BusinessDay

How we are surviving the lockdown – Nigerians

 ...It's been harrowing without food, electricity …‘Transparency in doubt in palliative distribution’

As well-intentioned and important as the Federal Government’s stay-at-home order is, many Nigerians insist that government should have gone a step further to help the people by providing palliatives across board, especially for those who earn their income on daily basis.

In the absence of the palliatives, a large number of citizens are already groaning under the excruciating pain of forced “holiday”.

Brown Okafor is a middle-aged man with an eight-member family living in Ejigbo, a Lagos suburb. Until 2018, he was a staff of a beverage producing company in Ikeja, Lagos where he served as an office assistant—a job he lost when the company decided to downsize its operation.

Okafor has since then trained as an iron fitter, moving from one construction site to another to eke out a living and to fend for his family. He is a daily-pay worker whose income depends largely on his going out to search for work at construction sites.

For him, the stay-at-home order handed down to the residents of Lagos, which restricts all forms of movements amounts to mercy-killing because the only way he and his family can survive is by going out to work, get money and buy their needs. But now, he cannot move about.

“It is good that government wants to save us from the deadly disease, but I think that for people like me, what will kill us fast is hunger. As I am talking to you now, I don’t know from where our next meal will come. My house is empty and hunger is just by the door; I have decided to come out to the street because my children won’t let me be,” Okafor lamented.

Reminded that the stay-at-home order was for his own good and that of his children, an angry Okafor agreed, but asked why nothing was coming from the government to help the poor.

In Lagos, compliance level was quite high on the first day which was Tuesday. But ever since then, compliance has been waning. Quite a good number of the residents are becoming restive and impatient, citing hunger and discomfort in their homes due to lack of electricity and other social amenities to keep them indoors.

Ordinarily, Lagos is a very difficult and challenging environment where many of the residents are daily income earners. For people in this group, hunger has taken a disquieting position in their families, forcing them out to the streets in search of whatever they can lay hands on for survival.

“I don’t really know how long we have to be in this cage; government has directed that we should stay at home but has not made any provision for us; no food in the house; no money in the pocket to buy anything and there is no light that can even make you stay indoors,” Gbenga Osunyomi, a vehicle licensing agent, complained to BDSUNDAY.

Osunyomi,  who has not been having it easy on account of the slowdown in the economy, said he had expected the government to give out money to people to cushion the effect of the coronavirus. “Even if they cannot give us cash, why not give out foodstuff as it is done in other places?” he queried.

Driving through the streets of Lagos one discovers that many residents are really uncomfortable with the presidential directive. So many people are out on the street, discussing in clusters and making a huge joke of the precautionary measures put in place, especially social distancing.

Apparently, a lot of the people do not understand the meaning and essence of the stay-at-home order by the government, creating the impression that they are doing government a favour by staying in their houses and avoiding contact with people on the street who may be infected.

“Coronavirus is not just a health problem; it is also an economic crisis which is why the government is trying hard to ensure that it does not spread to a point where it will not be controllable. By asking people to stay indoors, government is trying to make it easy to contain the virus and also to save the economy from total collapse,” Jude Oloyide, a health worker at a Lagos hospital explained.

Oloyide observed that many people were yet to come to terms with what is on ground, advising that government has to step up enlightenment campaign, “because many will die for lack of knowledge.”

For Harry Ikechukwu, a young graduate who had been unemployed for the past three years, the past six days have been the longest six days of his life. Ikechukwu has just secured a job with an accounting firm in Lagos. He has worked for only 23 days and the lockdown happened.

“As I am now, I do not know the next step to take. My company says we should stay at home till further notice, yet we have not received our March salary which, of course, is my first. How am I sure that the job will still be there for me after this crisis?” Ikechukwu, who is putting up with an uncle in a Lagos suburb, wondered.

On his part, Obiora Eze, who lives in Surulere area in Lagos mainland, complained that power supply has further dropped in the past few days such that in some cases, one can stay the whole day at home without a flash of the electricity.

“In such cases, I run generator for at least 12 hours a day in order to cool the refrigerator, watch television and to put on the fan because this is the dry season when the weather is usually very hot and unbearable to stay home without fans,” Eze said.

Life has not been easy for Mama Ayo, a mother of four, who hawks sachet water to fend for a family left behind by her late husband since three years ago.

Mama Ayo or ‘Oni Pure Water’, as she is fondly called, is among many hawkers who queue to collect bags of sachet water and bottled ones from a major dealer who freezes them at Jakande Estate Junction in Isolo, Lagos.

In this business, the hawkers only need bowels to put the water; they collect, sell, bring back the capital to the supplier, take the little profit and continue in that order as much as their strength can carry them.

It is with this little profit that Mama Ayo takes care of her family. It is also from daily hustling that the roadside mechanic, rewire, vulcanizer, loaders at motor parks, informal sales agents at Idumota market, touts at passport offices and visa centres earn their livelihood.

Mama Ayo is in a dilemma now as she needs daily hustling to keep up with her family and so also many others who are looking for daily bread. Even though she moves out, she does not see people to sell the water to because of the lockdown. She couldn’t stock food because of lack of money and cannot get money now because there is no savings in the bank.

“Oga, it is when you get money that you save in the bank. I make N3, 000 everyday from selling sachet water; it is from there I settle government touts, eat once, and buy food for my family. So, how much is left to save?” she asked.

Towing her line, Afis Kaka, a mechanic, lamented that hunger is likely going to kill more people than coronavirus if the lockdown persists because people are hungry and government has not been supportive.

“All my customers are not picking my calls again because they think I want to beg for financial assistance. Two of them warned me to buy enough food and drugs for my family; keep some money in my pocket and prepare for one month without any job. I did not listen because I thought coronavirus is big man disease. It is for everyone now and my family is not finding it easy”, Kaka confessed.

