SUBAIR MOHAMMED walked through slums in Lagos State and reported situations making nonsense of social distancing regulation, which portends a new danger for government and people of the state.
RESIDENTS of Willoughby Street, Okobaba, a thickly populated slum community located in the Ebute-Metta (East) axis of Lagos State were relieved with the sight of a siren-blaring ambulance from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which was in their community to fetch three suspected coronavirus patients for treatment.
What was seen as a respite soon turned to apprehension and commotion by the time urchins took over the scene, holding the three suspected COVID-19 patients hostage and preventing the NCDC officials from gaining access into the building housing them. They insisted money must be paid to them either by the patients or the NCDC officials before they would allow the evacuation exercise and the commencement of the required test and treatment. They chorused, “E fun wa lowo wa” (give us our money) to the amazement of onlookers. The stand-off could not be broken since neither of the parties from whom money was being demanded was ready to part with any. The caregivers left without the suspected victims.
My people in Okobaba are ignorant –CDC chair
The chairman of the Lagos Mainland Local Government Community Development Committee, Alhaji Quadri Tajudeen, attributed the action of the hooligans to lack of adequate knowledge about COVID-19. According to him, the primary focus of the people living in the slum is more on what to eat than wellness.
He said: “The people in the slum are focused on what to eat’ they are not considering death. We need to step up sensitisation campaign in the grassroots, especially now that Lagos Mainland has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state. We need to let our people know that testing positive for COVID-19 is not a death sentence.
“If the hoodlums have adequate understanding about what COVID-19 is all about and how it could be prevented, they would have allowed the NCDC to go with the three suspected cases rather than demand for money from them. If the victims too were aware that they have greater chances of surviving the pandemic, no matter the level of resistance by the area boys, they won’t listen to them.
“The area boys felt it was a case of the police arresting the suspected patients hence the resistance they put up. Our number one challenge in the slum is non-compliance with the social distancing order because many of them have the notion that COVID-19 is a scam. They believe it is not real. But with more sensitisation campaign, this mindset will change.
“Meanwhile, it is not only those that live in the slum that do not believe that COVID-19 is real. Many Nigerians feel the same way, too. They feel it is only afflicting the high and the mighty. This is as a result of low literacy level. We have been embarking on enlightenment campaign to get them informed.
“Poverty and hunger play a major role in our lives. Someone once told me that Nigerians were battling ‘corona-hunger’ and not coronavirus. You can see the extent of hunger in the land but at the same time, life is important. It is only when you are alive that you can think of feeding.
“Many people defy the stay-at-home and the social distancing orders because of hunger. They need to feed. Even the hoodlums that stopped and demanded money from the NCDC officials did so out of hunger, not realising the implication of their action for the entire community. But I am glad to inform the public that one out of the three patients has voluntarily reported to the NCDC, the other male, a Hausa, after giving his blood sample, left for Kano State, while the third person, a woman, has fled the community.”
‘If COVID-19 breaks out in Ajegunle, we are all dead’
A metal fabricator, Babatunde Oyedokun, in spite of his little means, does his best to maintain high personal hygiene and keep his family of five safe from the pandemic in the slum of Ajegunle in Ifelodun Local Council Development Area.
Despite the crowded nature of his community and the obvious non-adherence to the social distancing order, Oyedokun, 38, strictly observes the social distancing order. He said maintaining physical distance in a lowly but highly populated suburb like Ajegunle is the only way to contain the spread of the virus at the moment.
He, however, blamed residents’ non-compliance with the social distancing rules on the topography of Ajeromi LCDA. According to him, buildings in the area were not professionally-planned, resulting in poor spacing, with as many as eight people living in a room. This, according to him, makes social distancing difficult, if not impossible.
He said: “Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 yet in Ajegunle, it will be disastrous if we record any. We live in an unclean environment where we have as many as eight persons in a room. This contradicts the social distancing rule because infection can easily spread in such a situation. Ajegunle is densely populated. Many people, especially those that reside on the island and work at the port, secure rooms in Ajegunle because of its proximity and opportunity to ease the stress of going to work every day.
“The population of the community during this pandemic is its greatest threat. People cram in commercial vehicles to move about. They are jam-packed even at the market and are easily exposed to the disease. Every morning, you see young adults playing football on the street and traders mixing freely among themselves. We cannot blame them because they have little or no knowledge of COVID-19. The government is not helping the situation either. They have not done enough in terms of awareness creation. They cannot assume that everybody knows about the disease. Even if they know, there should be a periodic sensitisation on the disease. If you walk down the LCDA, you can’t find any enlightenment posters or banners from the council boss.
