The nation’s economy has been badly battered

Commercial activities resumed last Monday in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun States after President Muhammadu Buhari announced the gradual easing of restrictions earlier imposed to curb the spread of the dreaded COVID-19. Like prisoners stripped of their fetters, Nigerians swooped on public places, including banks to announce their freedom. Whether the restrictions on socio-economic and religious activities have slowed the spread of the virus is a different thing altogether. But what is not in contention is that the nation’s economy has been badly battered.

In a clime where the informal sector holds sway and where majority of citizens survive on daily earnings with little or no support from the government, the lockdowns have also subjected the vulnerable of our society to much deprivation. That perhaps accounted for the partial compliance by Nigerians on the directive to stay at home. The unassailable fact is that majority of Nigerians are aware that the directive was meant to protect them from being struck by COVID-19. However, they were compelled by survival instinct to defy the advisory when confronted by a bleak reality of being without money or lack of food supplies, among other necessities of life.

Unfortunately, rather than the infection curve flattening, virtually all the 36 states of the federation have since recorded cases of COVID-19. In some instances, states which had no known case of infection when the president imposed an initial two-week (later extended to five weeks) lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT are now frontline states with Kano as a quick example.

With no vaccine or therapeutic drugs available since the outbreak of the current Covid-19, lockdowns and quarantines have become prominent measures taken across the world to contain it. Several countries have enforced lockdowns of varying degrees, including total movement restrictions while others have enforced restrictions based on time, with only essential businesses allowed to open. Educational institutions, sporting and recreational activities, religious centres and sundry programmes have closed shop. The fortunes of small and medium scale enterprises have also gone to the nadir as the lockdown takes its toll. Meanwhile, huge scandals have trailed palliative exercises put in place to help keep the vulnerable afloat and persuade them to stay home.

What happened last Monday in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States has already made a mess of whatever benefits the restrictions and the embedded social distancing were set out to achieve. The crowds that besieged public places following the relaxation of the lockdown are already raising apprehension on the uptick of new infections. The situation is not helped by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directive which limited the number of banks that can open for business. That has led to a situation in which the few bank branches that are open have to deal with huge crowds. At the end, the relaxation of restrictions in the two states and the FCT looks like an experiment in figuring out how to live with the virus.

The authorities must understand that another round of lockdown will be more difficult to enforce than the earlier one without civil disobedience. So, what is important at this point is an enlightenment campaign: To all those who have gone back to their old habits, there is an urgent need for a word of caution. Relaxation of the lockdown is not the expiration date for the virus. It could still be contracted by those who have so far been negative. Observing the laid down protocols in containing the pandemic is more important now than ever. Since there is as yet no vaccines or approved drugs for COVID-19, prevention is the only cure.