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Infected or uninfected: COVID-19 halts life for all

Deserted road

• Weddings, ceremonies, burials put on hold
Lockdowns announced by Federal and State governments with the aim of halting the spread of COVID-19 have brought socio-economic activities to a standstill with its associated economic hardship across the country.

In the Niger Delta region, though not the worst hit by the viral disease, the poor and those who work in the informal sector of the economy are facing severe food shortages and are worried about possible starvation if the lockdown persist without palliatives from the State governments.

The cold-blooded murder of 28-year-old Joseph Pessu in Warri, and the beating to death of a young man last Wednesday at Owa-Ekei, in Ika Northeast local council, Delta state, by military men enforcing compliance of the stay-at-home order by government is a pointer to how the lockdown is having adverse effect on lives in some parts of the country.

The Delta State Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, had regretted that while COVID-19 has not claimed any life in the state, violence had claimed lives. He urged Deltans to obey the stay-at-home order for their own safety, saying, “coronavirus don’t move but people do, if people don’t move the pandemic will be contained.”

The lockdown has affected businesses and social activities like burials, wedding and night clubbing and has caused untold hardship for many people who survive on their daily earning.

People engaged in wedding planning, like Mrs Efe Obieri, are groaning. She said she had two wedding engagements she was working on before the lockdown, which were postponed indefinitely. She is scared that the clients could decide to patronise someone else when the lockdown is lifted.

A petty trader, Madam Agnes Odafeh, lamented that her five children were suffering because she can’t feed them as she is grounded at home and can’t take her wares to the market. She said her husband is a retiree and is hospitalised.

According to her, she went to the market to sell her foodstuffs three days after the lockdown, thinking the situation would have relaxed a little but she ended up losing her wares to local vigilantes enforcing the order in the market. She pleaded with government to send food to people holed up in their homes.

For Samson Igurube, a block molder cum bricklayer, the lockdown was tantamount to mass punishment for the poor people. He lamented that even before the lockdown, there were no jobs because of the harsh economic climate. According to him, before now, he was merely managing to survive as a bachelor and wondered how people with as much as six children were surviving.

People in Delta State are largely in support of the two weeks ‘stay at home order’, and would want government to support them with palliatives on daily needs.

The member representing Ndokwa West Constituency in the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Charles Emetulu, said people should support government stem the spread of the disease.

“For those who want to christen their new born babies, they do not need more than 10 people: the child’s parents, the baby and the priest with immediate family members. But for those who lost dear ones, my advice is that they should shelve such social gatherings until after the lockdown, because knowing our cultural attitude to such functions, you cannot control the crowd.

“Some people have already called planned events off as soon as the lockdown was announced. I already have some invitation cards that I cannot honour if the celebrants or bereaved chooses to go ahead with it. Same goes with those that have marriage plan for this Easter,” he advised.

A member of the state Advisory and Peace Building Council, Pharm. Paul Enebeli, insisted that social life style at this moment must be in keeping with the guidelines of government and medical experts.

“Social lives should be limited to your homes as we are presently in perilous times. Call it burial, birthday or marriage ceremonies. All should be avoided for now, because you are not too sure where those you would be socialising have been to and mingled with.”

Another respondent simply identified as Lord Solo, said: “The virus and its implications are real everywhere. The reason people should respect the ‘Stay At Home Order’ for two weeks is to enable detection of the contracted victims as it takes two weeks to incubate and manifest, so they can be identified and taken for treatment.

“But the main problem is coping with hunger; therefore government should share food with the money donated so far by some good spirited individuals and should establish food banks for residents as the lockdown continues.”

The General Manager, Delta State Urban Water Corporation, DESUWACO, Nosa Okoh said, “The management, in conjunction with our partner USAID, Effective Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services (E-WASH) Program, will be available for services with constant safe water supply and increased activities to ensure that the orders of the governor are met.

“We have resumed supply of safe water in some of the zone such as Asaba, Ogwashi-Uku, others, and also not relenting in ensuring that other places will soon begin to enjoy access to safe water. We urge our people to stay safe during this period and adhere to directives from the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, NCDC, on safe measures.

In Akwa Ibom State where the government announced a total lockdown on April 2, people have been complaining of lack of money and hunger because the stay-at-home order was abrupt and caught people like Edet Effiong unprepared.

