By Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye, Agatha Emeadi and Henry Okonkwo
Nigerians have called on the Federal Government not to succumb to the pressure of slamming a fresh lockdown on the country following the reported spike of Coronavirus infection in the country.
A cross section of Nigerians who spoke to Sunday Sun warned that the nation risked very dire socio-economic crisis should the government make good the threat to lock the nation down as a measure to containing the spread of Coronavirus in the country.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had consistently made case for a fresh lockdown as one of the measures to curbing the spread of the deadly virus in Nigeria and recently called for a targeted lockdown in states with high prevalence of the virus.
The National Incident Manager of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Mukhtar Muhammad, had disclosed that a fresh lockdown could be on the way in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna and other major cities in the country on account of the rising number of COVID-19 cases, describing the situation as alarming.
But Nigerians, reacting to the lockdown threat in part or the entire country, said that the government must not toy with the idea of further stretching the already fragile economy in the name of fighting the pandemic.
Dr Nnaemeka Obiaraeri, an economic expert, warned against the idea of imposing a fresh lockdown on the country.
Dr Obiaraeri, a financial analyst and Managing Director of Taurus Capital, Lagos reasoned that Nigerian government should not copy the lockdown model of other countries to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, saying that the Nigerian government has no effective social intervention support system for Nigerians during the lockdown.
His words: “The truth is that lockdown would worsen the situation of Nigerians. If we truly love this country, it would be a very bad idea to shut down the economy. This is because we have an economy that has over 100 million people who are below the extreme poverty level. Then again 176 million out of 200 million Nigerians, cannot eke out a living if they don’t go out every day because they live on less than N60, 000 income per month. so another lockdown is counter-productive. The deaths that would occur from hunger and starvation would be worse than what COVID-19 can cause.
“As an expert, I advise against it. In Europe and America, lockdowns can work, because they have a social security system that provides for the less privileged, and the destitute in their land. But in Nigeria, we don’t have a socio-economic framework to adopt a total lockdown. So, to copy and paste without looking at the realities on the ground is irresponsible. The political class and the elite are aloof, they would not understand it, but I can tell you from practical experiences in the field that a lockdown is dangerous and sheer wickedness of the highest order.”
Obiaraeri suggested that instead of locking down, the government should do more on awareness creation.
“The best way to combat this virus is to increase awareness; the people should mask up, and observe all the COVID-19 protocols, like moving around and using your hand sanitiser, avoiding crowded places as much as possible, and keeping a distance of two meters in any meeting or gathering you find yourself, whether at church or mosque,” he said.
Expressing a similar position on the issue, a former President of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, CIBN, Mazi Okechukwu Unuegbu, and Mrs. Fayo Williams, a former vice president, NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women, in separate interviews with Sunday Sun, were unanimous in their views that the price of the second wave of COVID-19 lockdown would be too grave on the nation’s economy.
In Unuegbu’s view, throwing Nigeria into a fresh lockdown when the nation was yet to recover from the effect of the first lockdown would be more devastating.
“We are not yet free from the effect of the economic disaster of the first lockdown because at that time most businesses were closed down; people were not going to work; small businesses were hit disastrously. A lot of them had to close shop and lost all their staff. Now, this second lockdown due to the second wave of the COVID-19 may be worse because the few that survived the first lockdown may not survive the second lockdown,” Unuegbu said.
The ex-CIBN boss called on the government to urgently come up with fresh palliatives to businesses that survived the first lockdown and save them from going under.
“The government should now immediately think of how to help the remaining businesses to survive. Otherwise we are going to have the worst economy. The social dislocation caused by unemployment and the various dislocations caused by rise in the price of food, may result in the death of more people because the prices of food items continue to rise on daily basis, but the incomes are not coming in. Apart from COVID-19, hunger will be the major killer of the people during the second lockdown because most people will not have food to eat.
“In fact, most of the loans the government is getting should be diverted to help the economy come out of this quagmire. Moreover, remember that we are in recession. Recession combined with COVID-19 lockdown will be a disaster for Nigeria. Therefore, the government must try to see how they can cushion the effect of the imminent lockdown by providing needed assistance to businesses. The Central Bank of Nigeria should come up to manage the economy, enough of the politics they have been playing with the economy, the CBN should come out to take charge of the economy,” Unuegbu advised.
Also speaking on the implications of a fresh round of lockdown on the nation’s economy, Mrs Williams said that closing down businesses again would lead to further shrinkage in the gross domestic product (GDP).
She added that going into another lockdown when the nation was still smarting from the effect of the first lockdown would portend more severe consequences for the nation.
Her words: “There will probably be further shrinkage in the GDP, particularly when businesses will be shut down again. There will be more loss of employment. In the last lockdown a lot of employees were laid off; this may resurface again. Unfortunately, with the high inflationary trend, we may find out that there may be shortage of food supply and this will gravely impact on the purchasing power of average Nigerians. We have not even recovered from the effect of the first wave of the COVID-19 lockdown. So, another lockdown now will have dire consequences.”
Williams noted that there are alternatives available to Nigeria, and urged the government to embark on massive enlightenment campaign on the COVID-19 realities, particularly during festivities, saying “because people have been denied the opportunity of seeing their loved ones for so long, they probably may want to throw caution to the winds and congregate in places that may not be well ventilated. So we need to remind Nigerians to adhere to COVID-19 protocols now and avoid high risk behaviour and get the citizens to be more COVID-19 conscious.”
Similarly, Alhaji Rasheed Awofeso, Secretary of the Lagos State Social Mobilisation Committee, an agency under the State’s Ministry of the Primary Health Care Board, expressed the view that a fresh lockdown is not a viable option because of the harsh times Nigerians are facing at the moment. “We all saw the aftermath of the first lockdown. Businesses closed down, many people lost their jobs, unemployment rose and keeps rising, the cost of doing business has hit the roof, many children are not in school, online lectures are expensive and there is no upward review of the minimum wage. so another lockdown is not a solution unless they want to kill everybody.
