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COVID-19 lockdown: Two sides of a single war

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THE world is certainly going through difficult time as backlash from coronavirus-induced lockdown of countries and cities across the globe threatens to open a new hurdle – this time, food crises in different climes already traumatised by the pandemic.

  Following the contagious nature of COVID-19 pandemic, immediate shutdown of public places such as schools, offices, malls, churches, mosques and markets by countries and governments becomes not just an option but demands expedited approach.  Adding events likely to bring people together in large numbers such as marriage ceremonies, burials and festivals to the list of suspended activities is only a consolidation of tactical approach to highly challenging phenomenon.

While airports, train stations and central parks made copious position in the list of facilities temporarily placed under limited use initially in many countries and later shutdown completely, the global economy smarting from recession, now faces fresh severe challenges as it deeps in the impact of these measures.  Citizens remain at the receiving end in the convolutions trailing the current global crises.

For those in Nigeria, the sucker-punch in the crossfire of COVID-19 battle remains the closure of major markets across many states of the federation.  This is given the interdependence between efficient social order and open market system in capitalist Nigerian clime.

While the good intentions of governments including Nigerian Federal Government, in their lockdown  policy; to contain further escalation of COVID-19 spread,  seems subsumed in the present hard time the sit-at-home has come with, it seems the society may require extra sensitisation to appreciate government’s approach in prioritising protection of people’s lives underpinned in the current measures over every other consideration.

Perhaps citizens in Nigerian climes are more at crossroads which part of the tough choices would suit their chequered (much troubled) lives as threat of hunger now stare menacingly before them. Whether to embrace hunger and live with its consequences or COVID-19 is a hard choice to make under the lockdown impact as they weigh their options. The truth is that neither is fabulous choice to contemplate yet so imminent.

There is the temptation of believing that hunger is a lesser evil between the two factors but when the memory of over two million Nigerian children of Biafra extract that starved to death during the Nigerian – Biafra civil war is put into focus, the potency of hunger as effective weapon in wiping off population would become clearer and detestable too. This is not in any way putting-down merits of the hard compulsory stay-at-home order but asserting the certainty inherent in the exercise  with a view to conditioning feeble minds to wake up from any delirium and face the fight with all urgency it may require.

Suffice it to say that while institutions are shutting down operations as directed by governments, a lot of people are trapped in reprehensive fate of unpreparedness. This is very much reflected in market situation across cities in the Nigerian clime at the commencement of the lockdown. The sudden rush by Nigerians to stockpile food stuffs and some other necessities created unprecedented demand and the result is astronomical rise in commodity prices. What percentage of the population was fit to shoulder such impromptu spending responsibility without crumbling?

The truth is that many Nigerians did not envisage this development and their savings can barely support the current situation. To ignore this reality is denying the fact that over 60 per cent of citizens are living deep in the poverty line with over 40 per cent from that population living below the poverty index, WHO researches have shown.

Survey conducted across many cities in Nigeria shows astronomical hike in prices of goods and services. In Lagos State, transportation sector first witnessed the shock with commuters left to pay 100 per cent increase in fares at virtually all routes in the cosmopolitan as a welcome gift for the lockdown.

In Enugu State, while foodstuffs suffered substantial price rise, transport sector witnessed more additions in the scale. From New Heaven Junction to Abakpa Junction which ordinarily costs N30, tricycle and bus fares shot up to N70, while Abakpa Junction to NOWAS costs N150 against N50 it originally costs before the COVID-19 lockdown crisis. This fare increase cuts across all the routes in the metropolis and commuters have to bear it willy- nilly.

In Anambra State, the situation took a seemingly harder twist with markets witnessing unusual traffic. In Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the East, Main Market and other major markets in the metropolis were inaccessible due to surge of people trying to make purchases, heralding tough times that may likely shape the coming days, weeks and even months.

