COVID-19 Crunch: The Battle for Lives versus Livelihood

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Sadiya Umar Farouq

Eddy Odivwri

We have got to a cross road in this fight to defeat Coronavirus, aka COVID-19. After staying indoors for over 19 days, Lagosians were told on Monday to brace up for another 14 days of lockdown. That we are tired is sheer understatement.

As it is, it is a raging battle on how to survive the COVID-19 infection , as well as survive the pangs of hunger that are fast squeezing the people. The latter looks more dangerously crushing than the former.

If we observe all the anti-infection protocols outlined, we are most likely going to remain safe and uninfected. But the pangs of hunger understand only one language: food. No amount of hand washing or application of alcohol-based sanitizers or social distancing or even wearing of facial masks can assuage the enzymes of hunger.

Three weeks and still counting, is fast lookinglike doom to Nigerians. How can they survivethe crush?

In Lagos and Ogun states, a platoon of armed robbers under the brand name of One Million Boys have invaded homes, even in broad day light, robbing residents of their food stuff and cash, causing even more apprehension among the people, much more than the fear of the COVID pandemic itself.

In Sapele, Delta State, the people have expressed their displeasure in an open protest to the extension of the sit-at-home order by the state government, resulting in the shooting of a young boy, while another 21-year old young man was shot dead in Onitsha on Wednesday, in the security men’s bid to enforce the lockdown order of the Anambra State government .

Perhaps these negative spin-offs would have been avoided if the plan to provide palliatives and other stimulus packages by both the federal and state governments have been effective. But it is far from being effective. There are no better proofs that a hungry man is an angry man than what we are seeing across board in the country. With poverty nurtured by hunger, the majority of Nigerians are rather prepared to dare the consequences of continuing their daily hustle, even if it compromises all the safety protocols advised by the government.

They reason that what is the sense running away from one death agent (COVID-19) and yet unwittingly surrendering to another torturous death agent (hunger)?

The Ministry of Humanitarian and Disaster Management which is basically handling the distribution of some of the palliatives has been struggling in getting some of the packages across to Nigerians, in a somewhat whimsical manner, as the ministry does not have reliable data bank of vulnerable or even able Nigerians.

The ministry has been dealing with 1.2 million households which accommodates about 11 million individuals, in a country of over 200 million people.

What is worse, not even all the names in the social register are in the beneficiary register. The latter is quite less. Indeed, only about 18 states plus the FCT are currently being attended to by the ministry in the conditional cash transfer. So what happens to the other states? Even more worrisome is the slant in the allocation of the palliatives where the Northwest has the largest percentage ofbeneficiaries with Katsina State (the homestate of Mr President) having the highest figure. The least benefiting region being South east.

What are te criteria used in these allocations?

The President had in his last national broadcast ordered that the social intervention register be expanded from 2.6 million household to 3.6million. But the question remains how andwhen the names were even compiled in the first place and what were the criteria used.

Surely, there is something wrong with the data and the skewed distribution of the

palliatives.

The food packs did not get to many deserving homes, thus raising the hunger bar among Nigerians.

In Lagos, the effort to distribute food packs to distressed families had failed woefully not only because the food items are far from being enough, the methods and process of distribution have also been frustrated by lack of data. There are no records of prospective beneficiaries. Gov Babajide Sanwo-Olu explained that the initial efforts was directed only at the vulnerable families and not able-bodied Lagosians.

He tweaked the process during the week when he announced that local “Bukas” (roadside eateries—popularly called Mama Put) will be funded to prepare food for the people in the various neighbourhoods, for a meal per day.

It is bound to be fraught with chaos, as such eateries are most likely going to be overwhelmed. That there is hunger in the land is not a joke. The fact that trucks and other vehicles carrying raw food stuffs are nowendangered vehicles as they are being attacked and ravaged, bespeaks of how desperate many hungry Nigerians have become.

These efforts contrast sharply with what Donald Trump has done to Americans who last Wednesday woke up to see that their bank accounts had been credited with various sums ($1200 per adult and $500 for each teenage child).

Nobody is expecting that level of efficiency or that weight of palliative in Nigeria, but we should be seen to be starting from somewhere significant and growing therefrom. The many donations received by the government plus the draw downs from the external reserve should reflect in the reach and weight of the palliatives.

If the lockdown continues, and the people do not have means of cushioning the pangs of hunger, they are bound to frustrate the lockdown order and dare both the pandemic and the law enforcement agents.

As at Wednesday night, Nigeria had recorded about twelve deaths. Yes, the casualty figure hasn’t been that frightening, yet, all cautions must be taken especially to avoid the dreaded community infection.

Yes, twelve molecular laboratories have been built, yet it is still insufficient in proportion to our population, as the number of people that can be tested in Nigeria is still below 1,500 per day.

I am certain that if more people are tested diligently, we would record more cases of infected persons.

In fact, I dare say that even after the end of the 28 days lockdown, we would yet not be completely out of the woods as far as the COVID-29 pandemic is concerned. We can only pray and hope for the healing of the land.

What all these mean is that Nigerians must be encouraged and supported to obey the lockdown order. To give a “dry order” and not care how convenient it will be to obey it is akin to serving a drug that will kill both the disease and the patient.