Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, is among 3 cities in the country currently on total lockdown. The measure which has become necessary in the weeks following the identification of the index case of Coronavirus in the country on 27th February, as the cases rose up to 131 as at March 30, 2020. In that timeframe, the State government had taken measures to educate the public on how to reduce the spread of the contagious disease – from social distancing, to constant hand washing and sanitizing. All of these have however, proven to be not nearly enough; hence the lockdown.
Drawing inspiration from the Chineese region of Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease on the global level where a lockdown for almost 2 months proved highly effective, Nigeria is among tens of countries that have been forced to opt for a total lockdown of major cities and impose strict measures around public gatherings, as a way to curb the spread of the virus. Wuhan has since reduced new infections, all the way to zero, especially in the last 6 days. This is reassuring that the method, when effectively deployed, does work. It is however, a subject for debate as it relates to Lagos, Nigeria.
With over 22 million inhabitants, majority of who live on a daily income that barely sustains, the central government in Abuja has made a vague promise of Conditional Cash Transfers to the vulnerable over the next 2 months. Plans on how the vulnerable will be determined, or how these transfers will be made in a region where close to 50% of the population may be unbanked, is also yet to be unveiled.
Neighbouring African countries have taken similar steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, deploying the military and other uniformed forces to enforce this necessary lockdown, a forcefully effective measure that may work, but at the expense of thousands suffering. In direct contrast, worse hit European, Asian, and North American countries that have had to lockdown unrolled packages to help reduce the suffering such lockdown will cause citizens. From food coupons, to dog-walking windows; similar measures have not been announced in the case of Nigeria.
Videos coming out of Ghana and widely shared on Nigerian Twitter show a display of military might by the government in a campaign to deter the public from disobeying the lockdown. Nigerians, who share these videos make worrying comparisons to the everyday situation a lot of them have to deal with even in times of peace, as uniformed personnel on a daily basis harass, extort, and often carry out extrajudicial killings of law-abiding citizens in the guise of security patrolling.
What will happen, a Twitter user wonders, now that the lockdown has begun. What will happen if desperate Nigerians who are forced to seek out essentials, step out of their houses and are met by the Nigerian armed forces?
In the meantime, with people rallying around and concerned individuals coming up with ‘food drives,’ to cater for the needy, it is hoped that such empathy that has seen a larger part of the population drawn to helping one another will also be the case for Nigeria’s armed forces and their counterparts in neighbouring countries. We hope that they will approach this all-important task with empathy. But since hope is a puff of air which may never be enough, we must have structures to hold our uniformed women and men accountable.
On a brighter side, the lockdown has forced a lot of systems to be looked at differently and fresh strategies employed around this new situation. Many employers have been forced to consider restructuring their work to allow for continued productivity while workers remain at home, for the first time ever.
The coming weeks will teach us a lot of things and one of such definitely; is that the nature of our lives is not cast in stone, human society will continuously evolve as ever.