“I am not a salary earner, I feed my family from the daily sales made in my shop. For two days now, I have closed the shop and stayed at home. How will I feed my household? We have been coping in a very hard way,” Effiong said.

As social life in Uyo metropolis, particularly in areas such as Ikot Ekpene, Oron, Abak and Aka roads has now grounded to a halt, so are peoples’ livelihood threatened. Ms Edith, who works as a sales representative in a popular joint along Stadium road by Aka-Etinan junction, said since the place was closed down, she has been thrown into hardship.

Edith said: “I used to get money here on daily basis, based how much sales I made in a day. But this place has been closed, I don’t have money now to feed; life is so difficult.”

A politician, Mr Augustine Effiong, who was to bury his mother had to postpone the funeral because most of his friends and political associates from Lagos, Abuja and outside the country would not be able to attend.

Though Bayelsa State is yet to record any index case of the coronavirus, residents have began to groan over the effect of the partial restriction of movement in the state.

The markets are not closed yet, but most traders who depend on food items from the neighbouring states like Rivers, Delta and Imo, have lamented the high cost of procuring food from these states due to restrictions on vehicular and human movement.

For example, a bag of pure water that formerly sold at N100 per bag is now sold between N170 and N200. Similarly, the price of garri, rice, yam and other food items have risen above 100 percent.

Mrs Obiageli Nwafor, a housewife said that the quantity of tomatoes she usually bought at N300 now goes for N800 due to the lockdown in both Rivers and Bayelsa. She said the cost of frozen fish, meat, vegetables and other edible items had all sky rocketed.

Nightclub, hoteliers, fast food and beer parlour joints owners are groaning under the lockdown. At the state border in Mbima and the Igbogene, the security forces, which include the Police, Immigration and other government task force, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), have resorted to extorting motorists and passengers who tried to get into the state, especially those with perishable goods.

A food vendor lamented that the rising cost of food items in the markets was a result of the unwholesome activities of the security agents at the entry point to the state.

A resident at Punch road, Yenagoa, Mrs Ngozi Charles, has prayed the government to provide palliatives to cushion the effect of stay at home order.

“You can’t keep people at home hungry and looking at the children die in hunger. Yes, the coronavirus is real, but hunger is more crucial,” she said.

Already, Bayelsa State Emergency Management Agency, (SEMA) has begun the distribution of food items to the various Local Government Areas to mitigate the effect of the lockdown order. Items distributed include rice, millets, garri, among others.

Mr. Adenira, who sells electronics, said the hunger might in the long run kill more people than the dreaded virus. He lamented that business has been bad since the state government ordered that only food and drug sellers should open their shops.

“Even before this time, with the Nigeria economy, there was no money in town, but people were still going out to look for their daily bread. Now, hunger virus is included,” he said.

Another resident of Calabar, Chidinma Eze, described this era as trying times for the downtrodden. He wondered that if people like him, who have cash to buy the foodstuff, were complaining about the cost, what then is the fate of those who don’t have.

In Rivers State, an educationist, Mrs. Emelia Akpan, described the lockdown as a very difficult time, noting that this is not a time to eat what you want, but what is available.

“The lockdown is also an opportunity to slowdown a bit, things one wouldn’t have been able to do in normal days, I now do them. I go to farm these days, I read a lot and it is a time to renew relationships, discuss with my husband and children. You just have time for everyone in the family. This is also time for irritations due to stringent conditions people are subjected to. So, people should be careful and prayerful because this is indeed a very difficult time for all.”

Mr Emeka Kalu, who works in an oil firm, said since the lockdown, his normal life has been disrupted. He noted that the advent of COVID-19 is a big catastrophe to the human race.

“As a worker, I wake up very early at a particular time. I was used to it that I do not need an alarm. But these days, life has become so boring, social life has collapsed, the finances affected. Even if the virus goes and the lockdown measures are lifted, it will take a long time for people to grapple with it.”

A gender activist, Constance Meju, explained that with the prescription of social distance as a means of preventing the spread of the disease, she has resorted to social media to reach out to families and others in the communities.

For most residents of the southeast zone, living their normal lives have become quite challenging amid the lockdown ordered by their state governors over the coronavirus pandemic.

