For the third time in six weeks since the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari will Monday address Nigerians on the administration’s present effort and further plans at curbing the dreaded disease.
The president had, March 30, 2020 announced an initial two-week lockdown of FCT, Lagos and Ogun states, following which he directed further lockdown on the affected states and the FCT by another two weeks expected to end today.
But Ogun state government pleaded with the federal government and delayed the lockdown take-off by one week, on account of non-preparation by the residents.
And across the 36 states of the federation, governors came up with varied measures, including lockdown and curfew to ensure some level of social distancing and movement restriction of residents.
Although both the lockdown and curfew were targeted at flattening the COVID-19 curve, this however has not achieved the desired result as the cases continue to rise on daily basis.
The cases then and now
Blueprint findings revealed that prior to the first lockdown announced by the president, the number of cases stood at 131 cases, 8 discharged while 2 died.
And as at April 13, 2020 when the president directed an extension, there were 343 cases with 10 deaths and 91 discharged.
As the nation awaits Mr. President’s broadcast for an update, the figures have astronomically shot up to 1,182 cases, 222 discharged with 35 deaths, thus prompting the desirability or otherwise of further lockdown extension.
What the people say
But residents spoke to our reporter ahead of the president’s speech, with some insisting on further extension while others wanted a modified format. .
While some said the lockdown should be extended in view of the rising cases, others canvassed for a modified lockdown that would afford citizens the opportunity of engaging in buy and selling to make ends meet.
In the view of Mr. Sulaiman Salman, a resident of Gwarimpa in the FCT, the federal government should take a hard look at the palliatives and the distribution if the lockdown is to be extended.
“Two lockdowns of 28 days and people couldn’t do their business. The government says they are giving palliatives, where are the palliatives? The idea of saying those with less than N5, 000 in their account as well as telephone subscribers loading less than N100 is bad. Whosoever must have come up with that doesn’t wish Nigerians well.
“So they are saying we should be as that poor before getting privileges from government, especially at this lockdown period. Even at Abaji (an Abuja suburb) where they claimed to have started the distribution, people came out to say nothing came to them. People are hungry and further lockdown could cause the criminal elements to endanger the lives of innocent citizens. Let palliatives g round,” Sulaiman said.
Also in his view, Saheed, an auto-mechanic in Kado Estate, Abuja, said, further lockdown would not be in the interest of the masses.
He said: “While government is protecting us against coronavirus, the lockdown has caused some people to take to crime, thus putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk. Look at what is happening in Lagos and Ogun states where some boys engage in daylight robbery. Even here in Abuja, people have started breaking into homes. If government would give us reasonable food, let’s have an extension, otherwise further extension of this lockdown will increase crime rates and make the helpless ones hungry. So, we must not prevent coronavirus and get killed by hunger.”
Holding a similar position, a Lagos resident, Mr. Kehinde Salau, called for ‘modified’ lockdown “where people will be allowed to carry out their businesses but with some level of regulation on how to go about it.
“The truth is government can’t provide the palliative people are asking for. It’s for this reason we should have a modified lockdown that will allow people seek means of livelihood with social distancing and use of face masks made compulsory.”
But another Abuja resident, Ms Biodun B. Shama feels differently as she called for further lockdown.
She said: “Let Buhari announce further lockdown, if they don’t extend it, how do we curb this pandemic? If people stay indoors, cases of those affected will be discovered and rightly treated. But if we are unlocked, then you can be sure people will be exposed to danger and prone to death. God forbids, if this pandemic hits us on a large scale, it might be difficult for us to tackle because we don’t have the facility. Again, I plead we further endure another lockdown.”
Also in his view, a legal practitioner and human rights lawyer, Dr Kayode Ajulo, called for an alternative measure to the lockdown.
Ajulo, who made the appeal in a statement obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja Sunday, though appreciated the reasons for the lockdown, but said it had brought untold hardship on the people.
He stated that while the lockdown measure had significantly reduced the spread of the virus, the difficulties had brought to fore, the urgent need for more equitable measures in curbing and curtailing the spread of COVID-19.
Ajulo said government must focus on efficient testing, training and building capacity across board, while creating reliable infrastructure and employing principles of transparency.
While acknowledging the significant gains of the lockdown and curfew enforced on some states, he said the measures had halted economic activity across the country.
He said Nigeria could not impose a lockdown like more developed nations as there were many citizens who did not have homes.
Among the expectant Nigerians waiting to know the president’s pronouncement in Monday broadcast are the governors of the 33 states who, among others asked President Buhari to incorporate their proposals into his broadcast to give it a bite.
In a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (NGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, the governors under the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) wrote: “Please refer to the above subject matter and to our Teleconference meeting with the Vice President on Wednesday, 22 April 2020.
“Recall at that meeting it was agreed that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) articulates the issues that it would want to be included in the next Presidential Pronouncement on Covid-19 so as to have a Uniform and Coordinated Policy on Covid-19 at both the national and sub-national levels.
“Subject to Mr. President’s approval, the NGF would want the following incorporated into Mr. President’s Pronouncements: Inter-State lockdown excluding movement of essential supplies foods, beverages, medical and pharmaceuticals, petroleum supplies and agricultural products; Internal free movement but with restrictions on large gatherings and assemblies; Overnight curfews: lockdown of flights and compulsory use of face masks/ coverings in the public.”
Also anxious to hear President Buhari speak is the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) which strongly kicked against further lockdown extension.
Like the NGF, the NLC in a similar letter to the SGF, had warned that further lockdown extension could spark off system collapse.
In the letter dated 14th April 2020 and signed by NLC President Ayuba Wabba, the Congress said:”While we understand the public health imperatives for extending the lockdown in some parts of the country, it is also very important to underscore the fact that the states currently under total lockdown are the economic and administrative nerve centres of Nigeria.
“This is very dicey. As much as it is important to keep many Nigerians from dying in the hands of corona virus, loss of income and the accompanying destitution can also be a pathfinder for numerous other sicknesses and deaths. This is the time to play the balancing game. The truth is that our economy might relapse into prolonged coma if the current lockdown in the nation’s nerve centres goes beyond the current extension.
“Prolonged lockdowns are best effective in the short term. In the medium to long term, the human instinct to survive would kick in and restraint might lead to the collapse of law and order. Within the first two weeks of the lockdown in some parts of the country, there were widespread acts of civil disobedience, inducement of law enforcement agents to gain passes and even various forms of violent crimes. No one is sure how long this dam would hold. We fear that the situation will get out hand if the lockdown exceeds one month.”
Feelers from COVID-19 task force
But if feelers from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 are anything to go by, the NGF may not have their way.
Blueprint gathered that “the task force will not advise the relaxation the governors are seeking, even though their ‘internal free movement with restrictions’ are not properly defined.”
“Although, the government has a constitutional right to act on issues concerning their states, no one disputes that. However, when the chips are down, the burden of leadership entirely falls on the federal government. That’s why our committee won’t advise in favour of what the governors are asking for in this regard. There may be a shift from total lockdown, but again, that depends on Mr. President who, in this regard, hoods the ace. The Kano example suffices. That’s all I can say on this,” said our source who pleaded for anonymity.
When Blueprint told the source that already Anambra state has opened up its space with the opening of churches Sunday, as well as Oyo state’s directive to civil servants to resume, our contact said: “This would be addressed at the conference