“Some of our leaders are unserious. They say we should observe COVID-19 protocol, but we see politicians going about holding massive campaigns and gatherings without adhering to the protocols. So does that show a good example? This second wave is deadlier than the first wave. And the government needs to be more proactive, and set up ad-hoc committees or task forces to enforce these rules,” Awofeso said.
For Princess Ifedoyin, a psychologist and social worker, the government should rule out the option of locking down the country because of the inimical consequences it would have on the common man.
“Government should dump that idea, please. Poverty is already on the high side in Nigeria and most Nigerians like market people, drivers, filling stations attendants, barbers etc, earn their source of livelihood from daily activities. These people earn daily without pension or any allocations or palliatives from the government. If there is lockdown, the common man would go hungry and suffer. And this can lead to another wave of anger, depression, violence and even deaths, “ she opined.
Not a few Nigerians also expressed the view that the government might find it more difficult to enforce a fresh sit-at- home order should it consider it necessary to yield to pressure of slamming a fresh lockdown on the country.
A commercial bus driver, who identified himself as Yunusa Ahmed said that the Nigerian masses have already been stretched to the limits and might be pushed to react more angrily should they be asked to stay at home again without any viable provision.
According to him, “Nigerians, especially the poor who rely on their daily earnings to survive would defy the government’s directive from the word ‘go’ should a new lockdown be introduced. You can not tell a man who has nothing to eat for a single day to remain indoors for days or weeks all in the name of trying to save his life from Coronavirus because if he escaped being killed by the disease, he will surely not escape losing his life to hunger, which I consider is deadlier and more undignifying. At least one may see nothing embarrassing in saying his loved ones died from a disease condition. But no one will like to tell the people that his or her mother or father was killed by hunger,” he pointed out.
When Sunday Sun also sought the views of some celebrities, their take is not different.
Dr. Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli, chairman of the Entertainment Foundation of Nigeria and President of Entertainment Database said: “As a musician, I am afraid it is a tragedy. When in March, Nigeria did the first lockdown, the government did not allocate any funds to night club owners, event centres; schools etc were closed down, how do you expect 400,000 professional musicians and the amateur musicians in Nigeria to survive? Everywhere in the world, artistes are being compensated by their government. The highest is in Norway, Holland, the UK and America.
“This is out of respect that they inform them to sit at home. About five months ago, our Information Minister, Lai Mohammed said they will find palliatives for the entertainment industry and he asked Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, DG, National Council for Arts and Culture, to contact me as the chairman of the entertainment foundation, we could give the database of the musicians and we spoke in-depth, saying they would include me in the proper distribution of these palliatives. Nobody has received a kobo yet in the entertainment industry, both professionals and amateur musicians.
“We have never heard anything else. The poverty level and the sufferings in the entertainment industry are unbelievable. How do they cater for their families in Christmas, how do they pay school fees in January when there are no shows. I have spent the little fortune in the last few months for my friends and colleagues, it is very cumbersome. How do government expect entertainers to survive when the main season of the year, Christmas, they have to sit at home, do they expect them to pay school fees in January?
“Speaking as a Nigeria citizen, unfortunately many people don’t believe that COVID-19 exists. In the last two weeks I have lost five important friends of mine. I think we have to listen to experts, if they say we need lockdown I will support it because the average Nigerian walk up the street without face masks. I go to supermarkets and I’m the only one wearing face mask. It is a tragedy.
“As an entertainer, the government must set in, it’s not fair that you have palliatives and nobody has received it. If you lock down how would people live? I am pro-lockdown but make sure that the people survive. The tragic going on in this country is unbelievable, it’s unbearable and I’m very unhappy with this government because they don’t take care of the citizen in a problem the citizens have not created.
“There is a bad flu going around. Two weeks ago, I had body pain; my voice has not yet recovered. You can’t close up a country because of flu. You stay at home and take your medication but for COVID-19, the government should have a better control on those who don’t wear a facemask. If a police man sees someone without face mask and he tells you N20,000 fine and you give him N5 note, he takes the money and just walked away. At the airport people fly with fake COVID certificate because everywhere people are corrupt and hungry. Government should look inward, there is COVID corruption. The regulators should regulate themselves first because lockdown is counter-productive in a poor country. The woman who sells akara when she’s locked down, how she would eat with her family. We have a serious problem in this country. May God forbid that we have a revolution, our people are too hungry. I feel embarrassed and harassed with what is happening in Nigeria.”
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“As an entertainer, I’m not happy about lockdowns because I cannot access events, I can’t go out to social gatherings because that is where we make money from. But generally Nigeria is also a daily making money country where people go out and sell plantain, sell food, bread etc. We don’t have light, so you can’t even buy things in bulk and keep in your fridge; we exist mainly by day to day lifestyle.
“I don’t think we are ready for another lockdown, I don’t think we can cope with another lockdown. However, I feel that if the government could do a lot more on education, advocacy, put out enough information concerning this Coronavirus that would be helpful.
“I was in Balogun market recently almost after eight months and was shocked that people are not wearing face mask. Even if you lock them down, these people don’t understand what you mean. The only thing we can do is to keep educating and keep informing them. I think the biggest problem here is that information is not enough, education is not enough, and advocacy is not enough. The grassroots people did not understand and they are the ones that need to make daily living.”
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“I don’t think it is good for the economy because most of the countries who are on lockdown have made provisions for their citizens, giving them stipends. Those based in America, Canada and UK, I’m aware they give them stipends every month. In Nigeria, how would people survive? Rather than lockdown they should enforce social distancing and limited people who attend parties.”