About a week ago, the state chief executives had directed residents to remain at home in a bid to contain and curtail the spread of the deadly virus, though Enugu state remains the only state in the zone with confirmed cases of two persons that have tested positive.

Security operatives enforcing restriction of movement by motorists

Under the lockdown, they have shut all public institutions, markets, and closed land boundaries, among others, without palliatives to cushion its effect on residents, majority of whom feed from hand to mouth.

Reports monitored by The Guardian showed that the states paid March salaries to the civil servants, which enabled some of them procure food items before the lock down. But the situation was not so with businessmen, artisans, petty traders and even workers in some private establishment as some are still owed salaries. Most of them either could not raise enough funds to stock foods or did not receive notices of the lockdown early enough to make arrangements on how to feed their families.

Chika Eke, a staff of a private estate company in Enugu told The Guardian that life had become almost unbearable, even when she was forced to leave her accommodation to live with her parents for the period of the lockdown.

“Very soon one will wake up one day to eat and won’t find anything to eat because there is nothing to eat. I wake daily to eat, sleep and read. I have also increased my exercises, but for how long? I came from a family of four with a mother and father. We eat everyday from the little we were able to buy before the lockdown. But as it is, the food items have gone down one week after. There is no source of income at the moment. I was not even paid salary of last month before the lockdown. That tells you that it may not be a good story going forward unless something is done to call people out to the street again,” she said.

Although the state is not in total lockdown, what has become a daily routine for some residents is that they gather in groups to discuss the implication of continuing to keep people at home. While some disclosed that life had become so boring staying at home that they fear it could lead to their early grave, others say that unless they chat away their time, they could develop some illness while thinking of how to feed their families amid numerous challenges facing them.

Mr. Vincent Eze, a textbook seller at the Ogbete Main market, which was closed last Monday by the state government, said that he either plays draft with some members of his compound or look for a drinking spot in the neighbourhood to take some beer.

“I cannot be sleeping away my life. The children will not allow you to sleep. They are either requesting for one thing or the other. So in order to avoid such, I spend time playing draft or find a joint to drink with friends while discussing the situation of the country. That is a way to survive. I cannot go to church since. The doors of the church are under lock and key. All I pray is for God to intervene because this one week has not been easy,” he said.

Eze said that he lost a relation, whose corpse had been in the mortuary, stressing that “we scheduled the burial for after Easter but because of the lockdown and the ban on burials by the Catholic Church and state government, we have shifted the date. My worry is that the mortuary bill has continued to rise and nobody will give you a rebate because there is coronavirus any day, you want to bury the corpse.”

He faulted the blanket ban on social gathering by the state government, stressing that “since they said there should not be more than 50 persons in a gathering, they should have extended such to other areas, so that those who want to bury their dead could do so, in line with the order. To me, it will even save cost, so that the money you spend to cook and buy drinks, among other things, will reduce.”

Except the Orthodox churches, other denominations in the state no longer worship inside their church buildings. But those who still observe activities inside their church buildings have scaled down such activities. For instance, infant baptisms are no longer observed, church weddings have been put on hold, marriage ceremonies and child naming among others.

Ebube Ugwu said he fixed wine carrying and white wedding for April 18. He said he had committed resources to ensure its success since the two events would go together. But he cannot go on with the exercise as his church has placed restriction on weddings till further notice.

“So it is a blow on me because I now have to start all over again to plan. Granted that some of those that I paid for one service or the other may still be willing to carry out their services, but how about the time? Can you still recover the time that has passed? That is as it is for now, while praying God to provide quick solution to this problem”, he said.

Imo state has not been the same since March 30, when Governor Hope Uzodinma put the state on lockdown. The governor’s action took place not minding that there was not case of the record of confirmed case of the pandemic in the state.

The apprehension has been on that a man who hailed from Aboh Mbaise in the state flew in from Germany, a high-risk country in the outbreak, and he visited his country home and his hotel in Umuguma, Owerri West LGA, without observing self-isolation. He took ill and became symptomatic of the virus. He died last week. All the persons he came in contact with were traced and quarantined. After 14 days, the state government on Saturday, April 4, gave each of them N10, 000 and released the 23 persons quarantined at the Fancy Hotel, to their homes to continue self isolation for seven days. They are yet asymptomatic.

