Lukman Olabiyi, [email protected]
After lockdown of many weeks, states and federal government in Nigeria have taken unprecedented and stringent preventive and precautionary measures against COVID-19 to control its spread, safeguard citizens and ensure their well-being.
Today, many commuters are back on the road, as COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted across the country and businesses are fast re-opening. But not many truly understand all the safety guidelines recommended by health officials. Despite the guidelines, the gradual easing of lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, which took effect on May 4, public adherence to preventive measures is still being influenced by individual choices, knowledge and attitude of citizens towards COVID-19.
In many markets, motor parks and other public spaces, residents often flout the physical distancing order, while transporters also capitalise on the guidelines to exploit commuters by hiking fares even without adhering to preventive measures put in place.
The mandatory use of face mask, regular washing of hands with soap under running water and use alcohol-based sanitizers before and after each trip by all commuters and transporters have turned out to be mere campaign slogans. All these have accounted for further community spread of the COVID-19 virus, increasing the number of infected people on a daily basis.
A visit to some markets and public places in Lagos State showed that not much has changed. The hustle and bustle in crowded marketplaces remain the same; use of face masks was not 100 per cent complied with, while many who wore the face mask did not seem to know its benefits but just used it as a formality. A typical example of what is going on in Lagos markets and garages can be observed in Ketu, Mile 12, Agric Bus Stop in Ikorodu, Ikorodu Garage, Mushin, Agege. Oko-Oba abattoir and Oyingbo, among others. At these places, it is business as usual.
The face mask, which ought to be worn to cover nose and mouth, is being used by many people to cover the chin. Besides, those who wore the face mask properly don’t know the techniques of using or removing it because many were seen touching their faces with their hands.
A trader in Ikorodu, who identified herself as Bose, in a chat with this reporter, said the face mask meant nothing to her, she was just using it so that she could move freely around without being harassed by the authorities: “Do you think it is easy to cover nose and mouth and still be shouting on top of my voice to attract attention to what I am selling? My brother, it is not easy. Most of the time, I just leave the face mask around my chin but whenever I notice law enforcement officers around, I quickly pull it up,” she said.
There are many people like Bose on the streets, roads and in markets, and the majority of hawkers along the major highways carry on their daily activities as if they are exempted from taking preventive measures. Some people have even dismissed the precautions, claiming that COVID-19 is scam by government. Some other people insist that the virus is only meant for the rich, while some regard it as ordinary malaria that could be easily cured with herbs.
While all these are mostly the perception of people in the cities, there are still many rural dwellers who are not aware of COVID-19, not to mention taking preventive measures against it. The awareness level about coronavirus among rural dwellers is apparently very poor. Many lives have been lost as result of this, yet this set of citizens sees the death of their relatives and love ones as an act of God.
Even in the cities, since the resumption of the operations of financial institutions after the lockdown, most banks have had hand wash basins and sanitisers at their entrance but not all customers comply with the hand washing/sanitising requirements. Although all the banks close at 3pm, crowd control remains a major challenge, as many people jostle to gain entrance to the banking hall at a go. Security personnel at branches of commercial banks now have a hectic time controlling the surging crowds daily.
Transporter’s exploitation and flouting of physical distancing order
Despite serious warning by Lagos State government to public transport operators against any activities capable of undermining government’s efforts at eradicating the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing has changed from their usual practices.
Even the special task force comprising the Nigeria Police, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS) saddled with enforcing the new regulations, the law has become toothless bulldog.
The use of motorcycles, popularly called Okada, for commercial activities, which government restricted due to the fact that their activities would not support the physical distancing rule as directed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), are still in place in many parts of the state, where commuters do not have any other choice than this means of transportation due to bad roads. A visit to many suburbs across the state was an eye-opener.
As part of the effort to checkmate spread of the virus through the movement of people and goods from one place to another, government made it mandatory for all transport operators and companies to regularly disinfect their vehicles, parks and garages. But enquiries at different motor parks showed that nothing of such was done. It was even surprising that some of the transport unions’ officials in the parks were not aware of the directives.
Similarly, the new guidelines for commercial transportation stipulated that passengers in all commercial vehicles must not exceed 60 per cent of their capacity, while physical distancing rule must be obeyed both at the parks and in the buses; but what is obtainable at different bus stops after all these vehicles leave their parks and garages is contrary to the guidelines against COVID-19.
Some Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Lagos Bus Services Ltd (LBSL) were also guilty of this.
While yellow commercial buses, popularly called ‘Danfo’, have no regard for the guidelines, yet the operators charge exorbitant fares, in the name of COVID-19.
The government guidelines for their operations stipulate that each vehicle must not carry more than eight passengers (two in a row), tricycles were to carry just two passengers at the back; but what is seen on the road is totally different.
Humanitarian groups’ intervention
In response to the situation, Lions Clubs International has complemented the efforts of government in the fight against the pandemic. Recently, three clubs under Region 4 of District 404A1, in Ikorodu Local Government, namely Eko Centennial Lions Club, Ikorodu Metropolitan Lions Club and Ikorodu Diamond Lions Club, embarked on sensitisation campaigns, in addition to donating face masks and sanitizers to residents of the state. The humanitarian service group said the initiative was part of its response to the pandemic, to bring it to a manageable level in Nigeria.
Eko Centennial Lions Club’s president, Monsuru Yinusa, said the programme was a follow-up on what the district, under the leadership of Adetokunbo Aromolaran, has done. The district recently donated personal protective equipment (PPEs) worth $10,000 (about N4 million), to the NCDC. The PPEs included facemasks, disposable gowns, face shields, gloves and other protective medical equipment meant to serve more than 10,000 health workers.
