Christy Anyanwu and Henry Okonkwo
Fear is high in Lagos State that a spike of the Coronavirus disease would occur in the Centre of Excellence following the number of residents who may have been infected with the virus after the lifting of the lockdown last week
This is based on the flagrant neglect of the directives laid out by the Lagos State government prior to the relaxation of the lockdown imposed on the state.
In apparent confirmation of this, the Lagos State COVID-19 Task Force has predicted that the number of infected persons would rise up to 120,000 by July this year.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, gave this indication on Friday during a press briefing on the COVID-19 situation in the state.
He said that the worry of the state government is that most people would get infected, be unaware of it as they would not show any symptoms (asymptomatic), but unconsciously spread the virus to many others thereby worsening the growing community transmission.
Contrary to the directives which specify that people must observe social distancing, wear face masks, wash their hands with water and soap before boarding commuter buses or use alcohol-based sanitizers while commercial vehicles must not carry more than 60 per cent of their regular capacity, Lagosians seem unperturbed by the dangers of COVID-19 as they have been conducting their daily affairs they in ways that suggest indifference to the rules.
The earliest indication of this came on Monday, when aerial pictures of Eko Bridge and other major arterial roads that lead into the Lagos Central Business District, taken by a drone showed bumper-to-bumper traffic of vehicles heading for the Lagos Island and other parts of the island. As it was in that axis, traffic gridlock was also witnessed in Ikeja and other parts of the mainland.
From that day to the end of the week, huge numbers of customers besieged and massed up at the gates of commercial banks in total defiance of the social distancing rule just as the majority of them pulled down their masks to their chins as they talked in high voices, protesting against being kept outside for too long under excruciating conditions.
At a popular bank branch in Ire Akari Estate, Isolo, there was stampede by customers who tried to gain entrance into the banking hall.
The same was experienced at the Aguda, Surulere branch of a first generation bank. Other scenes of pushing and struggle by customers on queues who stood too close to one another at less than elbow length, were seen even as most of the people pulled down their masks as they discussed about the handling of the COVID-19 palliatives and related issues.
A customer at the branch who spoke with Sunday Sun, Mr Pius Okafor, said he could not totally blame people for their conduct.
“Our leaders too are not showing good examples. For instance, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, is always pulling down his mask, even when he is at the premises of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, IDH, Yaba.
“It is like these people are not really telling us the truth. Some people still believe that the government is not telling us the whole truth about this pandemic. Though we have seen cases of deaths recorded, but most Nigerians believe that once you go for COVID-19 test you automatically become infected. It seems they have a way they regulate the test kit to show negative and positive,” Okafor said.
He said that he foresees another lockdown looming. “From the statistics, the abuse of the process is enormous. I feel they should do total relaxation. It would help the situation because Lagosians don’t hear. The urge to rush home before 7:00 p.m because of the curfew is causing a lot of mayhem in the society. People are busy jamming bodies to ensure they get to their respective homes by 7:00p.m.,” he said.
Transporters also are not helping matters. The buses are full as if nothing is happening. Then the Kabukabu in most places still carry three passengers at the back seat instead of the two prescribed by the government.
At the Lawanson market in Surulere, Mrs Nifemi Martin, said that the way traders behave should be given proper consideration. “The government has earmarked Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but Lagosians don’t comply with the rules.”
Martin recalled that when she confronted a trader in the market as to why she was not wearing a mask, the lady replied that she forgot her mask at home, adding in pidgin, “The thing no master person.”
Another woman said she found wearing the mask tiring and uncomfortable. She explained: “I have been wearing the mask since morning; I think pulling the face mask down is not bad. With time Nigerians will get used to the mask.”
Interestingly, a visit to Yakoyo, a popular eatery in Surulere, showed that the normally busy facility had few customers inside who came to purchase take-away food packs, and were carefully observing social distancing while waiting to be served.
In the major distribution hubs in the metropolis, the leaders of the markets have adopted measures to ensure that buyers and sellers at the bustling markets adhere strictly to the preventive measures announced by the government, which include social distancing, washing of hands with soap and water, as well as the use of hand sanitizers.
However, a number of the normally crowded markets and shopping malls in Lagos have been implementing the directives given by the Lagos State government. For instance, at the Computer Village, Ikeja, Lagos, which is the biggest information and communication technology (ICT) hardware distribution hub in West Africa, Sunday Sun observed has adopted a policy of ‘No Mask, No Entry,’ which are seen on signposts erected at the gates to the super busy market, and persons without face masks were prevented from entering the market by a combined team of Lagos State officials and the task force established by the leadership of the market to enforce the directive of the government, which made the wearing of face masks compulsory after the lifting of the lockdown.
One of the officers of the Computer Village COVID-19 Task Force, who spoke with Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity, explained the modus operandi of the team in these words: “We are engaging the people, encouraging them to wear the mask and in a way we are also enforcing compliance. When you are around this street, if you are not wearing it, we engage you, explain the importance to you and encourage you to use it. But where you prove to be adamant, we advise that you go home and stay. That is what we are doing and it is in line with the strategies against the spread of COVID-19.”
Other major commercial hubs like Ojo-Alaba International Market, Ojo, and Ojuoye Market in Mushin, in their bid to avoid too much crowd trooping into the markets, decided to alternate their trading days. It was gathered that the two electronics and consumer goods distribution hubs would open for business three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
“Aside from not opening our markets, we traders also ensure strict compliance with government guidelines,” Mr Joseph Chibuike, an electrical/electronics trader at the market, said, adding that “I sanitize the hands of any customers that enter my shop. Also, security officials have increased their drive-in visits, to arrest anyone without face mask seen on the roads within the market. So, it’s no child’s play for both traders and buyers here in Ojo-Alaba.”
In the same vein, a foodstuff seller at the Ojuoye Market, Mrs Kemi Bukola, said that they have been ordered not to open their shops from Monday to Wednesday. “I learned that while Ojuoye is closed, Daleko Market (another foodstuff distribution hub) would open for business. And on the day we open, Daleko traders close their shops.”
Even with the campaigns on radio, television and social media, to boost awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 and thereby curb the spread of Coronavirus infection which has caused the pandemic, many people still doubt the veracity of figures being churned out by the NCDC, regarding the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Chinedu who deals in auto spare parts at Ladipo, told Sunday Sun: “I don’t wear face masks or use sanitizers because I don’t trust this government’s sincerity on the issue of the virus. I believe that COVID-19 is in Nigeria, but I don’t agree with the figures being released by the government. The figures keep rising and they keep telling us to stay at home and close our shops, but if you look at the government, you’ll notice their hypocrisy. I made up my mind on this when I saw what happened at Abba Kyari’s burial. So, I’m not ready to throw away my money on face masks or hand sanitizers.”