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COVID-19 lockdown: Hunger obeys no order, say Nigerians defying stay-at-home directive

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Commuters besiege a private vehicle in their bid to get to their destinations, following absence of buses on the road, a result of the lockdown order in Lagos State. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI


The doggedness of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Presidential Task Force for the Control of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the state governments in sensitising Nigerians about the novel virus presently ravaging the world has paid off handsomely. Employing the various channels of communication open to them, they have taken the message of Coronavirus and how to avoid contracting it to the nooks and crannies of the country. Today, even little children know there is a killer disease in town. And with 981 confirmed cases, 197 recoveries and 31 deaths, as at 2:00pm yesterday, Nigerians know that it is a disease to be feared. The global statistics of 2,733,503 confirmed cases, 749,000 recoveries and 192,000 deaths is even scary.

But some Nigerians live as if everything is alright. They care less about the precarious situation of the country, nay the world, and flagrantly defy the government’s directive to citizens to stay in their homes as part of the aggressive measures advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to control the spread of the pandemic. But they have a reason for doing so.

“I am close to leaving you for another man since you cannot take care of our only child and me. You are not the only man who no longer goes to work, but you seem like the only man who cannot sustain his family. I had to buy noodles on debt from a nearby food store so our child could eat last night.”

That was an open threat from a housewife to her husband to the consternation of their neighbours in a compound at Isolo area of Lagos State last Wednesday. Her husband kept mute throughout the embarrassing threat cum lamentation by his wife. But next day, he took to the road despite the lockdown to make ends meet for his family.

Later in a chat with The Guardian, the middle-aged man, who preferred anonymity, explained: “I have spent all my savings to sustain my family. As it is now, if I don’t go out there to source for money, my family will not survive each day. The company I work for is actually closed and we are not paid for being at home. So, I drive my brother’s car out to Lekki area everyday to do menial jobs for people just to get daily income for food and other day-to-day needs.”

He further explained that the family had just relocated to the two-room apartment and had barely spent a week before the lockdown began.
 “I spent most of my savings on the new rent and had just a little left. So lockdown or no lockdown, I will have to find my way out on a daily basis if I don’t want the kind of scene my wife made yesterday to repeat itself,” he added.

At Amu Plank market, Ladipo Spare Parts market and Shoe Materials market, all located in Mushin area of Lagos, traders were unable to display their wares but were seen hanging around their shops waiting for customers.

A trader at the Ladipo spare parts market, Mr. Onyeka Eze, said he had to disregard the lockdown order after running out of money to sustain his family. “How will I stay home for four weeks without a means of survival? How will I feed my family? The government claimed to have shared food items, which I didn’t get anyway, but how will the little food items they shared sustain a family for a whole month. Being the head of my family, my wife and children depend solely on me for their daily needs. The little savings I had have been exhausted; I can’t just sit at home and watch my family starve. I would rather leave home and come here to look for customers that would patronise my business than to stay at home and watch my family starve. It’s only God that can help this country,” he said.

A trader at the Amu Plank market, Mrs Taiwo Esther, said: “I find it difficult sitting at home especially when I have nothing doing and there is no power supply for me to keep myself busy. The annoying thing is that the electricity distribution company still brought the monthly bill for me to pay. How do I pay when my place of income has been closed down? I keep spending the little I have saved and there is no new income coming in. So, the best thing is to come out and hope that customers will come around.”

A mechanic in Ilasamaja area of the state, Olawale Akanni, also said that the need to fend for his family forced him out of his home. His words: “Telling people to stay at home without palliatives is unfair. I have exhausted all the money in my account in the last two weeks and I still have to fend for my family. My wife and children are hungry. Will I watch them die of hunger? So, I have to go out and search for what they will eat.

“I’m not saying it is good to go against the law but how would I feed my family if I don’t go out to work? The government promised us palliatives during the lockdown; I even heard they promised each citizen some amount of money. I’m not sure how true it is but the palliatives they promised we see none. So, why won’t I go out amid the lockdown?”

