areas have received theirs, only our own ‘entered voicemail’ as usual.”

Other residents that spoke claimed that the two-week lockdown was not feasible as they were suffering. A trader at Isolo market who gave her name as Bilikis Taiwo lamented that things were becoming very hard for her, saying she preferred to treat coronavirus than die of hunger at home.

“They said we shouldn’t open shop because of coronavirus and we should sit at home, what are we going to eat at home? The coronavirus they are talking about, we did not see it but we are seeing hunger and suffering. The government refused to give us money or food here, how do they expect us to cope? They said Lagos State government opened markets for us to buy things. First, where is the money to buy anything? Second, their nearest market is at Iyana Ejigbo; how will I get there from here without public transport? They didn’t plan this thing very well before saying we should sit at home and if they continue like this, by next week, people may riot,” she declared.

A resident in Mushin area of the state, who identified himself as Mr. Adedeji, said: “Government wants us to stay at home for the next 14 days without any proper arrangements as if we are robots. They claim to have released funds to take care of us but we haven’t gotten anything. This is a very delicate time for most families.

“I know of people who are currently starving because of this lockdown. It would have been a different scenario if they were given the chance to go out and source for their daily bread as the government has no plans for them. I don’t believe there is coronavirus in this country. I believe the government is just trying to scare us. I want to see the patients, and I want the government to show us the bodies of the dead victims. I only hear of coronavirus but I have not seen any of the victims, even in the news. Other countries show us the victims but Nigeria hasn’t. I find it difficult to believe there is coronavirus in this country. The main reason for this lockdown is best known to those who initiated it.”

For Rukayat Olaitan, a resident of Ilasamaja and a fashion designer, the lockdown has made her lose many of her customers. She said: “This lockdown has affected me in such a way that most of the jobs I normally get has stopped; even the ones with me I couldn’t deliver them. I’m now very broke. Talking about the foodstuffs promised by the government, we did not receive any foodstuff; most people can testify to it. I saw some people sharing food but we were told the foodstuff is for widows and the people they gave were not up to five. Meanwhile, the lockdown obviously affected everybody and not only widows.”

Outside Lagos, which is seen as the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, it is also tales of allegation, frustration and despair with little rays of hope.

In Imo State, even though there is no confirmed case of COVID-19 yet, Governor Hope Uzodinma ordered a lockdown of the state, which commenced last Monday. All the markets, shops and motor parks have been closed. Civil and public servants were told to stop work and stay at home. Movements were also stopped while all the residents except those in essential services (health workers, food sellers, pharmacies, media workers, security operatives) were exempted. All borders were also closed. Security operatives are enforcing the order. Prices of foodstuffs and others commodities have gone high by about 100 per cent.

Due to the effect of the lockdown on the people, Ihiagwa and Ndidi communities in the state announced plans to float a food bank through their Town Management Committee. The administrative chairman, Emeka Udopkoro, said indigent persons and the vulnerable would benefit from the food bank.

As at the time of filing this report, the state government was yet to unfold any palliative measure to cushion the effect of the lockdown. Arising from the upsurge in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 from two to four in Edo State, the Commissioner for Health, Patrick Okundia, last Thursday, disclosed that the government might consider a total lockdown of the state.
Okundia disclosed this yesterday while speaking with journalists during the facility tour of the 12-bed isolation centre situated at the Stella Obasanjo Hospital in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

“What Edo has currently is partial lockdown. Edo State is bordered by several states. If Anambra and Delta states put a lockdown on their borders, they have also blocked Edo State border.

“So, if the other states blocked their borders, we are already protected. But when it becomes absolutely necessary, we may take that decision for a complete lockdown.”

So, residents have not started to feel the effect of the lockdown as such. But the Edo Development and Property Agency (EDPA) has commenced the distribution of food and other household items to elderly and vulnerable persons in the state to ameliorate the economic effects of the pandemic.

