The recent lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory as a result of the rampaging coronavirus might have led to unprecedented rise in the prices of drugs and staple food items across the country. There are even fears that many supermarkets and pharmaceutical shops may soon run out of stock if nothing is done urgently to enable them replenish their stocks.
The situation may lead to scarcity of these items and even higher prices in the coming weeks.
Reports from major markets in Lagos State indicate 50 -100 per cent increase in the prices of basic food items. At the Mile 12 Market, a basket of tomato now sells as high as N7,500, N8,000 and N10,000 against the previous prices of N3,500, N5,000, N7,000. This represents a price hike of 50 to 100 per cent. In Iyana Iba Market, a paint of garri that sold for between N500 and N600, has gone up to N1,000 and N1,100. Similarly, a kilogramme of fish earlier sold for N800 now costs N1,000.
The same volume of chicken that was sold for N1,200 now sells for N1,500. A 50kg bag of local rice at Ijedodo Market which sold for N17,000 and N21,000, now goes for N19,500 and N23,000.
The prices of drugs have also increased. The price of a pair of hand gloves earlier sold for N60 now costs N600. The prices of Vitamin C tablets and other drugs that boost the immune system have also gone up. The possibility of restocking the shelves is remote as most countries from where they are imported have closed their borders because of the coronavirus pandemic.
There is urgent need for the government to intervene and avert the impending crisis that may arise if the situation is not checked. We applaud the President’s consideration in exempting those on the pharmaceutical and food supply sectors from the restriction order. However, the rise in prices of food items, drugs and scarcity of essential commodities are likely to work against the noble gesture.
More so, the harassment and extortion of traders by hoodlums and law enforcement agents can only worsen the situation. Food vendors and those that sell drugs should be allowed easy passage as ordered by the President. They should be encouraged to replenish their stocks. The importance of food and pharmaceutical products cannot be over-emphasised. They are critical to the health and survival of the citizens. If the two are out of reach, there is bound to be a crisis.
The Federal Government should therefore ensure that food distribution channels are open and the supply chains are not interrupted. Good enough, Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Therefore, failure on the part of the government to guarantee free flow of food items and medical supplies at this time will vitiate this constitutional provision.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies in our healthcare delivery system. We call on the government to address them. It is sad that almost 60 years after independence, we still rely on imports for our daily drugs needs. The importation of virtually every product Nigerians need does not augur well for our national security. There is need to look inwards and encourage organisations that can manufacture these products that we import. We say this bearing in mind that no nation can depend on another for the supply of its basic needs. We must begin to assert our sovereignty by ensuring that we produce most of the commodities we consume.