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REPORT: How COVID-19 lockdown is pushing low, middle class Nigerians to the wall without palliatives

KEHINDE Williams was once a Uber taxi driver in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, despite being a  university graduate. After the outbreak of  Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the country, he is now jobless and hopeless.

Kehinde William, an uber driver in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

For Williams, life became difficult shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari announced a 14-day lockdown on March 29 in Lagos, Ogun states and Abuja to contain the spread of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

When he graduated from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State some years ago after studying of Psychology, the young Williams, now in his early 40s was full of hope of a brighter future, particularly securing a well-paid job. But he was pushed to becoming a taxi driver in Abuja when his efforts at landing a white-collar job became futile.

“I came to Abuja to search for a job but ended up being a taxi driver,” he told The ICIR.

He was about to be admitted in the hospital when approached by The ICIR. Williams was diagnosed of Typhoid fever since the day lockdown imposed by the president was extended by another 14 days.

Sadly, his situation became worse like several others in that line of business. The COVID-19 global pandemic has crippled his only source of survival, his savings depleted and, still literally struggling to survive. Yet, the owner of the taxi he was operating expected some returns.

“Yesterday made it two weeks that I dropped the car to the owner due to low patronage and the pandemic,” he lamented.

“That was my only source of income,” he said, adding that despite not having a nuclear family, there are his siblings, including his aged mother that he caters for from his earnings as a Uber taxi driver. With the lockdown order, he said their hopes are all hanging in the balance.

“All my savings have been depleted because I have no other source of survival. I have spent so much money even the remaining cannot last me for a week.”

But Williams is not alone in this predicament. Isa Daniel, a father of three who is also an Uber driver is facing the herculean task to feed his family.

Isa Daniel, an uber driver in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Daniel said since the stay at home order, he had parked his taxi with no alternative to meet the immediate needs of his family. Sadly, he has run out of food items bought in the wake of the lockdown.

”Something is happening to me and my family that I can’t even explain,” he told The ICIR.

“ I have exhausted all the money in my savings, the food I bought has finished, I am thinking if there is a way out, and I don’t know yet.”

According to him, the extension of the lockdown is a terrible experience for him and his family.

”If the government really wants to help us they should give money through the Bank Verification Number (BVN) and not saying they gave money to people we cannot see”.

Survival has been tough, I only visit my shop so as not to commit suicide Tailor

Abigal Imobi, a tailor in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Abigal Imobi, a fashion designer whose shop is situated in Gbagy village, Karu area of Abuja is battling depression and only goes to her shop in order not to commit suicide as according to her, coping with life and taking care of her aged mother has been difficult due to the lockdown.

Imobi said prior to the lockdown, clients who brought their clothes for stitching had refused to pay due to economic hardship induced by the COVID-19 lockdown.

But for her resilient, she said she would have committed suicide.

“…I tried calling my customers to send me money for the clothes, their response was that the money they have they also need it to eat and take care of their family,” she said when asked how the lockdown has affected her business.

“You can’t expect someone that has three or four thousand at home to use and come and collect clothes, while the family members are hungry.

“I am still coming to my shop so I don’t commit suicide at home or do something bad, the more you stay indoors the more you get frustrated.”

According to her, a man collapsed and died few days back allegedly due to hunger and frustration from the lockdown.

“We are doing our best to obey the government, the government too should help us; we can’t afford one square meal at times, talk more of three square meals,” she said.

“Giving people a measure of rice would not help Nigerians in times like this, with time there would be robbery everywhere in the neighbourhood”.

The ICIR probed further how Imobi intends to manage through the period, with her aged mother, she said the government would need to assist otherwise there might be more casualties.

She added that some people within her residential area asked residents to write names a week earlier, for possible intervention but no feedback has yet come through.

“It is really painful that the government had to extend it without giving people anything, you can’t send someone to the farm without giving the person a cutlass.”