According to a trader resident in the city, Nathaniel Eze, “we have seen situations but this one really comes with a difference. The market officially closed on Monday but the last three days before the closure were too hectic. In the transport sector, people trekked long distances looking for available vehicle and paid triple of the usual fare when they eventually got one.

At the markets, commodity prices were way too high for average Nigerians to cope with. A painter-bucket measurement of garri which sold for between N400 and N450 rose to N1500, representing over 300 per cent increase.

At the yam market in Port Harcourt Road, the sight of yam was like gold. A tuber of yam that ordinarily costs N300 went as high as N1100. A 10kg bag of Semovita which costs N2500 initially rose to N3500. Onions, fish and other basic ingredients shot up as well. You can imagine how difficult it is going to be surviving the two weeks period of stay at home.”

Despite these obvious challenges, a society leader, Patrick Igwe believes that the starvation likely to follow the sit-at-home order is nothing comparable with COVIID-19 devastation.  “While staying at home, the chances of getting into crowd of people probably untested for COVIID-19 get lower.

The virus could spread to a whole lot of people with mere sneezing of an infected person if anyone gets in contact with droplets of infected person and inadvertently touches the mouth, nose, ear and any openings in the body where the virus may thrive.

Surprisingly, victims may not even be aware of having gotten infected until about two weeks. The contagious level is too high to be toyed with such that continuing with the usual social system would constitute grave risks, much more, contemplating soft approach on basis of hunger fear.

Government did very well in shutting down markets and going even further to raise taskforce that will enforce compliance with the directives on preventing its spread. I can only say that it would have started a little earlier, maybe some states would have been saved. But that does not eliminate the hard time these coming weeks and months may offer to hapless masses.”

Analyst, AustineOsakwe believes that the social welfare infrastructure in Nigeria cannot sustain the present pressure from isolation order. “Other countries like America and Europe are giving their citizens allowances to sustain them in this lockdown period but that is not the case here, though there is stimulus structure in our own clime.”

Apparently, what inspires skepticism is not farfetched. Malnutrition is already foreseen by many and its capacity to unlock floodgates of infirmity is eliciting anxiety. Given the present situation, people envisage having more to contend with as access to hospital may soon be out of their reach due to lack of fund.

It is not equally clear whether there are adequately equipped isolation camps that can contain all contacts in the real sense of gathering all suspected contacts for isolation in any of the states in Nigeria for now except Lagos State.

Since mixing up with people one cannot certify their status is potential danger yet test centres are not even well known by majority of the people in areas where the scourge has not been identified, there is likelihood that many may have come in contact with a vector of the disease without knowing. The probability of returnees from affected countries running into open arms of their loved ones without knowing that the disease has been transmitted to their immediate unit is just unarguable.

How would the society escape escalation of this pandemic spread with the nuclear-bonds African families are built on? Obviously, any tactic that earns a fighting troop victory in a battle is simply the best strategy.

If schools had to be suspended, religious activities, funeral ceremonies, traditional marriage ceremonies and all social activities that bring great number of people together and make up mainstream social community components are to be temporarily stopped, it goes beyond argument that the fight is getting more fierce and the good intentions of government to win the battle at all cost, secure people’s lives should not be emasculated by the transient hardships compulsory isolation (sit-at-home order) may bring.

But beyond the lockdown, responsible government has a moral burden to support her citizens in navigating through such tough times with impacting interventions.

African leaders have not shown deep commitment to stepping out of their personal comforts to see things from viewpoints of the masses, hence, watching out for any package that will alleviate common people’s suffering these two weeks may be too high an expectation, President MuhmmaduBuhari’s recent address notwithstanding.

 Citizens should be reminded at this point that they share in the moral burden of commitment to winning this fight against COVIID-19 by strictly observing the guidelines set to mitigate the situation both in public places and at various homes. 

Hand washing, keeping safe distances with one another and above all, reporting suspected cases to appropriate authorities before it gets too late  are moral virtues all patriotic citizens should wear as honorable garb this time, to help eliminate COVIID-19 pandemic shorter than envisaged.

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