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REPORT: How hunger, indiscipline, ignorance are defeating social distancing, lock down order in Abuja

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HORDES of customers besiege Yusuf Mohammed’s store because they are not allowed in through the main gate, which is opened only when customers, about two or three already inside the store, go out.

Abubakar whose job is to open and lock the gate to customers does not listen to customers’ pleas to allow them in until those inside leave.

Yusuf Mohammed Enterprises, a popular store in Bwari town, a suburb of Abuja, the nation’s capital is a preferred destination for residents and retailers.

It’s the ninth day of the 14-day lock down imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states where cases of COVID-19 are higher and many are running out of food and other household essentials.

The customers are those in desperate moves to get daily needs in the face of the lock down order—others are retailers who try to restock their shops as more and more people are demanding for daily needs due to the lockdown order.

Customers waiting in front Mohammed’s shop
Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

With no hand gloves and without a face mask, Abubakar carries out the boss’ instruction of not allowing many people inside the supermarket at once.

That’s Mohammed’s own way of observing the social distancing guideline against the spread of Covid-19. Though, he did not provide hand sanitiser for his customers, yet he prevents too many of them in his store nevertheless.

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Among those patronising the store, as well as workers there, only a few—one out of 10 wears a facemask—a lot are not worried about the possibility of contracting the deadly virus.

Items at Yusuf Mohammed Venture are cheaper compared to prices offered in the open market, especially  now that traders have taken advantage of the pandemic to increase prices of goods. This is the real reason the store has been witnessing a surge in the number of customers.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The centre defines social distancing as keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home.

To practice social or physical distancing, it says, stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people, do not gather in groups and stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings.

These are however, not observed in many places visited by our reporter including Newspapers’ vendor stand and ATM galleries where people gather in groups and form crowds.

 

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Pushed out by hunger—residents, okada riders ignore lockdown, social distancing 

Okada riders who defy the lockdown order and the social distancing rule at Bwari town.
Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

Yahaya Abdulqadir is a taxi driver but the lockdown order has compelled him to stay at home, with his Nissan taxi parked. But he comes out everyday to use his motorcycle for commercial purposes.

“Since we cannot drive around town, I have decided to use my bike to run around Bwari because I have to feed my family,” he says.

President Buhari announced the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, in response to the public criticisms that he had been silent in the face of growing cases of Covid-19 in the country.

“All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period, Buhari said in a nationwide address on Sunday, March 30.

Despite this, many have found it difficult to observe the order especially peasants who earn their living daily.

“How can we stay at home when we cannot go out to find our daily bread,” Abdulqadir queries.

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And like him, there are over hundreds of commercial motorcyclists within and around the town ferrying residents to and fro the market and other destinations.

While some of them wear a face mask and hand gloves, others are without any protective gear, and appeared unconcerned.

Francis Steven, a commercial motorcyclist said he earns his living daily from riding his ‘okada’. “By staying at home, it means no food for me and my family, so I can’t stay at home,” he says.

On the possibility of contracting the virus, Steven who does not wear a facemask or hand gloves believes God will protect him because he wants to provide for his family.

People who come to the Bwari main market say they cannot continue to stay at home while there is no food to feed on or to feed their family members with.

Markets in Abuja are allowed during the lock down to operate between 10 am and 2pm everyday by the FCT Administration which once announced that markets are only going to open three days in the week but later rescinded the decision.

A middle-aged woman who sells tubers of yam along SCC road in the market says the government had no plan for the ordinary Nigerians when it was announcing the lock down order.

“If they say make we sit down for us, wetin dem go give us to chop, abi my children no go eat,? asks the woman who says she has four children.

The president had said in his nationwide broadcast that food sellers and stores selling essential items such as groceries and medicine are exempted from the lockdown order.

He also announced that the government would provide palliatives to cushion the effect of the order on the poor and the vulnerable.

Shylock traders take advantage of Covid-19

Market women at the Bwari market: Many of them are taking advantage of the lock down to increase prices of food items. Photo Credit: YEKEEN Akinwale

Residents feel more frustrated by the lockdown order as Shylock traders take undue advantage of the situation to increase prices of commodities. From staple food items such as garri, local rice and even maize and millet, prices have gone up with more than 50 percent.

For instance, a measure of garri that was sold for N140 before the outbreak of the pandemic is now N300.

Madam Esther, a seller of the commodity in the Bwari market attributed the price increase to the lockdown order because according to her, it has become difficult to transport to where she buys garri.

“We no fit go to the market again, na okada we dey take now and dem dey charge us plenty of money to carry us,” she explains in Pidgin English.

In the market, a crate of fresh eggs now goes for N1000 as against N750 that it was before while a measure of local rice that was between N350 and N400 now sells for N600.

