Words by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo; Photos by Adeyinka Yusuf
On 30 March, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the lock down of Lagos, Ogun state, and the Federal Capital Territory for an initial period of 14 days. The plan, said the government, was to get the spread of the coronavirus under control. Those two weeks became five.
Unfortunately, the decision plunged thousands of persons into economic difficulty, which was complicated by the failure of the government to provide for all of its citizens after preparing a mitigating “stimulus package” containing five kilograms of rice, three kilograms of beans, two loaves of bread dried tomato paste and five kilograms of the staple cassava flour garri.
Nonetheless, when a representative of the ministry of agriculture was asked how he would score the Lagos state government’s response to the pandemic, he looked incredulous and said, “10 over 10”.
That score might better be given to a number of people who contributed to the well-being of others by providing food to their neighbours and other residents. Some of these people are presented below in their own words:
“We live in the neighborhood here [GRA, Ikeja}. We were motivated by empathy. We distribute a pack with jollof rice and chicken. We try to make them observe physical distancing but it is impossible. Initially we gave money but it wasn’t sustainable.” – Yomi Adedeji and Tola Adebanjo, entrepreneurs.
“The nearest government to the grassroots is the local government. In my local government, we are going to deliver packages biweekly or twice a month until the pandemic is over. We haven’t reached the curve yet, we are just starting to climb and we don’t know how long the lockdown is going to take. We just pray that it doesn’t take too long. But the people will be hungry and the only way we can serve them, to let them know Lagos is worth living in, is to provide food for them.” – Omobolanle Adetutu Akin-Obe, Chairperson, Coker-Aguda Local Council Development Area
“We set up Covid Aid specifically to address the issue of getting food to people during the lockdown. We have been overwhelmed by the demand. We initially thought that we might be able to reach 5000 to 10000 people. We had enough money for that. But the demand went to about 40000 people in the first two days.
We set up a USSD code because we wanted to reach out to people who do not have smartphones. It went viral.
What we are doing now is through private funding. I seeded it. Other people have been inspired by it and given us either cash or food to distribute for them. A lot of the money we receive is through personal relationships. We are trying to scale it up. Everybody has to work together, private sector, individuals. We are only doing our own bit.
We reached out to the Lagos government to help them to distribute some of their aid. They appreciated that and encouraged us to do more. I don’t know how long the economic impact of covid-19 will last in Nigeria but we are committed as much as we can to follow through to the end. Our mission is that everybody that is registered gets something.” – Niyi Gbodimowo, Covid Aid founder
“I live in a community where you see people who do day to day activities, like the fruit seller and shoe shiner. They have to eat from money they make daily or they won’t survive with their children. And even before the lockdown, people come to me and say ‘Madam, give us food, give us food’. Where would these people now eat from if there is a lockdown?
I decided to start by preparing and sharing 50 to 100 plates of rice. At first, it was for my street, but soon people started to come from other streets. I decided to post it online so people are inspired to reach their own communities as well. But my clients saw the videos and decided to support what I was doing.” – Elizabeth Bello, CEO Amala toh Sure restaurant
“We are part of the alumni of the China Europe International Business School in Nigeria. We came together and asked ourselves how we can assist the government to help our local communities in providing some palliatives. So we came together as a group and divided ourselves to different parts of the state.
We are handing out packs to families on the street on the Island and in Surulere and Ikeja. Each packs contains 5 kilograms of rice, 5 kilograms of garri and 10 packets of noodles. We’ve distributed over 64 packs today. As we gather more funds, we will get more items and decide where we’ll go. It’s been difficult for most families and we know that. It is difficult for everybody but some people are more vulnerable than others.” – Bamidele Oderinde and Kelechi Nwosu, China Europe International Business School alumni
Oris Aigbokhaevbolo is a writer, essayist, and film critic. As music writer, he won the 2015 All Africa Music Award for Journalism.
Oris was writer-in-residence at the island of Sylt,Germany in 2016, and has had his creative nonfiction, reportage, and reviews published by Chimurenga, the Africa Report, This is Africa, and the Guardian UK. He lives in Lagos and is West African editor at Music in Africa.