When the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), announced a two-week lockdown and social restrictions in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states on March 30, on account of the coronavirus pandemic, many Nigerians stared at their television screen in disbelief. The presidential fiat almost sounded like a death sentence. Artisans, restaurant operators, commercial motorcyclists, traders, labourers and others who rely on daily earnings struggled to come to terms with the decision.
Conscious of the absence of social safety net for the people, various groups, including economists, policy analysts and civil society organisations frowned on the order. They were particularly miffed by the short notice for the stay-at-home directive. While socio-cultural groups like the Afenifere railed over the social-economic implications of the order, prominent Nigerians including Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa argued over its constitutionality. The masses, on the other hand, were more concerned with how to survive the compulsory holidays. Everyone consequently stormed the markets and shopping centres to stockpile on foodstuffs and other essentials as prices doubled and later tripled.
To allay fears, the Federal Government pledged various social palliatives. Soon, reports filtered in that officials have been sharing N20,000 and another N5,000 to vulnerable Nigerians in parts of the country. Many FCT residents salivated when they saw pictures of officials doling out huge bundles of naira notes to men and women in a queue in the Kwali Area Council of the FCT.
In Lagos, videos of philanthropic gestures circulated on the social media. It would soon get to us, many probably thought. Days after the reports, many complained that the goodies train had yet to berth at their neighbourhood.
At Lugbe, one Abuja resident, Ojobor Tejiri, lamented that the advertised palliatives had not been shared in her community. She said her stock of food was fast dwindling, adding that her cash had also run low. According to her, getting essential items had become a challenge as most shops were closed. She stressed that hunger may kill more Nigerians than COVID-19.
Tejiri stated, “There are things you want to buy, but you won’t see. We have been trying to get frozen foods, but it is not available. The government should do something, I’m running out of food, I don’t have cash and I don’t have any means of survival.”
She acknowledged the steady power supply, but insisted that Nigerians would appreciate some financial token from the government.
“Even if it’s a small amount, it would help us to renew our data subscription, reach out to our loved ones, so we can communicate with them on the phone and buy some foodstuffs.
“The banks have our BVN, the government can settle Nigerians in the twinkle of an eye. Seriously, hunger may kill many Nigerians more than the virus,” Tejiri, a business administration graduate, noted.
Also, an Abuja-based journalist, Miss Ibironke Ariyo, bemoaned her inability to socialise and having to spend much money on food.
She was also unhappy over the shutdown of church services, adding that she missed worshipping God in the church.
She said, “I have had to stock food; due to fear of getting COVID-19, I have not been going out, I have not stepped out of my room since last week. Some of my friends wanted to visit, but I asked them not to come and it is really affecting me.
“Thank God for mobile phones, I don’t know what I would have done and there had been constant power supply. God bless Abuja electricity distribution company, the light has been on for the last seven days.”
Ariyo, who loves shopping, explained that she had refrained from going to the market for fear of COVID-19 infection.
“I’m scared of going to the market or ATMs because of the fear of mingling with people. I have missed going to see friends, attending church service and work,” she said.
However, it was not all doom and gloom as Ariyo has been engaging in things she hitherto had no time for.
“I have been able to maximize this opportunity by discovering a lot of things about myself, reading books and I had time for prayers, meditating on the word of God, cooking and eating good food,” the young lady explained.
For Mr Okehie Umelo, the lockdown had provided the opportunity for him to bond with his wife and teenage children. The lawyer hinted that he had time to read, meditate, and exercise.
Reliving the seven days he had spent at home, Umelo said, “Usually, I leave in the morning and return at night, but now, I’m forced to stay at home, eating morning, afternoon and night; it’s crazy.
“Before I know it, I have been adding weight because I no longer go out for exercises anymore, so I had to advise myself. I started running around my neighbourhood while watching what I eat. Let it not be that while one is avoiding coronavirus, he ends up with other ailments that come with a sedentary lifestyle.”
A trader in Kubwa market, Madam Angela Ibeh, complained about the harsh conditions the restrictions had brought on her family and business.
She noted, “The lockdown has not been easy, especially for people like me who have to go out daily to eke out a living. I know it is for our good, but life has been hard. You can’t go out, you can’t do your day-to-day business, it’s like you are stuck.
“My children have almost exhausted all the food in the house, and we are running out of food and cash. Prices of food and other commodities have hit the roof. Buhari should lift the lockdown before we die of hunger.”
For Mr Kayode Ilori who lives in Alakuko area of Lagos, the major challenge facing the masses is hunger and inflation.
He complained that the palliatives had not been shared in his community, noting that the prices of foodstuffs had soared beyond the reach of the common man. The building contractor made it clear that high prices of commodities had made things worse.
He said, “The challenge we are facing is that the government is not providing palliatives for citizens unlike in other countries. I have a lot of contracts I need to execute but I couldn’t on account of the lockdown.
“For a lot of people, feeding has become a challenge. A neighbour just gave birth to twins, and they are facing a serious crisis. If the government could assist Nigerians financially, this would go a long way in cushioning the harsh economic situation. I stay in Alakuko/Dalemo and I can tell you that people are becoming restive here.”
Ilori disclosed that a small container of rice being sold for N350 before the lockdown is now being sold for N1,000, noting that the situation could get out of hand if the 14-day lockdown was extended.
“People are hungry; something needs to be done quickly. If the lockdown is extended, I can assure you that they would defy it and go to work and if the government deploys force, there would be a confrontation,” he warned.
A foodstuffs dealer, Emmanuel Nwankwego, said the restrictions had adversely impacted his business as customers were not patronizing him due to cash crunch.
Nwankwego, who trades in Alakuko, Lagos, added that many people had been coming to his shop to buy food on credit, but he declined.
“Many people wanted me to sell foodstuffs to them on credit, but I refused because they may not be able to pay later. Also, the prices of food items have increased. A bag of garri is now N12,000 from N5,000. Our suppliers said the producers are not making the stuff, they are all staying at home on account of the restrictions,” he stated.
A caterer, Mrs Peace Adewole, who lives in Bariga, Lagos, said the lockdown had brought uncertainties and made things quite difficult for her family.
The mother of two explained that her children’s voracious appetite was fast depleting the family food stock, stressing that the poor power supply had made life miserable for everyone.
Adewole, who spoke on the phone said, “This lockdown has been a period of serious uncertainty for me and my family. I have a family of four plus my aged mother and we stay together in a one-room apartment and having us together in the same environment is not healthy as we are all camped in the same place. We have to ration our food.”
Reliving her experience further, she stated, “I have very young children who are not aware of what is happening. Their demand for food has been on the high especially as there is nothing to distract them and power supply has been very erratic. The thought of stocking the freezer with foodstuffs is not realistic because they would go bad.”
A graduate of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, Delta State University, Emeka Samuel, who lives in Torikoh, Badagry, was more concerned about the power outage and food scarcity in his community. The 23-year-old, who is waiting for the National Youth Service Corps call-up, said life had been unbeatable in the last one week.
He added, “The frequent power outage has made life very unbearable. Throughout last week, that was no power at all. Secondly, there is a scarcity of food items. Where available, the prices of essential food items have been inflated and these factors have made people in Badagry to defy the lockdown order in search of food.”
A lawyer, Johnson Oyewole, criticised the failure of the government to reach out to the majority of Nigerians with the promised palliatives.
He said, “Nigeria is rich enough to provide for the generality of its citizens. About 40 million people have bank accounts and if the government is sincere, they can credit the accounts with some money. This is what the Canadian Government is doing, so why can’t our government do the same here?”