After five weeks of a near-total lockdown, Lagos residents trooped out on Monday, May 4. From early in the morning, they rushed out like prisoners that had been in captivity for years and could not wait to savour the air of freedom.
Describing what erupted in the streets of Lagos as pure chaos on the first day after the lockdown was ease would definitely not be out of place. Caution, discipline and orderliness were thrown to the winds, while most residents went about their daily activities with total disregard for safety measures.
To contain the further spread of the coronavirus pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari had, on March 29, ordered a lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states. The shutdown was further extended twice. It was a decision that generated wide criticisms and commendations from those who opposed or supported the development, respectively.
When the President announced that the three places would be partially opened on May 4, though with conditions attached to the reopening, many people began to warm up to hit the roads. There was jubilation in many homes.
As early as 5.30 in the morning, many bus stops in Lagos were already alive with human traffic. The commuters were waiting for the drivers to hit the road by 6am, so that they could beat the habitual traffic in the bustling city. The news of the lockdown relaxation must have come as a relief for many Nigerians, especially those who depended on daily income in different markets.
But the people had apparently forgotten the guidelines for commercial activities even from that very first day of the gradual opening. The preventive measures, such as social distancing; regular washing of hands with soap and water; use of hand sanitizer; and compulsory use of face masks, as part of measures to flatten the curve, were defied by many residents.
In most markets, bus stops, and motor parks, it was business as usual. Watching crowds in different places, one would begin to wonder if the people need a better explanation of the meaning of social distancing. Many people have expressed the fear that, if the trend continues, there might be astronomical increase in community transmission of the infection.
As monitored by the reporter between Monday and Wednesday, most conductors attached to commercial buses in many parts of the state only wore their facemasks beneath their jaws. As usual, they were shouting on top of their voices, calling commuters to board their vehicles. Even while interacting with passengers in their buses, the facemask was never worn properly. There were a few other conductors who didn’t put on the facemasks, but simply hid theirs somewhere in the vehicles. And they would quickly grab it at the sight of any security operative.
There is no gainsaying that many of the conductors, as well as other residents only put on the facemasks to “fulfil all righteousness.” It was also discovered that many commercial buses didn’t make provision for hand sanitizer in their buses.
When the reporter demanded it from the conductor of a commercial bus plying the Ile-Epo-Dopemu route on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, the young man responded with a sheepish smile. As two other passengers joined in the conversation, the driver quickly apologised, saying that the one he bought had been exhausted. He promised to purchase another one before embarking on the next trip. But time was just about 9.30am. Some passengers in the bus argued that such habit was common with not just the commercial drivers on that route but with other commercial drivers in other parts of Lagos.
A dealer in handset accessories at the Computer Village, Ikeja, Chima Okeke, told the reporter that it would not be possible to maintain social distancing in the market.
Said he: “How can they be talking of social distancing in Computer Village? More than 50 people can be passing through a small pathway at a time. To achieve the social distancing, such a pathway should be for five people. But nobody is ready to wait for anyone because time is of essence to everyone here. Ten people in the line of handset repair could be in one small kiosk doing their work.
“The social distancing might work in other places, but not in the Computer Village and other open markets in the state. Many people comply here by using facemasks, but somebody who has been under the sun for hours; he or she might have to remove it from time to time. We all know that the mask is not convenient for anybody. Some of us try to do the needful, but some people still don’t wear facemasks, and they mingle with other people in the market.”
At Moshalashi Street, Agege, a middle-age woman backing a baby was asked why she was not putting on a facemask, the question sounded offensive to her.
She retorted in Yoruba: “I have been indoors for more than one month without any help from government. Where will I see money to buy facemask? If the government gives me for free, I will use. But what is important to me now is food for my children and me.”
With all these playing out, pundits believe that the purpose of easing the lockdown was already defeated on arrival. Not losing hope, they urged Nigerians to cooperate with government’s directives and other precautions given by health care specialists so that the virus could be defeated as soon as possible. They believe that Nigerians’ destinies lie in their own hands.
No doubt, the success or failure in the fight against the pandemic is now largely dependent on personal responsibility. Even at bus stops, people are seen standing very close to one another. And they appear carefree about it.
At a new generation bank at Adealo Bus Stop, along Lagos Abeokuta Expressway, one might think that palliatives were being distributed at the bank premises. Numbers were given to the customers that would admit two or three at a time into the banking hall. But sooner than later, others became impatient as they waited for hours without being allowed into the banking hall.
Perhaps already overwhelmed by the pressure from the crowd, the bank shut its main gate. The security guards attached to the bank were seen sweating profusely and trying to maintain decorum, all to no avail. Everybody wanted to enter the banking hall at the same time.
Any time the small gate was opened for the next batch of clients to go in, there would be a sudden push from the crowd outside the fence.
A general practitioner, who is based in Lagos, Dr. Akinlade Odunayo, told Daily Sun on telephone that Nigeria was sitting on a keg of gunpowder bound to explode. He warned that the recklessness being displayed by many Nigerians might put the country in harm’s way.
“Despite all the awareness already created and high-profile people coming down with the sickness and sharing their experiences, some persons still ask me if coronavirus is real in Nigeria. It will shock to know that some of these people are university graduates and working in offices. So, convincing these sets of people to maintain social distancing and other precautions will be very difficult.
“But the danger is that these people will end up infecting others who are careful and adhering to all the safety measures. When this happens, it becomes a problem for the society. The government will spend money; more pressure will mount on the health care workers over what can be avoided.
“Let’s not forget that the only way we can overcome the virus is prevention. In Nigeria, it is now obvious to us that there is shortage of everything in the health care sector. We don’t have the capacity to handle it, if the situation goes out of hand. There is dearth in manpower, facilities, including personal protective equipment (PPEs). If the disease can be dealing with countries with the best health care facilities like it is affecting countries in Europe and North America, then Nigerians should know that when it really hit us, thousands of people can be wiped out in few days.” Odunayo warned.