The assessment of partial lockdown observed in Imo is so because many residents still go about doing their businesses, though with fears and restrictions enforced by the combined team of the army, police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

In spite of the governor’s directives that all the markets, shops and land borders be closed, some traders were seen flouting the directives. Some churches still congregate, holding services and masses.

Some residents who spoke with The Guardian admitted that their life styles had been infringed upon by the lockdown while some still believe that there was no such ailment in the country, and that it was only a conduit pipe to allocate funds to some persons in high places.

According to Alex Mmanu: “I do not understand this restriction of our movements. We have virtually been restricted from living our normal lives. But we shall overcome it.”

In Abia State, while some have been sleeping more, others are thinking and planning. But it has generally been a boring time.

To ameliorate the effects of the COVID-19 induced lockdown on religious worship in the State, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu approved free 30 minutes airtime worship via the state Radio BCA 88.1 FM Umuahia for Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5, for interested church denominations in the state.

An employee of the Borno State Environment Protection Agency (BOSEPA) fumigates mosques in an effort to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Maiduguri on April 3, 2020. AUDU MARTE / AFP

Mr Monday Orji, a retired civil servant, engages himself reading newspapers and magazines both past and present editions he can lay his hands on and discusses his readings with members of his family. Mr and Mrs. Kalu Ukoha have been married for 15 years and had slipped into a non-talking relationship for about five years. This period forced a reconciliation.

To many Households, cleaning of houses and their environment has been the order. Families hold indoor meetings with their children and pray together for their needs.

Some poultry and piggery farmers in Abia state lamented their difficulty in attending to their farms located away from their homes, saying they have had to trek long distances to get to the farms while also trying to avoid being arrested by the Lockdown Task Force Team.

An Agriculture Expert and Programme Manager of the Abia State Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), Chief Israel Amanze urged authorities in the state to allow farmers/animal care givers, especially those engaged in poultry and piggery to freely access their farms, pointing out that not doing so would be catastrophic.

Stressing the need for such farmers to be classed among those on essential services, Amanze stated that if the birds were not taken proper care of, like giving them water for a day, those laying eggs will suspend laying eggs for one month while pigs may start eating themselves.

There are cases of public servants who work in Umuahi, the capital, but reside in Aba and other towns whose services fall under essential classification and thus ought to be coming to work during the lockdown.

According to one of them, who reside in Aba, “unless, I leave my house early to catch a particular vehicle plying Aba to Umuahia very early, I would not go to work that day, and returning to Aba after the day’s work, I leave it to providence.”

There is a case of one Ken Okuwa. He visited his village in Bende from his Port Harcourt base in Rivers state to deliver foodstuffs to his aged mother in anticipation of the then looming lockdown.

When he returned to Port Harcourt, he received a call that his said mother suddenly fell very sick and was rushed to hospital where she was admitted. Because the lockdown in Rivers state barred entry into and exit from the state, Okuwa could not get out of the state (Rivers) to get back to Bende to attend to his sick mother. Shortly after, he got another call informing him that his mother died.

In Ebonyi state, while some praised the governor for declaring the lockdown, there has been complains in some quarters about the absence of palliative measures to cushion the effect.

Umahi has, however, earmarked over N200 million to cushion the effects, noting that the fund would be used to purchase bags of rice, tomatoes and other food items that would be distributed to the masses to alleviate their suffering and make life more comfortable for them.

In a broadcast, Umahi said that the state was targeting over 200,000 households. He asked other well-meaning people in the state to make contributions to the project.

Speaking with The Guardian, Peter Oke, a civil servant, praised the government for being proactive in checkmating the spread of the virus in the state.

He noted that it has not been easy staying at home without going to work, stressing that he missed his work and colleagues.

He further stated that though it was difficult and stressful, pleading with people to observe all measures put in place to checkmate the spread of virus.

A motorist plying interstate routes also said that the border closure had affected some of their members who depend on it as means of living, expressing the hope that they would overcome someday.

“Most of our members are passing through hard time due to closure of the borders but am pleading with them to join hands with the state government on their initiatives to safeguard our lives,” he said.

For residents of Oyo State, as a result of the curfew imposed by the government and stay-at-home advice, there have been dislocations in socioeconomic activities in the state. Many professionals and traders who spoke with The Guardian lamented the development.

