For decades now, Lagos has been known as a city that never sleeps. From dusk to dawn, it used to be a beehive of economic and social activities.
Lagos is a melting pot for all tribes, religions and classes of people. From the East, North and beyond the shores of the country, people come to the state to tap into the diverse economic opportunities that abound in the commercial capital of Nigeria.
Until now, every day of the week, as early as 4am, there were already human and vehicular movements in all parts of the state. For example, many residents living on the Mainland, who resume work on the Island by 8am, would have to deny themselves hours of sleep every day. They would hit the road as early as possible to beat the usual gridlock on the highways.
Every major bus stop in Lagos used to be a sort of mini market, where those returning from their workplaces in the evening or late in the night could shop for everything they needed. In fact, there were many ventures that only opened for business in the night. The targets of these sets of merchants were primarily people returning late from work.
Bread sellers, operators of standard and local restaurants, supermarkets, dealers in fairly-used wears and bags, among other wares, as well as prohibited patent drug sellers were beneficiaries of this everyday night market.
But with the outbreak of coronavirus in Nigeria, a lot of things are changing fast. The attendant negative effect is increasing and spreading by the day. The hit has become unbearable for many families. Many breadwinners are directly affected by the disruption of everything that was hitherto normal.
In Lagos, as well as many other states, there is a curfew, as announced by government. The mega city is struggling to retain its toga as the economic hub of the country. Everywhere you turn, there are lamentations from everyone. Those selling in the streets, bus stops, small and major markets are united by one common unkind fate at the moment. Corporate workers are not exempted from these bitter tales, as their salaries or wages have been gravely reduced. Companies are struggling to remain in business. Some have declared their inability to pay their staffers anymore. All these are due to the apparent slump in economic activities.
But the federal and state government have repeatedly said that the lockdown and curfew were tough decisions necessary to flatten the curve of the spread of the coronavirus that has claimed almost 300,000 lives worldwide. Government’s explanation is that the citizens need to stay alive and remain healthy before talking of a healthy economy. It also admitted that the people’s means of livelihood must be protected amid the crisis so that the economy would not totally collapse while battling the virus.
The Lagos curfew begins at 8pm and ends by 6am. During this period, the city practically sleeps. Except for those on essential duties, the streets are incredibly empty.
As part of the new way of the gradual easing of the economy, most of the major markets in Lagos have been mandated to run one day on and one day off. But the traders have been lamenting that the order has disrupted and dropped their sales.
Also, as part of the measures to contain the further spread of COVID-19, commercial buses were mandated not to carry more than 60 per cent capacity of what they used to load.
At Ikeja-Along Bus Stop on the stretch of the rail track and inward the local government secretariat along the Agege Motor Road, traders of all manner of articles usually took strategic positions in the evening. Being a busy bus stop, the traders targeted people returning from their places of work to make huge sales.
But the activities there have been gravely affected as most people who have resumed work after the lockdown would have to hurry home before curfew begins by 8pm. Most workers or business people now leave their offices before 5pm in order not to be trapped on the road.
A trader in Aswani Market in Isolo, Lagos, Mrs. Eunice Adams, told the reporter that the market, which has been known for decades for opening every Tuesday, has been turned upside down with the new order.
In a telephone conversation with the reporter, she said: “I have been trading in that market for about nine years. Everybody knows that it opens only on Tuesdays. But, all of a sudden, the government turned it to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Some customers who are not aware of the new arrangement still go there on Tuesdays.
“Apart from the fact that it no longer opens on Tuesdays, we now close before 3pm. Unlike before, we could sell till the day is dark. And, sadly, we still pay our normal shop rent and levies. Sometimes, I don’t make profit that will be enough to pay the levies and transport fare from my house at Egbeda. Customers are also afraid to come to the market because it is not possible to maintain social distancing there.
“My prayer is for the coronavirus to end or let them find a cure. I couldn’t get a job after five years of completing my National Youths Service Corps. That was why I started selling wears at the market.”
She said that she couldn’t blame government’s actions because they were not expected to watch the virus escalating and killing citizens, especially if it could be avoided, no matter the pains associated with the various restrictions.
A commercial tricycle (Keke) rider, Mr. Ifeanyi Okey, who plies the Command and Ile-Epo routes in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area, said: “It is not easy, but what can we do when the government has already spoken? I used to work from 4.30am till about 11pm, but it is no longer so.
“Unlike before when we were carrying four passengers, it is now two. The passengers pay extra for the seats not occupied. But it still doesn’t pay us because people now prefer to trek short distances. Instead of paying N100 from Ekoro Junction to Ile-Epo, many people do the distance on foot.
“If I work any time beyond 8pm this period, the police will collect nothing less than N10,000. Three of my friends have been victims. But I know this hardship will not last forever. So, instead of making N5,000 a day, if I now make N2,000 or N3,000, I will accept it in good fate.”
On the other hand, commuters are also decrying the increase in fare on all the routes. The fares previously paid in most routes have doubled. A teacher in a private school in the state, Adewala Bamidele, said the financial burden has been shifted to commuters. He argued that commercial drivers and riders shouldn’t be complaining because they still get in full what they used to charge while they were carrying full load.
Many Nigerians have accused security agents of cashing in on the situation to extort money from violators of the rules. But the police and other law enforcement agencies have denied the allegations, saying that many violators were only seeking public sympathy.
There was a crisis on May 6 between the Abule-Egba and Agbelekale junction. There was traffic congestion that lasted hours in the axis that fateful day due to a truck that broke down in the middle of the road. But apprehension began to set in when it was about 7.30pm, and there was no sign that the traffic would be cleared by 8pm, when the curfew would start. More worrisome to many of the motorists and Keke riders was that they had to pass in front of a police station at Ile-Iwe Bus Stop before getting to their destinations.
For fear of arrest, the drivers and riders agreed to go in large groups so that they could explain to the police their reason for being outside during the curfew. But some others who didn’t welcome the idea poured into different inner streets that could lead them to their houses.