On his part, Odelaja Adewale, an engineer, said he has a lot of dependents and needed to source for money to attend to their needs.
“I was forced to come out before I finish spending the money I have in my account. I’m not married yet but lots of people are looking up to me.

“Most of my customers are even complaining. Some of those that gave me jobs to do before the lockdown want me to render the service. So, in order not to lose my customers and become jobless when the lockdown is over, I had to attend to them. What will I do if I lose my customers during the lockdown? Will I start searching for new customers after the lockdown?” He queried.

Findings showed that claims to hunger and hard times by those defying the lockdown were not mere tales. Mariam Afolabi, whom The Guardian accosted along with her younger sister at a fuel station in Ajao Estate area of the state, said they were returning from a charity mission at a friend’s house.

“My friend called and said she didn’t have a dime with her, and there was no food for herself and the children. She is a single mother and I had to take some food items to her at Ilasa. I also gave her some money in cash. I couldn’t just stay back without helping out. But I didn’t go into her apartment because I needed to maintain social distancing. I had my face mask on, handed her the food items and cash and drove off,” she said.

When asked how she successfully drove through police checkpoints on the road, Afolabi said: “Nigerian Police are very predictable. I simply told them I needed to go and give a friend some money to sustain the family, and they just requested for their own palliative and allowed me to pass.”
A commercial bus driver, who operates along the Oshodi-Mushin axis, also said police operatives enforcing the lockdown allow him passage once he ‘settles’ them. “I only need to settle the police at the road block and I will be allowed to move. They don’t disturb my movement as long as I do the needful.

“The government wants us to remain home but what are their plans for us the citizens? I have got mouths to feed and bills to pay. How do I go about it? I have just been spending the little I have but nothing is coming in for me. I’m not happy about this whole situation.

“Although I was opportune to receive some food items distributed by the government, that won’t be enough to sustain my wife and five children for a whole month,” he said.

The situation appears similar in other parts of the country that are on lockdown as Lagos. From Imo to Abia, Ekiti, Anambra and Rivers states, residents who breach the lockdown order also adduce hard times and hunger as their reasons. The following reports tell the stories alongside other issues on COVID-19 in the states.

We Are Hungry And Have Not Got Palliatives, Imo Residents Lament
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

In Imo State, the lockdown ordered by Governor Hope Uzodimma, which commenced on March 30 in the 27 local councils of the state, was yet to be strictly adhered to as at the time of filing this report. But there has not been any recorded or confirmed case of the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID -19) in any part of the state.

In fact, one could authoritatively say that the compliance level is not up to 20 per cent, except the closure of the borders, civil service, markets, motor parks, churches, mosques, shops and supermarkets and restriction of vehicular movements.

Soldiers, policemen, operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) were dispatched to the streets to enforce the order. Initially, they were strict, punishing violators until lamentations by the people got to the authorities and the security operatives later relaxed.

But that paved way for people to flout the order. People embarked on both intra-city and inter-city travels mostly at nights. This prompted the governor to sign Executive Order 001 on April 17, which imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the state from Saturday, April 18.

The order, which goes along with fines for offender or violator reads partly: “This order declares as follows: ‘That conscious of the need to preserve the lives of Imo people, the government of Imo State is committed to the enforcement of a total lockdown order of movement of persons, except for those on essential services, from 6am to 6pm daily; that the government of Imo State hereby imposes a dusk to dawn curfew in all parts of the state effective Saturday, April 18 till further notice; that borders leading in and out of Imo State are hereby closed effective Saturday, April 18, till further notice; that only Imo indigenes returning from outside Imo State shall be admitted into the state on condition of proper identification; that they subject themselves to test of COVID-19 and are quarantined for 14 days before entering the state; that anyone who violates this order shall be liable to seven days of community service and a fine in lieu in this order: (a) Tricycles ​​​​-​N7,000 (b) Motorcycles ​​​​-​N 7,000, (c) Border closure violators​-​N 10,000, (d) Cars​​​​​-​N 20,000 (e) Trucks​​​​​-​N 50,000.”