Leading the pack is Mrs. Oluwakemi Sanni Olowoyeye who sells drinks, bottled water, wines and other items for social events at Joke Plaza, Bodija, Ibadan. She said: “We are trying to cope by observing the hygienic measures given to us. But the period is taking toll on my social and economic life. I have a lot of people that have cancelled their ceremonies that are supposed to take place during this period. A lot of my customers who had made orders for drinks had to cancel the orders and postpone the events, because of the rampaging virus.

“This is really affecting my business and taking toll on my revenue. If they had not cancelled the orders, they would have come for their orders and paid us. So, it has made my business dull. We have been staying at home but because I’m selling edible things, that is why I have been going to shop. People are not coming out during this period. Hence, the hours we spend in shop have reduced drastically.

“This is really affecting our economy and everything. So many people had planned for this 2020 that they are going to achieve so many things. With this virus ravaging the world, they won’t be able to accomplish what they had planned for the year. So, we pray for God’s intervention on this pandemic.”

A lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Mrs. Lucy Nwobi said: “It hasn’t been easy. Some people’s salaries have not been paid. Some are not sure if they have jobs any more. Micro and small enterprises have been forced to close businesses because of restricted movement.

It has been tough for those who sell vegetables and operate supermarkets because patronage has been low.”

Mrs. Regina Bassey, a trader, said: “It is not easy for people to stay at home, especially those of us who are daily income earners. But we have to stay at home because you don’t know who has contracted the virus. Life is much more important than anything. If you die, you can’t do anything again. May God help us to overcome the pandemic.

“The government is trying but not doing enough. Some will be dying if the government is not giving enough palliatives.”

However, another resident of Ibadan, Mr. Anthony Porbene, said the virus would soon be conquered, stressing that afterwards, Nigerians would continue with their social and economic activities. He maintained that what necessitated the unusual social life and stay-at-home order was to protect lives of the citizens.

Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi had on March 30 imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the state for 14 days.

The Governor had said that the measure was taken in urgent public interest to ensure strict compliance with all directives given to prevent community spreading of the Covid-19.

While declaring the curfew, the governor directed that the Ekiti State Food Bank be reactivated immediately to provide food items to the poor and vulnerable families in the communities, saying that the Task Force would announce the modalities as soon as the process was fully activated.

He said the State Government was considering providing a stipend to the self-employed citizens whose daily income would be interrupted, as subsidy for their loss of income.

“I have directed the Commissioners for Finance and Budget to advise on the amount the State can afford in view of our dire financial constraints,” the governor had said.

However, six days after the curfew was imposed, the state government has been unable to activate the palliatives, except for Federal lawmakers, including Senators Biodun Olujimi, Opeyemi Bamidele and two other House of Representatives members who have distributed food items to people in their constituencies.

However, some residents in the state capital, who spoke with The Guardian have threatened to take to the street, if government failed to provide the necessary palliatives promised them before the total lockdown.

Some of the residents are mostly traders of non-essential materials, artisans and drivers, whose sources of income have been blocked as a result of the lockdown.

They expressed the view that hunger could kill them before the coronavirus. “We may either troop to the street or forcefully return to our businesses if government fails to provide palliatives for us,” Mrs Ojo Folasade, a trader in Oja Oba Market said.

Another dimension to the lockdown is that some of the residents are now going from house to house within the neighbourhood to beg for food.

Such instances have become rampant in Oke Ureje area of Ado Ekiti. The Guardian had an encounter with a woman with a child on her back, knocking gates and pleading for assistance, especially food. The woman in her early 30s, Mrs Dorcas Olorundare, said that she had no option but to beg for food since there was nothing to eat. “I am a petty trader with four kids, my husband is a taxi driver. Since the lockdown, we have exhausted all the food we have and no money to buy more food,” she said.

On social implications of the lockdown, several people have had to cancel weddings and burial ceremonies already scheduled for April.

For instance, Dr. Gbenga Fasiku, a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, had to postpone the burial of his father earlier scheduled for April at Ikole Ekiti, indefinitely until normalcy returns. This was in spite of the fact that a lot of money has been put into the planning of the event, including sending invitations.

Following the lockdown, the wedding ceremonies that normally held at the Ado Ekiti Local Government registry have been put on hold. A marriage officer at the local council, who pleaded anonymity, said that since the lockdown began, no fewer that 15 scheduled marriages have been put off indefinitely.

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