COVID-19: Of Lives And Livelihoods

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While a prolonged lockdown of the economy is unsustainable, a premature reopening could trigger a spike in infections that will endanger many

As Nigerians grapple with the challenges of halting the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown imposed in the past five weeks across the country has triggered more than a handful of socio-economic problems. From the inability of many daily income earners to fend for themselves to the use of brute force against defenceless citizens by some security personnel, to reports of hoodlums and armed gangs latching on the lockdown to break into homes and shops, the impact is breathtaking. But as we take stock of the current efforts to curtail the growing spread of the virus, it is also important that we look at the road ahead.

While the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was charged with providing palliatives to poor Nigerians affected by the stay-at-home restrictions, their efforts were hampered by a lack of synergy with the states and a deficiency in the register of poor people that were targeted. Besides, the ministry was overwhelmed by the challenges of an enterprise that requires enormous funding as well as manpower resources at very short notice. Fortunately, many public-spirited Nigerians and organisations came in to fill the gap. Church and community groups, town hall associations, corporate bodies and individuals have in recent weeks supported the less-privileged of our society. This is a positive fall-out of the health crisis that we will like to see continue as we build a more compassionate society where citizens rally to tackle social problems, bearing in mind that government cannot do everything.

Meanwhile, in Lagos and Ogun States as well as in the Federal Capital Territory, the lockdown imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari since 30th March ends this evening amid some apprehensions that would need to be addressed. The security agencies have to be on the alert for the growing anti-social activities and fashion out appropriate response mechanisms. This is because ours is a society brimming with an army of unemployed youth. However, beyond the issue of livelihood and tackling the security challenges, we also have to deal with the more urgent need to save lives.

As more and more Nigerians get tested, there has been an increase in the number of people afflicted with COVID-19. The number of deaths also continues to spike, especially in Kano where a 14-day lockdown was declared by the president last week. In Kogi and Cross River states where the governors have chosen to play with the lives of residents, fears are welling up, just as the exchange of ‘Almajairi’ children between and among some northern states has become a major risk factor at a period more than a hundred health workers have been infected by the virus.

In all, it is clear that there are difficult days ahead and at some point a choice may have to be made between individual liberty and the need for public safety. But such critical decisions also come with trade-offs. While a prolonged lockdown of the economy is unsustainable, a premature reopening could also trigger a spike in infections that can overwhelm our fragile health system, particularly now that more cases are being discovered. It is perhaps for this reason that the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) on Friday reiterated its call on the federal and state governments to discard plans to embark on gradual easing of the current lockdown. “The easing of the lockdown even in phases is very premature. Nigeria should learn from her neighbour Ghana where the same action produced a 100% increase in infection rate in just a week,” said the NMA President, Dr Francis Faduyile. Experiences in states like Mississippi in the United States are similar.

It is thus apt to ask: Is the time appropriate to ease the lockdown in Lagos and Ogun States as well as in Abuja? In our present circumstances, will it not be more helpful to put in place an organised national lockdown?

In as much as we do not discount the socio-economic implications of such decision in a country where majority live by the day, we are also mindful of the implications of a premature decision that could prove counterproductive. Whatever sacrifices we need to make to defeat this pandemic should be considered worthwhile. But it would require the support of all – religious, traditional and political leaders – as well as the interventions of other critical stakeholders.

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Whatever sacrifices we need to make to defeat this pandemic should be considered worthwhile