Although the curfew has been very effective, some people still violate it. Many of such people, including civil servants, who spoke with The Guardian complained of hunger. The civil servants said some of them were not paid their February and March salaries before they were directed to stay at home while motorists said they needed to continue plying the road to make money to feed their families.

Meanwhile, there are those who hold the view that the disease was not yet in the state and as such there was no need to stop them from living their normal daily lives.

John Dike, an Owerri resident, said: “In the countries they copied the lockdown order from, they gave their citizens money to feed with while inside. I am a civil servant, the same with my wife. How will our children feed without money and food? America gave each resident $1,200. The segregated palliative here is nonsense.”

A commercial driver who disobeys the order, Ebuka Nwogu, explained: “My family has to eat on a daily basis. At each checkpoint, I give N100 to the security operatives. At the borders, from Owerri to Aba, for instance, each driver gives between N300 and N500 to be allowed passage.”

Nevertheless, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), in the state, Orlando Godson Ikeokwu, a Superintendent of Police, told The Guardian that there was no formal complaint of extortion against any operative on the road.
“There is no such complaint against anybody except this one you have said,” he said.

Abia Residents Accuse Security Agents Of Extortion, Complacency
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia

The lockdown in Abia State is in its fourth week. Although the awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic is high, the compliance level to the order has started waning.

In Umuahia, the state capital, despite the presence of security agents on the streets, roads and borders to ensure compliance, commercial buses and tricycles still operate. Even banned motorcycle operators (okada) have also resurfaced and now take commuters to their destinations using pathways where security agents are not stationed.

Asked why they still operate despite the lockdown, some tricycle operators said that security agents enforcing the order benefit from their operation. “Once you ‘roja’ them, you move on. We give them their share,” said one of them who pleaded anonymity.

But the immediate past Commissioner of Police in the state, Ene Okon, had recently absolved the police of the allegation, saying other uniformed security personnel and members of the State Task Force were the ones extorting motorists and encouraging them to violate the order.

Remarkable Compliance In Ekiti As Violators Lament Hard Times
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the state with effect from Monday, March 30, for 14 days. The curfew has since been extended for another 14 days.

The Guardian observed that the level of compliance to the order was above 80 per cent as at last Wednesday, as government was determined to deal with violators. No fewer than 20 people had been prosecuted and convicted for violating the order.

Meanwhile, to cushion the effect of the lockdown on residents, the governor had pledged to give palliatives to vulnerable residents. But controversies continue to trail the distribution.

Consequently, some residents especially those who earn daily income have begun to flout the order on the excuse that the government’s palliative did not reach them and they could not cope with the hunger and untold hardship that the lockdown brought on them.

A resident of Ado Ekiti, who gave his name as Sunday Olorundare, is an artisan who earns his daily income from his panel beating work. According to him, his family could no longer cope with the hunger and he decided to be sneaking to his workshop to do some work to feed his family.

Madam Folasade Adetoeo, who owns a boutique, said that no palliative has been given in her neighborhood, adding that she devised a new method to eke a living by selling bread in front of her shop so that any customer willing to buy cloth would be attended to without necessarily opening the shop.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Ekiti State Command, Sunday Abutu, however, praised the people for complying with the stay-at-home order. According to Abutu, in a telephone conversation, most people seen on the road are either on essential services or have genuine reasons to go out and must have been cleared by the Task Force.

“The directive has been given and everyone is aware of it. Most of the people you see are mostly on essential duties. Some are either medical workers or those exempted by the stay-at-home order. Some others must have genuine reasons for coming out and when the Task Force sees them, they permit them to go.

“Don’t forget that the task force is not exclusively police officers but we are synergising very well to enforce the lockdown. But concerning some people you said you noticed who are not in essential services, we will take care of them. 

“They know the implications of flouting the order. I urge people who are not on essential duties to stay at home in their own interest and in the interest of their loved ones,” he said.

Lockdown Enforcers Have Compromised In Anambra, Say Residents
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka

The lockdown in Anambra State is not very effective for the simple reason that security agents saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the order compromised in certain instances.