I’m tired of borrowing – motor mechanic laments

Kehinde Olumogunje, a car mechanic in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Unlike others, Kehinde Olumogunje, a car mechanic has been living on credits to support his family. He resides in a one-room apartment with his wife and two children around Tudunwada, a slum in Lugbe axis of Abuja.

“That I am still surviving up till now is the grace of God,” Olumogunje told The ICIR. “It is very hard now that I can’t even buy anything on credit, things have gone worse for me.”

“I can’t get parts to fix people’s cars, so how do I get money for myself, some customers call me to come to fix their cars but no way to reach them.”

He explained that he had to manage with his savings which he said is already exhausted.

When The ICIR asked Olumogunje, if he has gotten any palliative from the government, his response was No! “I have not gotten or seen anybody, I only heard a rumour that if I have a BVN I would get.”

Where do I run to in search of food – metal fabricator

Timothy Abass, a fabricator in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Timothy Abass, a father of four who is into fabrication spoke on how he has been struggling to feed his family, due to the lockdown.  He resides in the Kuje axis of the Federal Capital Territory.

“My shop is currently under lock and key, I live from hand to mouth because all the food at home has finished, surviving another two weeks is a big problem that I don’t know how,” Abass lamented

“I don’t know where to go and get food, I have not done anything since the lockdown.”

“People that even have money are not giving jobs out anymore, they are scared that if they give us money we might run away,” he added.

When asked if he has received his own palliatives from the government he said; “I haven’t seen anything from the government no foodstuff nothing, this government are just deceiving us.”

If the lockdown continues I would be affected seriously–Barber

Joshua Oyedoke, a barber in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Joshua Oyedoke who is also known as Akala, a father of four and a barber, living in a one-bedroom apartment in Kwali area an outskirt of the FCT lamented heavily that things have been so rough for him, he can’t work to feed his family and the extension of the lockdown would seriously affect him and his family.

“They did not allow me to open my shop, there is no market and everything is on shutdown. If things continue like this it would affect me,” Oyedoke said.

To feed his kids, he said, has been a tough one and needs the intervention of the government.

“My children are crying of hunger, it is not easy at all, at all,” he said in an emotion-laden voice.

When asked by The ICIR if he has received his own share of palliatives Oyedoke responded, “I have not seen anything from the government.”

I have to make refunds to customers – photographer

Temitayo Samson, a photographer in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Temitayo Samson, an unmarried photographer and videographer who resides in the Apo area of the FCT where he also has his small studio inside his apartment said the money he had received for jobs was returned due to cancellation of planned events.

“I am faced with the challenge of refunds to my customers which has left me with nothing to survive till the lockdown is over, even what I had has been taken back by clients,” Samson said.

”My business has been on a total standstill, I don’t get jobs everybody are celebrating indoors,” he added.

According to him, he urgently needs to work or if the government can help him with a token it has promised Nigerians.

When also asked by The ICIR if he has received his own share of palliatives he said;“I haven’t seen anything, I keep checking my phone for it.”

“Surviving the weeks has been tough I must say and an extension is more hardship for me,” he added.

If I don’t go out daily, I can’t get something to feed my family – Phone seller

Jude Ibe, a phone seller in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Ibe Jude is a small scale businessman and a father of four children that deals on phones at GSM village Abuja. He narrated how his inability to go to his shop has made things difficult financially for him and his family.

“The nature of my business is without going to the shop, I can’t see anything to feed my children.”

“I need to go back to work, I don’t have money to feed my family except for the small petty trading my wife is doing in the house,” Jude said.

“An extension of the lockdown would affect me if they want to lock us down let the palliatives get to all of us, we are facing difficulties.”

Jude also confirmed to The ICIR, that he has not received anything in form of palliatives from the government.

The work is not there and nobody to pay – IT expert

Abel Abukar, an IT expert in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Also, Abel Abukar an Information Technology expert explained the challenges of his kind of job where he has to work and get paid and not a salary kind of job.

