The cries of agony were deafening. In several videos that have been circulating in the media, many citizens of Lagos are seen lamenting the untold hardship they have allegedly been subjected to since the near-total lockdown on the state began.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, on Sunday, March 29, imposed a 14-day lockdown on Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, in an effort to curtail the rising cases of the coronavirus disease in the country.
The Lagos State government and its officials have received accolades over its management of the COVID-19 outbreak since the index case was announced in February. Many have lauded the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, and other state officials for their foresight and capacity at curtailing the spread of the pandemic, which has so far harvested over a hundred thousand souls globally.
Since the lockdown was imposed, essential workers are the only ones being permitted to move around in Lagos.
But several residents have accused the government of not doing enough to alleviate the plight of residents facing hunger and other economic challenges brought upon them by the restrictions. There have been loud grumblings that palliatives being distributed by the state have reached only a few, while the majority, currently deprived of their daily bread, are wallowing in unmitigated misery. Explanations that such claims are incorrect have not been well received by many of the residents.
Last Thursday, some top officials of government took turns to explain how Lagos State has been working hard to lessen the pain imposed by the lockdown on the government and the people.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotosho, urged citizens to disregard fallacious reports that Governor Sanwo-Olu had relaxed the restrictions imposed on the state. He noted that since President Buhari was the one that imposed the lockdown, any subsequent action on the lockdown would also be announced by the President. He emphasised though that the governor and his lieutenants would do everything possible to ensure that Lagos residents are as comfortable as possible while the lockdown lasts.
Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Sam Egube, explained government’s plan to channel funds into ventures that will generate quick employment and resources for Lagos residents. To achieve that objective, Egube said government was considering reordering the N1.17 trillion 2020 budget.
The commissioner admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed down the growth of the economy in the state, adding that industrial production had been shut down while the supply chain of essential items had been distorted. All that, he noted, had raised genuine fears of food insecurity in the state.
“We have started to put together post-COVID-19 response and stimulation plan to ensure our business continuity plan is on course after coronavirus,” he asserted. “We are going to look at small and medium-scale businesses that have the capacity to generate quick revenue and employment. All these economic stimulus packages will be rolled out when we have clarity on the slowdown of the spread of coronavirus in the state.
“We will be looking at the construction sector and agriculture, empowering of people with vocational knowledge and skills. We believe these investments will stimulate growth and set the economy of the state on a powerful rebound for more prosperity.”
The commissioner urged residents to enrol with the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA) to enable the government to update its database of residents for emergency planning and budgeting.
Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Rabiu Olowo, stated that, to cushion the adverse effects of the COVID-19 lockdown, the state government had granted a three-month moratorium on accrued principal and interest payment on loans granted to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs by the Lagos State Employment Trust Funds (LSETF).
He added: “We will also be raising the capacity of LSETF to support the SMEs with capital that will act as a shock absorber and give necessary incentives to enable them mitigate the impacts. This plan is for a period after the battle would have been won against COVID-19.”
He further explained that the nation’s economy had been adversely impacted by the twin shock of the freezing of revenue due to the pandemic and the subsequent dwindling of the price of oil in the international market. He stated that all the donations received from the private sector and the Federal Government were being transparently distributed, and that all funds received in respect of COVID-19 would be fully accounted for.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Gbolahan Lawal, explained that the state government had made food available for 200,000 families in the first tranche. He said community development associations (CDAs) were engaged to distribute the food items to beneficiaries, dismissing insinuations that the process was hijacked by politicians and local council bosses.
The commissioner also disclosed that the second phase of the food scheme had already taken off, adding that food was already being distributed to aged residents that had been registered with LASRRA.
Commissioner for Health, Abayomi, explained that the success achieved so far by the state government in the COVID-19 battle was attributable to the experience acquired during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and the fact that the state commenced building capacity five years ago.
Abayomi expressed optimism that the record of new cases has given indications of a gradual flattening of the COVID-19 curve in the state, noting that the state was hopeful that there would be no exponential increase in confirmed cases across the state.
He said: “Whatever we have been doing in Lagos is working,” the commissioner noted. “We have had two deaths in Lagos, but not in the state-owned facilities. So far, we have had 100 per cent recovery. We will soon be scaling up the isolation facilities to over 400 beds, as we are opening isolation centres at Landmark Event Centre and Gbagada General Hospital. We have also built more bed space for isolation in conjunction with the Federal Government and GTBank.”
Also, Commissioner for the Environment, Tunji Bello, said the agencies under his ministry had been working assiduously during the lockdown, ensuring the evacuation of waste across the state.
“We ensured that PSP operators go around Lagos to prevent the accumulation of waste within the metropolis during the lockdown and ensure that the environment is kept clean and healthy,” Bello said.
He explained that there had been fumigation across local governments and some bus stops within the state, adding that there were plans for the massive disinfection of all the highways in Lagos. He also said that cleaning of all drainage channels in the state was being done.
Responding to a question, Bello said governance was continuing in the state in spite of the lockdown.
Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, explained that the government was exploring the option of online classes for pupils in Lagos, in spite of the lockdown.
She noted also that the state was discussing with First Bank of Nigeria Limited and private sector organisations to provide one million digital devices to help students in the state prepare for examinations, including the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE).
She added: “We are also working with a technology firm that will provide devices, which has Nigerian curriculum, tests and quizzes on them. I am also glad to announce that MTN has given us airtime on these devices. First Bank has set the ball rolling with 20,000 pieces. EdFin Microfinace Bank has also given us devices for our teachers and we are open to other private firms that may want to support this initiative. Lagos Government will be funding part of the project.”
The commissioner explained that senior secondary school students that would be writing the WASSCE were being taught nine general subjects, adding that arrangements had been made for interaction between teachers and pupils via live programmes on television and radio. She said classes for junior secondary school pupils were being held on Naija FM 102.7, besides others being taught in Yoruba on Eko FM 107.5.
Commissioner for Youth and Social Development, Mr. Segun Dawodu, said all youth development activities had been postponed indefinitely, following the government directive on social distancing. He further informed that there were movement restrictions at the various neighbourhood parks, noting that officials had been visiting youth rehabilitation centres to sensitise the inmates on precautionary tips to stop COVID-19.
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Prince Anofiu Elegushi, said there were regular interactive sessions between the state government and different religious leaders in Lagos. He explained that religious leaders have been very cooperative with government. In his words, there was a general consensus among the clerics that gatherings of any kind should be suspended in worship places.
“The only area where we had a problem was a mosque in Agege, where the worshippers violated the order, and the place was shut down as directed by Governor Sanwo-Olu,” the commissioner stated.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Civic Engagement, Princess Aderemi Adebowale, asserted that her office had been vigorously engaging residents via community sensitisation, advocacy and public enlightenment on how to conduct themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She urged residents to ensure that hand gloves were discarded after a single use, noting that unchanged gloves could contaminate other persons who come in contact with the dirty gloves. She also urged residents to visit LASRRA offices and centres to register as Lagos residents.
“That is one of the ways you can benefit from the dividends of government,” she said.