But Muniru Adekumbi, a motor electrician, who managed to stock up his food supplies, said it is now he is at home that he has discovered the volume of food his family consumes daily.

“I was banking on doubling the items at home, but I was deceived by my daily food item purchase approach. The supplies are almost drained and I will need money to stock up now. I should have listened to my wife to buy in bulk when I made some money last month”, the electrician lamented.

Like Adekumbi rightly observed, most breadwinners, especially fathers hardly have time for their families, as long as they bring money for food.

While most fathers leave very early and return very late, they hardly know how the family is doing apart from what the children or wives tell them.

Some are still giving their wives same upkeep amount they started three years ago despite high cost of food items in the market today. So, the lockdown is now opening their eyes to the reality of the high rate of inflation in the country.

“Our wives are trying. With my stay-at-home, I have noticed that my wife makes up any amount I give her for upkeep”, Adekumbi said.

But some people also see themselves as part of the masses too, who are affected by the lockdown. Ada Enuwah, a banker, said that salaries at some levels in the banking profession are poor and that such staff depend on the goodwill of some generous customers.

With the lockdown, she said life has not been easy for some bank staff, especially those who have many mouths to feed.

“As a banker, nobody believes you don’t have money. Almost all my relations have been calling on me to send money to them to stock food. But the bank has not increased my salary, we even expected salary cut. So, we are part of the masses and equally affected”, Ada declared.

But the grave concern for Ikem Oti, an economist, is when the lockdown did not achieve the expected results and government extends it across the country.

“There is suffering in the land before now, the lockdown is worsening it. The masses will revolt at some point if the lockdown is extended and we pray this does not happen”, Oti warned.

He thinks that the masses have had so many disappointments from government that make them always suspect any move by government.

“I think, there should be sincerity in dealing with the masses now. Government should not just promise, but fulfill any promise now, especially of providing alternative supplies for food and essentials, financial assistance and other forms of support needed to alleviate the hardship imposed by the lockdown”, Oti said.

Dare Okiki, a lawyer, said government should truly cushion the harsh impact of the lockdown on the masses as most families who depend on daily bread are suffering now.

“As a people, we hardly plan. Many were taken unawares by the lockdown. Those who have money can still buy things at supermarkets, but what about those whose earnings are daily and have not earned money since the lockdown. How will they feed, government should identify and help these category of people out”, the lawyer said.

Barely a week into the lockdown, food supplies are running down in many homes, some are getting agitated, especially those who do not have money to refill their supplies. It is needful that government offers assistance to many who need it now so as to save people from unnecessary death from hunger.

Transparency is suspect in palliative distribution

On Thursday 2, 2020, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of World Health Organisation (WHO) said on his twitter handle @DrTedros, that countries of the world have started asking people to stay home by shutting down population movement to limit the spread of coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

While acknowledging that these steps can have unintended consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable, he called on those countries implementing such measures to ensure the vulnerable populations have food and other life essentials during the crisis.

Emphasising on this, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, who noted that many people in the region live in crowded conditions or work in the informal sector and need to earn money daily to survive, said that it was important that countries make provisions to ensure that people can still access essential services.

The big question remains, is Nigeria meeting up this expectation for the benefit of her citizens? On the night of Monday, March 30, 2020, Nigeria, a country of over 200 million people with over 50 percent of this number living below the poverty line, joined the rest of the world to restrict gatherings and the movement of people by locking down some of her states, including Lagos, Ogun, and the capital territory (FCT) Abuja.

By restricting movement of people in the above mentioned places, other state governments followed suit, by closing down their borders to ensure that people from affected states do not have access into their states.

As a result, many Nigerians who need to earn money daily to survive started staying home without any means of survival. While small business owners worry about cash flow owing to closure of markets in states for two weeks, families now fear the increasing rate of spending to cater for family needs in a period of limited resources.

This was why the Federal Government in line with the WHO advice for countries to make provision for the vulnerable in the society, rolled out plans to disburse N20,000 Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) payments of four months to the beneficiaries.

The disbursement, which kicked off in Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory and some parts of Nassarawa State, was to serve as a palliative to help ease the untold hardship, which the lockdown has imposed on the vulnerable.

Sadiya Umar Farouq, minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, claimed that over 2.6million households have so far benefited from the palliative and that over 11 million vulnerable persons have been identified in 35 states yet to benefit from the palliative measure.

Farouq, who stated that the 2.6 million households come from the FCT, Nasarawa, Katsina and Anambra states, insisted that there was no favoritism in disbursing the palliative.

In addition to this, several state governments claimed they have invested millions of naira into buying basic food stuffs that would be shared among the residents in those states.

Despite these efforts, many angry Nigerians, who have been improvised by the stay-at-home order, have expressed concerns regarding the rationale behind the sharing of the Federal and State Governments’ COVID-19 lockdown palliatives.

For them, there seems to be no transparency in the distribution of the palliative, which according to them have been hijacked by the high and mighty for their own personal interest.

“Federal Government said they are sharing money to the poorest of the poor in the society but I have not seen anybody that has benefited from that palliative,” said a Lagos resident, who gave his name as Ade.

Ade, who resides in Ejigbo Area of Lagos State, told BDSUNDAY that he is yet to benefit from the food stuffs, which Lagos State Government said it’s sharing to residents to cushion the effect of the lockdown.

“Nigerians need help because the closure of markets has not been easy for us. Several Nigerians rely on the money they bring home on a daily basis to survive. Some of us wonder how we are going to survive in the coming weeks,” Ade said.

 

CHUKA UROKO, OBINNA EMELIKE and AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE

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