Kayode Oyelade, a resident who bought a crate of fresh eggs at N1000 per crate lamented the increase.

“This is going out of hand and I don’t understand why people are taking advantage of the situation,” Oyelade said.

Government’s palliatives are not getting to many vulnerable

Government’s conditional transfer: Only a few Nigerians are benefiting from it

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces many to stay at home and offices closed, Yemi Osinbajo, Nigerian Vice President, said the government was thinking of ways to provide succour for the period they are unable to work.

“Many of our citizens are daily wage workers and the President has expressed concerns about this. We are now thinking of ways to provide succour for the period they are unable to work,” Osinbajo said.

“There are many concerns associated with the lock down. We are concerned about how the economy will remain stable, how jobs can be protected and ways to create new jobs where possible. We believe that together, Nigeria will prevail.”

Shortly after the presidential broadcast, the Federal Government  commenced the disbursement of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) payments of four months to the beneficiaries in the Federal Capital Territory.

The disbursement kicked off in Kwali Area Council of the Territory.

Sadiya-Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, said the payment in advance was as a result of presidential directive to help ease the untold hardship the lockdown would cause to the vulnerable.

Each beneficiary was given N20,000 making N5,000 per month. The N20,000 covered month of March to June.

There are however, fears that the palliatives are not reaching the targets.

In Abuja, Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, Minister of State for FCT, said last week that the administration was set to commence the distribution of palliative materials to the less privileged as part of measures to cushion the effect of the sit-at-home presidential order.

She made this disclosure during an inspection tour of storage facilities at the Kubwa NYSC Orientation Camp and maintained that the palliatives were targeted at the vulnerable residents and the physically challenged in rural communities.

Aliyu, also revealed that security measures have been put in place to safeguard the palliative materials, stressing that security personnel will be increased in addition to the establishment of a police post in the vicinity.

But many residents say they had not received any palliative from the government.

Okechukwu Nwanguma, Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) in a press statement said that the Federal Government’s Social Intervention Policy known as conditional cash transfer is yet  to address mass poverty, deprivation and hunger.

“The billions which the government announced that it has released and made available for conditional cash transfer to the poor and vulnerable in communities are not reaching the targets. There are still cries of woe and anguish in most communities,”Nwanguma said.

“We have seen videos of caricature of the ‘social intervention’, of food items shared to some communities. In one video, we saw a street in Lagos of over 30 families who said they were given two loaves of bread and a few cups of rice and garri and few condiments (tomato paste sachets) to share.

“And we see members of the community lamenting and asking how a whole street of over 30 families could be given such quantity of food items not enough to serve one family for two days to share!”

Indiscipline, ignorance fueling breaking of social distancing, lock down

Many still carry on with their activities unrestricted.

Security operatives daily disperse traders and buyers from the Bwari market, but indiscipline and ignorance, besides hunger, drive why more and more are violating the lockdown and social distancing order.

Residents still mill around stores, beer parlours and other relaxation joints in the Area Council without giving recourse to observing the social distancing guideline and the lock down order. .

To those in this category, Covid-19 is not seen as a life-threatening disease despite daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the country. They also do not believe that social distancing has any way of preventing the spread of the disease.

At a drinking and fish grilling joint in Bwari, Uche Odogwu, a spare part dealer, says he does not believe there is any Covid-19, insisting that it’s just political warfare between world powers.

“Wetin be coronavirus? He queries, adding “No be the war between America and China dem they extend to us here.”

Odogwu said since he has not seen anyone who is infected with the virus or killed by it, he does not even believe it exists.

Nigeria had just 111 confirmed cases of Covid-19 when the president announced the 14-day lock down, now, it has recorded over 300 cases and 10 deaths.

Nwanguma corroborates this when he said some Nigerians believe that the lockdown is a deception by the government to achieve ulterior motives.

“Those who promote this narrative are mainly the apocalyptic pentecostal ‘Men of God’ who push arguments linking Covid-19 to G5 mobile technology which they argue is a part of the biblically ordained designs of the Anti-Christ,” he said.

According to him, there are some Nigerians who are simply lawless or lack discipline and just defy the lock down order.

“Just like  when passengers are asked to switch off their phones prior to flight take off and you still find some people- seemingly ladies and gentlemen-  fiddling with their phones.”

“To illustrate, a relative of mine called me yesterday to complain that he was arrested by the police somewhere in Lagos when he drove out to buy pap for his baby.

“I asked him whether he knew about the lock down order and whether there was nowhere around his neighbourhood he could walk down to buy the pap. He said ‘but other vehicles are on the road’. I told him that he has broken the law as much as those other people. Everybody may not be arrested at once.

“He wanted me to talk to the Police officers who arrested him and ordered him to drive to their station. I asked him what he wanted me to tell them,” he said.

 

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