During the exercise in Ikorodu, the club enlightened commuters on the best way of wearing the masks, just as residents were educated further on how to avoid the virus. Members of the public were also encouraged to go for tests whenever they had close contact with persons who might have the virus, to ascertain their state of health.
The group noted that the ailment was curable and commuters should not panic if anyone contracted it, but quickly go to the nearest testing centre for examination.
On tips that could help in avoiding the virus while in public transportation, commuters were urged to always wear masks and avoid touching their faces with their hands.
They were also counselled on the importance of using alcohol-based hand gel to decrease the risk of infection.
“It is well-known that people can contaminate their masks with their hands. Therefore, hand hygiene needs to be maintained. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol and then wash your hands with soap and water when you arrive at your destination.
“Please, remember, if you are not feeling well, it’s important to stay home and not use public transportation. Consider travelling during non-peak hours when there are likely to be fewer people,” Yinusa said.
Again, the Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Development Awareness (CESDA), in collaboration with the British Council – Agents for Citizen-driven Transformation (ACT), kicked off an awareness campaign on COVID-19 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The campaign, which was also supported by the European Union (EU), meant to engage local communities within Abuja on how to fight the pandemic.
CESDA’s executive director, Olusola Babalola, disclosed that the awareness campaign was to complement government ‘sin the fight against the pandemic.
“Basically, the intervention, among other things, aims to advocate the rights of communities to effective water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practice, and health care provision to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 infection in the Federal Capital Territory through public enlightenment on the proper procedure of mitigating and preventing the effect of the pandemic on social media and radio.
“All our activities to tackle the virus will be in collaboration with all government agencies and organisations particularly the National Center for Diseases Control, World Health Organization and the Presidential Committee on COVID-19,” he said .
Director, media and public relations, Methodist Church Nigeria, Rev. Oladapo Emmanuel Daramola, raised the alarm on level of compliance with the guidelines against COVID-19 and also condemned government for not doing much in creating awareness.
“Compliance to the directives issued to manage the COVID-19 has been a total sham. The management of the entire process has been a total disgrace and it borders on many factors, ranging from lack of enforcement, personal carelessness, to lack of leadership.
“Till date, only about 260,000 people have been tested out of hundreds of millions that we are. In Lagos State, only 14,300 tests have been done out of how many millions? This has taken five months to do and you want people to take such government seriously? With all the billions of naira, why have we found it difficult to increase capacity for testing? This are the most important parameters or indices to use to measure any governments’ seriousness in confronting the pandemic.
“The data available, which I just quoted here, is disgraceful. What then is the basis for keeping people out of their means of livelihood when the basic thing that is supposed to help in assessing the situation is not progressing at all?” he asked.
Speaking further, Rev. Daramola condemned the situation at motor parks and markets: “Go to motor parks and markets and see zero regard for face masks and other safety and hygiene measures. Where are the enforcement officers? Who is responsible? Who is in charge? For me, it’s as if government has given up and all they expect is for people to take responsibility, which is a shallow narrative.
“Government must equally raise the level of advocacy and corporate organisations are expected to join in this. Beyond the briefings led by the Commissioner for Health in Lagos, there seems to be nothing happening. What is the advocacy level in rural and suburban areas, when even the urbanites are not getting relevant and up-to-speed information? Nothing seems to be happening and there is collective irresponsibility on all levels and from all angles.”
On is part, chairperson of Lions Club International, District 404A1, Zone 4 C, Mr. Shôgó Ólóshùndé, encouraged use of face mask, regular washing of hands with soap and water, use of alcohol-based sanitizers and social distancing while in public places.
He charged government, corporate organisations and humanitarian groups to brace up for challenges of creating more awareness on the existence of COVID-19.
“Due to the rate of compliance and our belief that COVID-19 has come to stay and we must battle to live with it in line with established protocol while we await vaccine/drugs from researchers who are walking round the clock to halt the fatalities, we encourage use of face mask, regular washing of hands with soap and water, use of alcohol based sanitizers and social distancing.
“Unfortunately, many Nigerians are still defying the protocols and a large chunk doesn’t even believe COVID-19 is real. Many are tired of the ‘new norm’ and are just living like nothing happened, thereby ignoring all safety or precautionary measures put in place.
“When you visit markets, bus stops, inside buses and many public places, you see many Nigerians deliberately ignoring the COVID-19 protocols.
“As clubs,we have been supporting our government with donation of face mask, sanitizers and educating members of the public on safety measures and need not to ignore them, until a vaccine or approved treatment is found for the pandemic,” he said.
An Osun State-born architect, Mr. Atoyebi Atoyegbe, also decried the level of compliance among Nigerians. He implored government, corporate organisations and humanitarian groups to do more on awareness about the pandemic.
His word: “I think people are complying by wearing their masks but not totally. And social distancing is a myth, except when you go to corporate organisations, hospitals and the likes. I still see a lot of people without mask and some would have drawn their masks down to their chin, which in itself is also not healthy.
“If you take a walk, you’ll see more people without masks than those with masks. I really don’t know why people don’t want to wear the face masks when it’s for our good,” he said.
In his observations, an Ogun State-based health and safety expert, Mr. Olusegun Ogundele, said the number of infected people would continue to increase as along as citizens were not adhering to guidelines.
He said most Nigerians don’t have regard for all the preventive measures put in place by government, and many people who appear to be complying in public place only did so because of law enforcement officers; but at their own will, they were not doing as stated by the government.
However, Ogundele declared that: “As much as I believe this virus exists, I don’t trust the crazy figures being released daily by NCDC because everything has been manipulated.”