Speaking to The Guardian, a resident and farmer, Adumu Oguguo, wondered why he would not be permitted to move out of his house. Oguguo, who is 75 years of age, and a native of Awka, said hunger drove him out to seek for daily bread. He said that he had chicken, which he needed to sell, but had no feeds to feed them because the markets were shut.

He lamented the decision of government in asking people to stay at home for about a month without providing relief materials and money that would assuage their pains within the period.

“The palliatives are not going round, and it is unfortunate that there is no effective response from government to cushion the effect of the lockdown. There are more of talks than actions on the part of government.” Describing the lockdown as punitive, Oguguo faulted the palliatives given by the state, pointing out that some persons got two cups of rice with no money to buy other condiments.

This is as a chieftain of Ndigbo United Forum (NUF) and leader of Association of Non-Indigenes in Anambra State, Chief Amos Ogayi Nkwuda, alleged that majority of non-indigenes were discriminated against in the sharing of palliatives. Nkwuda said the development forced many residents to move out of their homes in search of daily bread.

An Awka-based comedian, Aiza Nwosu, on his part, lamented that the lockdown has forced some youths to take to crimes to survive, stressing that further extension of the lockdown would escalate the activities of hoodlums in the state.

Nwosu said that about 85 per cent of the residents depend on daily earnings to survive, adding that government should do more to ensure that money rather than materials are given to the residents. He alleged that some government officials compromise the process of sharing relief materials.

According to him, the people of the state are hardworking and find it difficult to stay at home, pointing out that the lockdown order threw up hunger that forced people out of their homes.

Similarly, a philosopher, Dr. Elo Aforka, warned that, “we are getting to a point that if the lockdown continues, more people may resort to self help as being reported in so many places across the federation, including Anambra State, within this period.” He predicted that any move to extend the stay-at-home order would result in mass revolt by the citizens who want to leave their homes in search of means of livelihood. Aforka pointed out that, “if hunger as a weapon of warfare destroyed Biafra, it can as well decimate Nigeria.”

Rivers Records High Compliance
From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt

The compliance rate to the second phase of the total lockdown ordered by Governor Nyesom Wike in some parts of Rivers State to prevent the spread of the ravaging coronavirus appears to be high.

The Governor had on April 18 during a live broadcast announced a total lockdown of Diobu axis in Port Harcourt City local council. Some of the areas include Education bus stop, Kalabari by Udi street, Afikpo, Gambia, Rivers State University roundabout and the entire Ikoku Spare market zone. Others areas are Creek road, including prison junction, Nembe Waterside, cultural centre, yam zone and Ahoada street.

The Guardian’s monitoring around Diobu axis and some parts of Port Harcourt township showed that most residents stayed at home, though many of them could not disguise the hunger and anger in them.

Some of them who attempted to step out to search for what to eat were arrested by the security agencies. The roads were deserted but few motorists who were on essential duties were seen driving to their duty posts. Banks and filling stations located at the affected areas were opened but witnessed low patronage. All the shops in the affected areas were locked; there was nowhere to even buy water.

Some youths were sighted playing football on the streets but took to their heels when they sighted security officers. Some of them claimed they had never had such experience.

Prince Udoh said: “You can imagine a situation where one is hungry, and there is no food in the house and no shop to buy what to eat. So, we decided to come out and play so that the impact of the hunger won’t be too much; yet they won’t allow us. But when you stay idle without food, the hunger increases.”

Another resident at Nsuka street, a mother of six, Mrs Christabel Enang, was seen crying and lamenting. When asked why, she said:  “Since morning, I and my children have not eaten because there is no food in the house. Just go to my room; you will see my children lying down. What kind of life is this?”

Meanwhile, The Guardian findings showed that harassment of defaulters by security agencies was minimal this time unlike the first lockdown in March when the governor imposed dusk to dawn curfew and residents were abused and dehumanised by security personnel.

Speaking on the compliance rate, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, said the police officers enforcing the compliance were adequately briefed not to compromise the process and also not to carry out actions that would violate human rights.

Omoni said: “So far, the reports we are getting from the field has been good unlike what we were getting in the past. This time, it’s has been complimentary from residents.”

