By Ayoola Olaitan
When President Mohammadu Buhari announced a total lockdown in Lagos State last week, Lagosians weren’t in doubt that the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the State deserved the lockdown order. However, there were questions about the realities when the President also posited that the Lagos ports would remain operational.
Prior to Buhari’s lockdown, Lagos State Government had already given a one-week closure of markets and placed a ban on all activities requiring the convergence of more than fifty people.
President Buhari’s ban, on the other hand, was a complete lockdown of three states to curb the spread of coronavirus within the country, which include the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States.
The President had directed a complete stay at home order with only essential services initially highlighted to be food and medical services allowed, however, Lagos is the country’s commercial hub.
Lagos has recorded the highest number of cases in the country and it has also put measures in place to fight this virus in the past few weeks as it suspended schools and other activities.
As President Buhari ordered Lagos ports to stay operational, the port stakeholders whose services are essential and should be exempted from the lockdown to include: Nigeria Customs Service; Nigerian Ports Authority; Nigerian Shippers’ Council; Nigerian Railway Corporation; (Freight services) National Inland Waterways Authority; Port Health Services; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency; National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control(NAFDAC).
Others are; Standards Organisation of Nigeria; National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency; All Seaport Terminal Operators; Shipping Lines/Agencies; Dock Workers; Stevedores; Forwarding Services; Cargo De-consolidators; Barge Operators; Marine and Port Police; Cargo Truck Drivers; Banks; and any other service.
On Wednesday last week, the federal government issued new guidelines on the lockdown to help relax the imposed lockdown on the three states which the government noted that markets selling food would be open from 10am to 2pm daily.
“Retail shops and malls must be closed except where essential goods are being sold. Shops and malls that are opened for this reason must enforce social distancing and hygienic measures in line with issued guidelines.
“Any business or organisation providing essential goods and services must identify the workers who will perform these activities.
“Commuters services between cities and states, including passenger services, bus services, e-hailing services, maritime and air passenger transport are suspended for the period of the lockdown in the affected states and the FCT.”
Limited transport services would be allowed for the movement of workers, services and goods in response to COVID-19 and for the purpose of seeking medical attention or provision of essential services.
“With regard to the carriage of passengers, we must ensure spacing in between passengers, clean and disinfect frequently touched parts, including door and window handles, steering wheels and dashboards and encourage passengers to perform hand hygiene frequently.”
“All owners of supermarkets must not allow anybody with high temperature to enter their premises, adding that customers and staff must wash their hands.
“All deliveries of supplies and products for these supermarkets and food stores must be made between the hours of 5am and 9am. Supermarkets, pharmacies to open between 10am and 4pm.
“In order for markets to operate, state and local government authorities, as well as leaders of market associations, must take full responsibility for strict compliance with the following protocols:
“Only shops and stores selling food and groceries shall be allowed to open to customers between the hours of 10am and 2pm, every other day or less frequently,” the report said.
If food markets and pharmaceuticals can be open from 10am to 2pm and 10am to 4pm respectively, it means people can move and access transportation services within those hours to legitimately patronize these services or just use them as excuses to converge.
At the ports, despite regulators and leadership of freight forwarding groups positing that only those with legitimate businesses at the ports should access the ports, the reality is that every port worker or port stakeholder is exempted from the lockdown.
Despite the ban on international and local air travel, airports activities have been going on within the country as international airports remain operational for European countries evacuating their nationals as Germany, France and USA have done in the last two weeks.
Given the loopholes in this acclaimed total lockdown, one can only wonder if the initiative would be able to achieve any success.
Is Lagos really ready for the lockdown as activities within the State seems to be running partially, sea ports are in operations, banks are running skeletal activities, markets are open for activities, flights are in partial operations, health workers can move and those who claim to require such services can move, who exactly is observing the lockdown?
The state, with a population of over 20 million, reactions are beginning to trail different aspects of the state with few religious institutions failing to carry on with the lockdown.
In a new development, there have been issues of religious bodies fighting task force, this should be a pointer that the said lockdown is about to fail in coming days, as cry for hunger is rising day by day ,it seems citizens prefers to die inflicted rather than seat at home and die of hunger while avoiding COVID-19.
In a bid to get reactions from citizens of the State, MMS Plus reached out to a UBA bank staff at Ikeja, GRA of Lagos, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
According to her, “No banking activities within the bank, we are only making sure ATMs are working to help ease the lockdown and turnout of customers on the usage has been good, since Tuesday, I have been coming to work despite the fact that there is no transport to get to work, I trek to work daily. It is really challenging and hope we can get through this soon.”
Also, a commercial bus driver who simply identified himself as Mr. Tunji lamented on the lockdown.
He shares the view that there might not be total compliance as seen this week compared to coming weeks because of the growing hunger pangs across various parts of the State.
“The government is not fair with its decision on us. Look at my bus, I have parked it since Monday night, no work to do I don’t think we can wade through this 14 days at home like this. There is no money and the food we stock at home will be exhausted soon. The government should be ready, we are coming out on Monday next week,” he said.
Another worrisome development in Lagos is the mode of sharing the relief materials and food items across several communities.
While a large number of needy Lagosians haven’t had access to these items, the few locations where the items were shared resulted to stampede and fighting which exposed the citizens to danger of spreading the pandemic at the locations.
A Lagos resident at Ijaniki axis in Lagos, off Lagos/ Badagry expressway gives account of his experience to our correspondent;
“I had an opportunity to get government rice shared at my local government area. I got there by 10:30am because I trekked from my home to the place. When I got there people were fighting and bleeding over the sharing formula for the rice.”
“There were more than 100 people in the small community hall dragging a portion from the eight bags of rice. I like my life, so I didn’t participate. I just trekked back to my house. Why is the government punishing us like this, they better cancel this lockdown because people can’t survive this hardship”, he said.
The increasing number of COVID -19 cases in Lagos and other states in the country seems to be making nonsense of the lockdown action, with 190 cases announced as at Friday, while the pains of stay- at- home is getting severe without the government’s promised relief materials and palliatives. One statement that seems to have summed up the general thinking in this COVID-19 season is: It is more prestigious to die of this pandemic than submit to hunger with shame. The question therefore remains: How effective can this lockdown be on the fight against COVID-19?