“I run a private organisation that depends on how we work, the money is not coming because you work and you get paid, now the work is not there nobody to even pay, so you end up eating up what you have in store,” Abukar said.

“Its been funny and very challenging, but then what do we do.”

“I am just managing to see if I would be able to cope with the two weeks, the government talks about palliatives we have not seen any yet, we just see a lot of things flying in the media”. he added.

If it continues I would have to cut my staffs’ salary –Financial Investor

Moses Anayo, a financial investor in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Moses Anayo who is the Managing Partner at Ceder Worth Investments narrated how his business has been without income for three straight weeks and would have no choice than to cut his staffs’ salary if the lockdown continues for a while.

“We are still going to pay our staffs but if this lockdown continues we would have to do some cut down in salaries because our income has gone down drastically at this point,” he said.

“It hasn’t been really easy  as all my business are shut down and all my staffs are at home doing nothing.”

“We can’t give out loans, we can’t do training,” he added.

What I spent in the market would last me for three months – Civil servant

Timileyin Adeleye, a civil servant in Abuja
Photo credit: Paul Owolabi/TheICIR

Timileyin Adeleye, a civil servant who lives at the Wuse axis of the FCT lamented bitterly on the amount he had to spend during the panic foodstuffs pilling prior to the lockdown.

“Before the lockdown, we had to make some panic foodstuffs pilling, the amount of money I spent in the market would last me for three months, because the prices tripled.”

Adeleye said, “before the government locked people down they should have made adequate arrangement for people, announcing a lockdown 24hours to the time of the lockdown without giving us time to prepare was not the right thing to do.”

“The government has the BVN of everyone, all the money they have been spending, to me its audio money,” he said.

“Spending N11 billion in 24 hours on palliatives, I  have not received an alert, have you received an alert? he asked The ICIR reporter.

“A relative in Kwara State said his household was given a peak milk tin of rice to eat as palliative, if you want people to obey your lockdown, make life bearable for them,” Adeleye said.

However, Sadiya Farouq Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management,  disclosed on Tuesday, April 21 in Abuja that the Federal Government was set to expand the social register for palliative distribution by employing digital models including the use BVN.

One-sided social intervention

The Federal Government as part of palliative measures to cushion the impacts of the lockdown on Nigerians initiated distribution of palliatives and conditional cash transfer through the National Social Safety Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO). It is executing the scheme through the National Social Register for poor and vulnerable households at the states.

As of Friday, 10 April 2020, it has captured 2.64 million households and 11.04 million individuals.

Going by the social register and NASSCO assertion, more than 11 million Nigerians might benefit from the Federal Government’s COVID-19 response measures targeted at the poor and vulnerable.

However, residents who spoke to our reporter in separate interviews revealed that they had not received anything in form of palliatives from the government.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) each year an estimated 40 million people are in need of palliative care, 78 per cent of whom live in low- and middle-income countries.

Palliative care needs to be provided in accordance with the principles of universal health coverage, the WHO reported.

“All people, irrespective of income, disease type or age, should have access to a nationally determined set of basic health services, including palliative care.”

The WHO report indicated the need for financial and social protection systems as a form of human right to palliative care for poor and marginalized population groups.

For instance, in the United States, it was reported that Congress pushed through a $2 trillion stimulus bill on  March 20 and some Americans could expect financial support from the government to cope with the economic devastation stemming from COVID-19 crisis.

Those payments are expected to be $1,200 for individuals, or $2,400 for those who are married and file income taxes jointly. It also includes $500 per child.

Also in Canada, the government is to spend C$107 billion ($75 billion, £64 billion) in emergency aid and economic stimulus to assist Canadians struggling financially.

The bill would give C$2,000 a month for the next four months for people who lost their job because of COVID-19.

It would apply to people who are quarantined. Those helping a sick family member, and those that have been laid off or have not received payment from their employer.

All these from the developed nations appeared transparent but Nigeria’s case seems different.

 

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