COVID-19 AND LAGOS’ MOVES TO STEM HUNGER

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Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu is leading from the front, writes Thomas Adeoye

Year 2020 is not the kind anyone foresaw. It was not prepared for. And the greatest disruptor thus far – Covid-19, has changed the world as we know it. It’s going to throw further challenges, and one can only speculate the trajectory of the tiny virus before man conquers it.

While some medics have said a drug is needed to see the end of the virus and return to normal, Covid-19 has become not only a medical problem. The economy is bucking, relationships are being tested, and governance is facing unprecedented challenge. Globally, there are over 2.8million confirmed infections and 200, 000 deaths. But in Nigeria, with COVID-19 cases at 1,182 by Sunday morning, Lagos is the most hit with more than half the number of cases.

This is really not surprising. After all, Lagos is the most densely populated Nigerian state and the most economically active state which also serves as the largest entry point into the country.

But also noteworthy is that Lagos has been equal to the challenge COVID-19 has posed – LOCKDOWN – as the virus spread across the world. By the March 31, Lagos, Ogun and Abuja went into lockdown mode. Only food sellers, medicine sellers and workers on essential duty could move around. A lockdown meant a standstill of major commercial activities. That also meant no money. And no money meant no food. Ditto for other needs. In the country where more than 75% of the people live on less than two dollars per day, it was projected that hunger could be of more immediate danger than the dreaded virus.

But in the wake of the epidemic, Lagos, under the leadership of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has displayed responsible leadership. The state government effected measures to ensure food was available. Aside allowing food markets to operate, some primary schools across the state were designated food markets. In alleviating the hunger of vulnerable Lagosians, Sanwo-Olu proposed palliatives in form of foodstuffs. Sadly, some dubious persons tried to sabotage it. It was reported how a party member diverted foodstuffs meant for the palliatives to a neighbouring state. While the state government must be scolded for bungling the food distribution network initially, it finally got its act right.

Going back to the drawing board, the Lagos State government reviewed its Food Relief Stimulus Package targeting the aged, vulnerable and physically challenged. It opened food kitchens in all the local government councils, serving 100, 000 youths a meal per day.

And buoyed by the gestures of the Lagos State Governor, there has been a flurry of giving across the state. The chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Lagos State council, Musiliu Akinsanya, aka MC Oluomo, distributed foodstuffs like rice, beans, yam, noodles and palm oil to aged and vulnerable residents of Oshodi. He also gave 3, 000 of them N2, 000 each.

“I see my governor trying in Lagos,” said MC Oluomo. “Now, I will support my governor. I would support my people in Oshodi. That’s why I provide food and money for 3,000 people.”

Also lending support in cash and kind to the state government included the corporate sector and social organisations like the Lagos Chinese community, Eko Club, Inner Wheel Club and others. In a similar vein, religious organisations, political associations, landlord associations, NGOs and well-meaning individuals have toed the same line. It’s easier for them to follow the example set by the state government.

Surely, it must be stated that the palliatives cannot go around everyone. Only very few governments in the world can afford to feed all her citizens. But some Lagosians are yet to learn that in order to ensure everyone is okay, all citizens must shun greed. Some videos on social media have shown this ungrateful attitude. In one of the videos, a youth playing football took one of the loaves of bread set aside as palliative and kicked it away, protesting it was ‘too small.’ Another video showed a lady complaining that a food pack given to her by a private citizen had ponmo. Addressing the camera, she had said, “I don’t eat ponmo”, flicking the cow hide off the pack before walking away. One thing is clear from those two videos – they did not really need the food. A hungry man does not throw food away. Ask residents of IDP camps.

In an emergency like this, it must be clearly stated that there is no way the hungry should expect five -star food or that even any palliative would go round all citizens. Hence, it behoves on citizens who don’t actually need such palliative not to go for them. They should allow the ‘real’ vulnerable persons receive them with gratitude.

Continuing its palliative intervention, the Lagos State government authorised unconditional cash transfer to 250,000 economically challenged persons registered with the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA). Also, the Lagos State governor recognised the need to alleviate the stress of the small and medium scale businesses operating in the state.

“All the MSMEs and SMEs that took LSETF loans and got support from other government’s financial incentive programme will enjoy three months moratorium,” Sanwo-Olu said.

And knowing a lockdown would not stop people getting ill or needing treatment, the governor announced free treatment during the period. And as at April 14, it was reported that over 18,000 people have enjoyed free medical services at all 67 Grade “A” primary and secondary healthcare centres, with over 600 childbirths recorded since the palliative measures were introduced by the State government.

Undoubtedly, Sanwo-Olu has handled the Covid-19 pandemic in Lagos with the swiftness it deserved and he has been receiving commendations from several quarters. On Saturday, the Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors & Valuers (NIESV), during a courtesy visit, led by its chairman, Adedotun Bamigbola, said that the visit was to demonstrate support for the Lagos State government and health workers on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19.

Watching on CNN how the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has been on top of the Covid-19 pandemic, I can’t help but see a similar vigour demonstrated by Sanwo-Olu in the same battle. Sanwo-Olu’s response during this Covid-19 pandemic seems to have brought out the best in him. Daily, he was on ground, attending to varying issues to contain the virus. He was seen, heard and his presence was even felt by Lagosians as he led from the front.

Adeoye wrote from Lagos