“I can only pray that Ajegunle doesn’t experience the outbreak of the disease because neither the local authority nor the state government has the capacity to contain it. We don’t adhere to the social distancing order. We don’t take preventive measures. Public facilities like toilet and primary healthcare centres have been overburdened. If the disease should break out in Ajegunle, we are all dead.
“The environment should be restructured. The government should build a low-cost housing estate for low-income earners. If there are affordable houses, hygiene level will improve and people will become more conscious about their health.”
Many are on suicide mission here –Apapa-Iganmu CDA boss
Worshippers in Arewa and Ladejobi streets of Apapa-Iganmu LCDA defiantly converge on the walkways to observe the Muslim daily prayers, despite warnings by experts against such large gatherings in the midst of the pandemic. Since mosques are shut, the worshippers now hold communal prayers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, dismissing the danger of the rampaging virus.
The chairman of the community development association in Ajeromi LCDA, Tunde Balogun, said he heard about the disobedient act and had contacted the task force.
He said: “They are trying to commit suicide with what they are doing. I have contacted the task force and also disclosed to them the streets involved. They don’t observe social distance in Ifelodun. This is an act of stubbornness. I will not subscribe to the allegation that there has not been sensitisation campaign in the LCDA. To the best of my knowledge, I know that the chairman and the member of the House of Representatives donated cash to some members of the community. So, looking at the amount of money spent so far, I don’t think engaging in sensitisation campaign should be a problem.”
However, a cabinet maker in Apapa-Iganmu LCDA, Odili Vincent, alleged that the chairman of his LCDA had done nothing to sensitise the public on the coronavirus disease. According to him, the council chairman prefers to feed the people with loaves of bread than enlighten them about the disease. This, he claims, is responsible for the zero compliance with the social distancing order.
He said: “The local government has not done anything to sensitise the public. Apapa Iganmu LCDA, in terms of education and enlightenment campaign, is backwards. One would expect that the local government chairman would invest in sensitisation campaign but he prefers to distribute loaves of bread to the people because of their lowliness.
“He knows the people, because of the lockdown, would prefer to be fed than to be enlightened. And this is the major reason the community is underdeveloped. Our political leaders take undue advantage of the poverty in the land to further inflict hardship on the people.
“The Federal Government initiated lockdown with lack of adequate palliatives for the people who must feed to survive. What do you expect in a lowly society like Ajegunle? Of course, they will disobey the rule.
“Recently, the council chairman distributed loaves of bread to the people. I witnessed the distribution. You need to see how people scrambled for loaves of bread. I am convinced that they did that deliberately to sell the disease to the public. They locked us inside, subjected us to hunger and lured us outside with loaves of bread so that we will all be exposed to the disease.
“As we all know, the more people living with COVID-19 in the LCDA, the higher the grant and donations they receive from donor agencies. We are living in penury and now they have introduced the disease, complemented with hunger. How do we survive this moment?
“I am a cabinet maker. Since the lockdown, I have not been making sales. So, how can I feed my family? The government is insensitive to the plight of the people. Many of the people don’t believe COVID-19 exists. For those that believe, they don’t know how it could be contracted. So, the government needs to invest in enlightenment campaign as one of the measures to fight the spread of the disease.”
Like others, social distancing order meant observance in a breach here. Three markets seen during Saturday Tribune’s visit were operational with buying and selling also in full swing on Tuesday at Olayinka and Amukoko markets.
In Aro, values have collapsed –Sacked community leader
From the outward, Aro Extension in Eti-Osa Local Government Area represents a slum but the reality is that over 3,000 inhabitants of the town are corporate citizens who know everything there is to know about COVID-19 and social distancing, according to Azeez Olaniyan, popular known as Apata, an early settler in the town. Olaniyan, an indigene of Offa in Kwara State, said he had lived in the community, an extension of the original Aro township, for 15 years and so had been a part of its history and development.
He said: “The entire landscape was swampy until it was sand-filled by the administration of former Governor Bola Tinubu. I brought civilisation and sanity to the town until I was removed as the coordinator of the town by the indigenes. Aro Extension came into existence in 2013. Many of those that reside in Aro Extension are victims of circumstance and high cost of living in Lagos State. They are those that live on the Mainland. They left their homes in Abule-Egba, Sango, Ikorodu and so on to work on the island and put up at night in the huts. This is not just another shack.
