COVID-19 LOCKDOWN (2): FIGHTING HUNGER VS FIGHTING THE VIRUS
At no time has Nigeria’s underbelly been more exposed to the abject state of social safety net for the poor, unemployed and under-employed in the country as it has been during the federal government’s lockdown in Nigeria’s political and commercial capitals i.e Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states. This is in addition to the lockdowns in several key states including Rivers, Kaduna and Ebonyi among others.
President Buhari, under the circumstance, was really left with no option but to extend the lockdown by a further 14 days after the initial 14-day lockdown was introduced on March 31, 2020, as anything to the contrary will spell doom for the country’s populace who will suffer the harsh consequence of the uncontrollable spread of the COVID-19 infections. That, of course, will be a harvest of deaths probably in millions. As we all know, Nigeria’s health sector like many other critical sectors has been left to decay through several administrations. Not even the cries of Nigeria’s current First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, on several occasions during her husband’s first term, on the sorry state of medicare in the country to the extent that she said that Aso Rock Clinic was all brick and mortar with no medicaments for patients, did precious little to turn things around.
However, the federal, state and local governments are also faced with an even more urgent and dangerous scenario. That, of course, is the hunger in the land. Designated as the poverty capital of the world in 2019, it is clear that even under normal circumstances, millions of Nigerians go to bed either hungry or under-fed. A vast majority of these Nigerians eke their living day-to-day, which means they literally live from hand to mouth. Any day they do not come out to work menial jobs, hustle or beg means they and their dependents will be left with empty stomachs. Unemployed and under-employed citizens who depend on the generosity of their more financially endowed friends are left high and dry as a good number of those people are either grappling with the challenge of feeding their own immediate families or may have also lost their jobs.
It was heartening to hear that the federal government and several state governments announce with glee that palliative measures would be put in place to cushion the effects of forcing citizens to stay at home. It is however sad that virtually all such programs have been mired in controversy as millions of intending beneficiaries are either completely cut out or insulted with the paltry quantities allocated to households and communities. In some instances, some youth were seen on social media converting bread meant for an entire street into footballs. Clearly, our political leaders cannot smell the eerie danger of a growing tribe of hungry citizens. Little wonder a good number of them are more interested in photo-ops with a consignment of their branded food bags and the obvious hijacking of the food items by their political and bureaucratic underlings.
Unless extraordinary steps are taken to provide food and basic human needs to the vulnerable, Nigeria may suffer even worse effects from the hunger of the vulnerable. Apart from the acts of brigandage earlier mentioned, threatening messages by disgruntled youth are now trending on social media. Governments, politicians, corporate Nigeria, religious bodies and groups of privileged individuals should get together at their various levels to solve the hunger problems during this lockdown just the same way there has been a groundswell of support and collaboration to fight coronavirus. This is the only guaranteed 360-degree survival strategy that will take us all out of the present quagmire. Thereafter, we must get together to plug the humungous leakages of our collective patrimony and enthrone an equitable society with social justice where the strong does not continue to trample on the weak.
Despite spirited denials by state Police officials, the citizens in some parts of Lagos and Ogun states have been under siege by gangs of hungry youth who have been moving from house to house demanding for food and money while other youths have formed themselves into placard-carrying teams to beg for food and money on high streets. For how much longer will they continue to moderate their anger at society before they begin to unleash their anger at innocent citizens who they believe are more privileged? At what stage might this become a springboard for an all-out revolution? The Nigerian governments at different levels as well as political and business elite should remember that the French revolution that took the lives of tens of thousands of people including their king and family was caused by a lack of food, precisely the scarcity of bread. A word is enough for the wise!
The purpose of the lockdowns is to stall or greatly reduce the community spread of the coronavirus. This is a standard recommendation of the best epidemiologists around the world. It was put to great effect in Wuhan, China where the virus is reported to have originated and even more so in South Korea. In both cases however, they did massive testing for probable victims of the virus especially those who have been around people or in areas where an infected person had been present. They also deployed technology to do contact-tracing of infected persons and, of course, very importantly there was no shortage of food supplies to homes and families who had to be confined. It is important that we not only copy their lockdown pronouncements but also put in what it takes to make it work just like they did.