Similarly, the Public Relations officer of the Nigerian Security Civil Defence Corps, in Rivers State, Mr. Michael Oguntuase, said NSCDC personnel were well trained and briefed to ensure there is no rancour between them and the residents.

“Yes, with the total lockdown, we understand that it has not been easy. Some residents are hungry and angry. So, we informed them not to carry out acts that would abuse human rights in case there are acts of deviance. We have the monitoring team that goes around to ascertain the behaviour of our officers and how they are enforcing the rules.”

“The Commandant has continued to appeal to residents to maintain calm for the moment because we understand that it has not been easy with them. We have also asked residents to report acts of abuses by our officers to us but we are yet to get any report on that as we speak,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of Civil Rights Council in Rivers State, who also monitored the situation, Prince Wiro, observed harassment of the citizens who flouted the lockdown order but stated that it was minimal.

“Yes there was harassment by security operatives but it was minimal compared to the first time. At Kalabari (Udi)/Nsuka street junction, Mile 1, Diobu, I saw police officers subjecting suspected defaulters to torture ranging from ordering them to do frog jump to making them to kneel down and also beating them,” he alleged.

CLO Decries Hard Times, Cautions Against Extension Of Lockdown
By Onyedika Agbedo

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the lamentations by Nigerians on the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown of their lives, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) has cautioned against extending the stay-at-home order.

In a statement yesterday, the Executive Director of the of the organisation, Comrade Ibuchukwu Ohabuenyi Ezike, said rumours about proposed extension of the lockdown nationwide by the Federal Government without genuine and verifiable adequate provision of foodstuffs and other palliatives to all Nigerians would be tantamount to passing a death sentence verdict on the citizens.

He said: “CLO learnt that the Federal Government, in collaboration with the state governments, has resolved to extend the two-week lockdown across Nigeria.
“Only on Wednesday, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 raised an alarm that the Federal Government will impose a total lockdown on the entire country by this weekend.

“National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force, Dr Sani Aliyu, who announced this, said the essence of the alarm was to advise Nigerians to immediately make adequate arrangements for their families. Aliyu, who informed that Nigeria was going to experience turbulent times caused by the coronavirus pandemic, also accused the government of failure to take proactive measures from the onset to attack COVID-19 on time.

“CLO is not against the extension of lockdown on the country in her fight to contain the coronavirus pandemic but we are totally against doing so without putting adequate mechanisms on the ground that would cushion the killer effects of the lockdown.”

Ezike said it would be needless extending the lockdown if enough foodstuffs, money and other essential household goods would not be provided for all Nigerians who are in need.

He added: “We have witnessed a complete corrupt dispensing of insufficient palliatives provided by government in the last four weeks as well as gross mismanagement of money and foodstuffs donated by patriotic Nigerians and organisations. Till date, government has not probed this despite public outcries across Nigeria.

“CLO will, therefore, view government’s intransigence in extending the lockdown without fulfilling these credible conditions and providing organised security protection for the people as passing a death sentence verdict on Nigerians. The last four weeks have been characterised by hunger, armed robbery attacks, invasion of homes at night and raping of women. We make bold to say that there will be no difference between keeping Nigerians at home without adequate security protection and enough food, and letting them to be attacked by coronavirus. 

“Various countries of the world which are imposing lockdown on their societies also make good provisions for their citizens. For instance, in Qatar, special hotline numbers are provided for citizens who are in need to contact agencies responsible for handling the amenities to them.

“Also, South Africa has approved the payment of 350 rands to adults and 750 rands to children for the period the lockdown will last in their country. We can go on.

“We note with certainty that coronavirus like any other epidemic virus diseases that had existed in the past will come and go and Nigerians will still live.  CLO condemns the way and manner our government is handling the coronavirus pandemic, especially with respect to locking the citizens at home like Trans-Atlantic slaves without addressing their socio-economic needs. Locking the people at home is not the only solution. We are not aware of any efforts by the government to fund serious research on the COVID-19 as other nations of the world are doing or making provisions to test people on the way as it is done in some countries, for instance, China.”


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