“Many residents in Aro Extension work in banks and other corporate environment but since they live outside of the Island and to cut down the cost of transportation, they secured a hut where they live with their children during the week and leave for their homes at weekends. But due to the peaceful nature of the town, many of them decided to turn the town to their permanent abode. You need to see them when they are going to work in the morning. They are well-educated and well-mannered. So, there is no problem of preaching social distancing order to them. Many of them know what COVID-19 is and the danger inherent in getting exposed to the virus.
“But like every other seaside shanty, we experience a bit of insecurity but once such a situation arises, we quickly rise up to the occasion and bring the perpetrators to justice. When I was in charge, I can tell you that there were no cases of theft, thuggery or attack on residents by hoodlums in Aro Extension. But the atmosphere has changed. We can no longer sleep with both eyes closed because those that are in charge of affairs in the town have been compromised.
“They bring in all manner of human beings, from hemp smokers to gamblers, and all sorts, from whom they collect various charges. These are the people that foment trouble in the town. They are the categories of people you see in the viral video struggling for packs of noodles and other food items. They are the kind of people that place higher value on what they eat than their wellbeing.”
Kuramo Beach or just the name evokes a reputation. The red zone continues to bubble with sex, cigar and alcohol. Saturday Tribune discovered that Aro Extension’s exit point and Kuramo’s entry point are connected, with one leading to the other and as expected, the business of the flesh flourished from one community to the other. Saturday Tribune observed a pool of motorcycles with stern-looking young men. To soften the atmosphere were beautiful ladies in lingerie hanging out with boys at the seaside bar. Trading and religious activities were, however, seen to be at lower ebb. Also at the centre of the show were girls of the night taking a stand for the evening business at the Kuramo road path, waiting for clients. Saturday Tribune was told both ‘short time’ or ‘all day’ was available and negotiable. The price was put between N500 and N1,000. Here, it is business as usual, coronavirus or no coronavirus.
Why we defy govt orders on coronavirus –Makoko residents
As the COVID-19 lockdown entered its forth week in Lagos, our correspondent who visited Makoko, a popular slum, noticed depression, hopelessness and confusion on the faces of the residents. The community is predominantly made up of poor people, the Igan settlers and very few elites. Makoko, which is under Yaba Local Government Area, is close to the famous Panti Homicide Police Station in Yaba.
Our correspondent discovered, upon entering the community through Makoko Road, along the Makoko Market, during a visit on Wednesday, that it was business as usual, as if the ongoing lockdown was not meant for the area. All shops in the street opened for business, with people conducting their businesses unhindered and motorcycles, popularly known as okada, ferrying passengers to their various destinations. Those who had no shops to run sat outside their homes. With a considerably large population, most houses are old and constructed in a way the occupants must share facilities like toilet, bathroom and kitchen.
When Saturday Tribune engaged Mr Isaac Udeh, a trader, it was lamentation all through. “We have to open our shops to make sales so that hunger will not kill us. Government officials only visited the community once about two weeks ago and gave about 40 elderly people palliatives and since then we have not seen anything again. People are suffering here. We need help from the state government,” Udeh said.
Mr Joseph Iniwuni, a community leader residing on Church Street, Makoko, said: “We have no problem with medicals, the hospitals are working. The only problem is lack of money and food. We are hungry and depressed. The lockdown has really affected us; we have no food to eat. Government officials came to Makoko two weeks ago and gave some people foodstuff. Since then, help hasn’t come from anywhere. We are begging the state government to come to our aid. Most of the people here are poor. We need help urgently.”
For Sani John, an okada rider, “I have to come out because of hunger. Man must survive. The lockdown is affecting business. I used to make up to N6,000 daily but now to make N2,000 a day is tough. If the government wants us to stay at home, they should provide for us so that hunger will not kill us.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mrs Ajoke Moruf, a trader, told Saturday Tribune that, “I have children to feed. I have to open my shop to be able to feed my children. As we try to protect ourselves from coronavirus, we also prevent ourselves from hunger killing us. We did not see any palliatives from the government. The people here in Makoko are very poor. This is the kind of place the government is expected to mobilise food support to so that we can stay at home.”
Mokoko, which is close to the Third Mainland Bridge coastal line, has many of the residents living close to the lagoon as fishermen and women whose major occupation is fishing. The women roast the fish and sell around Lagos but due to the ban on movement, they cannot move their wares to the usual selling points across the state. Those who get to smuggle out their wares very early in the morning reportedly pay through the nose to get transportation to their destinations, forcing an increase in the prices of their wares. It was learnt that the restricted movement is equally forcing the fishermen to sell their daily catch at giveaway prices to other poor communities around Makoko.
Additional report by SYLVESTER OKORUWA.