Executive Chairman of EDPA, Isoken Omo, who assured that the gesture would be extended to other parts of the state, said the distribution of the items became necessary as most vulnerable persons could no longer afford to feed themselves.

In Abia State where a two-week lockdown has been imposed by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu even though there was no confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state as at Thursday night, the government has set up a ‘Food Security Team with the mandate to source foodstuffs and work out the modalities to distribute them to people that would critically require them within the period.

Residents, however, lamented the hike in the prices of foodstuffs as a result of the lockdown. They urged the state to emulate the payment of cash palliatives as being done by the Federal Government, take responsibility for providing them with face masks and hand sanitisers, and also designate temporary markets to operate for specific hours daily.

With two confirmed cases in Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for 14 days with effect from Monday, March 30. The government announced some palliative measures especially for the high risk and vulnerable citizens. But residents, particularly those residing in Ado Ekiti, were getting agitated by the lockdown as at last Thursday. For instance, Mr Jimoh Balogun, a bricklayer, said it was unfair to stop him from going to work without giving him any form of assistance.

On her part, Mrs Folasade Alonge, a federal civil servant in one of the tertiary institutions in the state, lamented that she had not been paid her March salary while her husband was self-employed. She said her family was facing untold hardship occasioned by the lockdown.

Following the confirmation of five cases of coronavirus in Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel has also announced cessation of movements and prohibition of all events for 14 days in the state. So far, residents have been complying with the directive without much ado.

In Plateau State, there have been eight suspected cases of the disease. The people involved only self-isolated for a period of 14 days each. Four of them who have completed their self-isolation were recently tested and they all came out negative. Meanwhile, the state government through the Coordinating Secretary, Plateau State COVID-19 Task Force, who doubles also as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Danladi Abok Atu, shut all entry and exit routes to the state with effect from 6.00am last Thursday. However, most people complained that the government should have announced its plans to cushion the suffering they would face as a result of the action.

Also Ebonyi State has not recorded any case of coronavirus. All the eight suspected cases tested negative but the state government has come up with several measures to checkmate the outbreak, which is tantamount to a lockdown.

Enugu State began what seemed like a lockdown last Monday after two cases of coronavirus (covid-19) were confirmed in the state.Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi announced that markets in the state would remain under lock and key as much as the development lasted, adding that all land borders into the state would remain closed throughout the period. He added however that hospital, food sellers, drug dealers, water corporation staff and fire servicemen, among other essential service personnel, were exempted.

The government only paid March salaries to civil servants but didn’t provide any palliatives to cushion the effects of measures, especially on residents who would remain at home after their businesses would have closed. Residents said the stay at home has not been a good experience, especially going by lack of electricity supply and lack of what their families would eat. Residents of Enugu have been in darkness since three days ago following a heavy rain that destroyed installations of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC).

Mr Vincent Eze, a dealer on books at Ogbete main market, Enugu, told The Guardian yesterday that it had not been a good experience, stressing that the four days already spent was like “hell for them.”

“My brother, it has not been an easy thing. One thing is that the family must eat. As a father of six, you will not watch your children go hungry. Even if I don’t eat three square meals, they must eat. So the challenge is how to feed the family.

“I woke up yesterday and went to a friend’s house to play judo. Later, we went to a joint behind his house to drink. Is it how I am going to continue to live? The whole thing does not make sense to me because, there are bills to pay and whether I go to my shop or not, these bills must be paid,” he stated.

Another resident, Okechukwu Ugwu, a commercial tricycle operator, said: “I don’t spend money unless it is on food. I have asked God to protect my family this period so that we don’t use the little we have on drugs. I want to tell you that I am feeling the pains, despite coming out daily to look for money. I wonder how those whose businesses have been shut in the last four days are doing. It is not the best for us at the moment.”

In the meantime, Ondo State remains the only state with zero case of COVID-19 in the Southwest geo-political. But the state government is making frantic measures to forestall an outbreak. Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has shut down markets, banned all social and religious gatherings and closed all borders to the state. To cushion the effect of the measures, the governor set up the State Palliatives Committee last Thursday.

