Kate Halim And Elizabeth Ogunbamowo
The news of the relaxation of the lockdown was received with relief by many households. However, as they hit the street, Lagosians found a new reality that they considered harsh.
Oyeyemi Bukola, a trader, expressed surprise at the immediate effect of the relaxation of lockdown on the prices of goods. “Before now, food items had become expensive, you know the issue of demand and supply, the demand for food items increased as people were at home but I was shocked this morning that it had taken a big toll on clothing materials too,” she said.
The increase in the cost of items, she added, is not specific to some category of goods; it cut across all goods, including even non-essential commodities in the market.
Zainab Ireti who rushed out on Monday to replenish her pantry found to her dismay that virtually all the items on her to-buy list had a 10 to 20 per cent increase on the usual price. “Before the lockdown, I know how much food items N20, 000 can buy, but now, I don’t think you can buy more than half of that with the same amount. Things had become really expensive,” she said.
The new price regime also reflects on transport fare with both drivers and passengers complaining. At Stadium bus stop in Surulere, some buses were loading full capacity to Ikeja, but those going to Lagos Island complied with the Lagos State directive. Some 14-seater buses heading to the Island were carrying 10 passengers. The minibuses that initially carried seven passengers now convey only four passengers and most of the passengers wear nose masks.
Gbenga Suleiman, a driver that plies Ojuelegba-Ajegunle route told Saturday Sun that he is happy to be back at work after staying at home for over a month doing nothing. He, however, stated that this is not the best of times for bus drivers who have to make ends meet and feed their families through their daily proceeds.
“We have to pay loading money. We pay money to those boys at some bus stops. And because we are not carrying full bus load, we are not making profit like we are supposed to,” he complained.
He appealed to government to prevail over the touts on the road to collect lesser tolls from them.
At Barracks bus stop, where buses were loading full passengers to Bode Thomas, drivers pick passengers by the road and zoom off instead of operating from designated parks. Passengers, however, didn’t mind being packed into the buses––because the transport fare remains the same.
One of the drivers who understood the challenge of the moment was Kehinde Bakare. The driver who loads from Barracks bus stop to Aguda, is abiding by government-approved seat arrangement, which means increasing the fare from N200 to N100.
“It was frustrating staying at home doing nothing for weeks because of the lockdown. I fought a lot with my wife. She kept demanding for money even though she knew I haven’t been working. We have four children. It was a tough time for my family but we scaled through,” he added.
Some drivers who are used to loading full capacity found it difficult to comply with the social distance directive as applicable to buses. Fred Adedeji, who plies Barracks-Ikeja under bridge route told Saturday Sun: “Even though this is the right thing to do at this time, I can’t help but feel sad that things have gotten to this level. Yes, I am scared for my safety, but my family needs my daily earnings to survive. Some of my colleagues don’t want to work now and I don’t blame them.”
His 18-seat bus now lifts 12 passengers to Ikeja, with the fare increased from N200 (or N250) to N400 or N500 due to the new directive.
“The sad thing is that some passengers don’t want to pay N400 or N500 to Ikeja. This means it takes us a long time to load our buses at the bus stop and it is frustrating,” Adedeji added.
The same sentiment was echoed by Ben Oyeuwa, a minibus driver at Shitta bus stop in Surulere. “This is a frustrating time to be a commercial bus driver,” he lamented, claiming that his return to work at this time is not profitable.
He blamed the government for delay in closing down the airports and shutting the land borders. Worse still, there was no palliative from government, he railed.
“They didn’t give us money to stay at home and take care of our families. They just told us to stay indoors without money to buy food. Now, we are suffering again because we load half capacity. It’s not fair. I am not a happy man,” he wailed.
He gave further details of how he is affected. “For each time I load my minibus, I have to part with N100, and now I lift only four passengers at a time instead of seven,” he said. “I feel like going back home to rest because what I get now is not worth the stress I go through. I am just doing this to earn small money to feed my family.”