Among other responsibilities, the nine-man committee is to work out modalities as well as mobilise human and material resources to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the areas of food supply and access to same. The committee has not unveiled its plans as at the time of filing this report, thereby forcing residents to lament the supposedly adverse effects the measures would inflict on them.

“The lockdown has grossly affected our economic wellbeing. Almost all the states have ordered closure of markets, shops, schools etc. to contain the spread of the virus, which is a welcome development. 

“But the closure without provision of relief materials and preventive materials has become another problem.  Petty traders, artisans, farmers and unemployed including the aged, women, youths and children are languishing in starvation.  This situation has further worsened their pitiable conditions as many are now sick,” said Mr. Uche Erondu Uche, a trader in Akure metropolis.

Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail the N3.5 trillion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s stimulus package to help fight the dreaded Corona Virus pandemic in Nigeria.

A renowned economist and President, National Association of Nigeria Traders (NANTS), Ken Ukaoha called on government to unveil more palliative measures that would complement CBN’s efforts.He equally called on the apex bank to shed more light on the general principles of the palliatives and its disbursement.
Ukaoha said: “While calling and waiting on the CBN to shed more light on the general principles of the palliatives, NANTS undertakes to collaborate with the CBN to carry out critical information dissemination among traders and Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) operators, and conduct trainings particularly on the palliatives and their accessibility process and criteria. Specifically, we are impressed with the non-collateralisation of some aspects of the disbursement meant for traders and other SMEs members. NANTS further calls on the CBN to provide effective monitoring of the planned loans and incentives so that the facility windows do not go the way of previous well-intended financial instruments.”
He said such window must strictly target the entrepreneurs operating within the poverty bracket, and with poverty reduction and sustainable development at the core of their objectives.

“NANTS equally calls on all commercial banks to awake to their pro-development calling and see these initiatives as palliatives that should be implemented with the spirit of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), with the view to rebuilding and strengthening the economy. The banks that are targeted to be used as disbursement tracks should ensure that all bulwarks that hinder access by genuine applicants are clearly avoided and removed. More so, the process, the access and the approval of applications must be made more transparent and devoid of consideration of political, religious or social affiliations. This is the only way genuine trust can be built by recipients,” Ukaoha added.
According to him, NANTS strongly advise that the financial window should target raising domestic production by increasing the band for actors, particularly in the local agricultural commodities sector, so as to reduce unnecessary food import bills, boost and or cushion local raw materials production; and especially as a means of dealing with and addressing the ‘coronavirus laden economy’. He stressed that women entrepreneurs should also be given serious attention and provided unhindered access to the funds.
Also speaking, a development economist and retired Director in the Ministry of Transportation, Kelvin Aregbesola said the CBN intervention was not enough because it fails to capture artisans who get paid after every day jobs.

Aregbesola said: “For me, government at all levels, private companies and even rich individuals are expected to copy from the advanced world to ensures that economic lockdown will not stop the living standard of the people, should not stop the education of their children. That is why there is need for a holistic approach where both governments and the private sectors put in place a financial pull not only to provide food for the people who have been denied from going to work but also provide for the education needs of the common man.”

On his part, Prof. Uche Joe Uwaleke of the Department of Banking and Finance, Faculty of Administration, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, appreciated the CBN for rising up to the challenge.

Uwaleke said: “The CBN has risen to the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by the sharp drop in crude oil price due in part to the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. As you may be aware, the pandemic has resulted in disruptions in air travel and global supply chains. This is having negative impact on households and businesses.”

He further explained: “In order to ameliorate this and prevent the economy from going into a recession, the CBN, in conjunction with the Bankers Committee, announced a stimulus package amounting to N3.5 trillion. This includes N50 billion to be disbursed through NIRSAL Microfinance bank, N1trillion for SMEs including airlines and N100 billion for the pharmaceutical industry.”Uwaleke noted that these interventions would go a long way in cushioning the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the economy if well implemented.

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