Lockdown: Dealing with the hunger virus

Opinion

Women wearing nose masks to protect themselves from coronavirus in Lagos…PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

Reports of angry and hungry youths invading parts of Lagos demanding money for food amid the coronavirus (covid-19) lockdown in the state is unsettling. The development has thrown up another potentially dangerous challenge that requires equally urgent attention as being given to covid-19. Except the authorities at both the federal, state and local councils rally to address the problem, the hunger virus could present a more intractable headache for both the government and the people. The hunger virus is real and perceptible just like covid-19. Let the authorities not ignore it.

According to reports, suspected hoodlums armed with different weapons invaded Mangoro, Ogba, Agege, Iyanu Ipaja and Dopemu areas of Lagos at Easter. Terrified residents who witnessed the invasion say the hoodlums came in about 30 motorbikes and scores of buses and broke into shops and houses carting away people’s valuables. In Mangoro, the report says the hoodlums attacked people on the streets snatching purses and other items.

Earlier on, reports from Lekki Phase One say pockets of youths were swarming around flagging down cars and demanding for money, food and screaming that they are hungry and have no job. Residents who witnessed this dangerous turn of events fear that sooner than later, the desperate boys would start going to knock at people’s gates and doors demanding for livelihood support. The fear is that no area is safe. Those living in Lekki, Ikoyi, Victoria Island and such other places would be on the frontline of attack. Eye witnesses say it is only a matter of time before these boys would take the laws into their own hands to terrorise innocent residents amid the lockdown.

It is unfortunate that the covid-19 pandemic took the world by surprise. What started as viral infection in Wuhan China has snowballed into a pandemic of immense proportion. Whereas the developed countries like Italy, France, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States, etc that have well-established and strong social and economic structures that cater for their citizens are finding it difficult to cope with the pandemic, it is only a matter of guess how Nigeria that lacks institutional structures to cater for her citizens would cope. And this is why the lockdown that is working in other climes is being flouted here. There are no structures to support the people.

The covid-19 pandemic broke out in Wuhan China around middle of December, 2019 and the authorities there promptly imposed a lockdown, which they followed up with massive food distribution operation. They made sure that people’s needs were met to at least to minimal level.

But here, the story is different. All through December 2019 through January, February and nearly up to the end of March 2020, life went on as usual with little or no attention paid to Covid-19. It was not until some top government officials, namely the Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari, Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Governor of Oyo State, Oluwaseyi Makinde, among others, tested positive to the virus that the federal and state governments were aroused to the reality of the disease.

Without prior notice or palliative plan to support the people, lockdowns and travel restrictions were imposed across the states. The Federal Government, in an effort to exhibit federal might announced a lockdown on Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states for initial two weeks. These, particularly, Lagos, are the most active and restless cities in the country where Nigeria’s teeming youth population reside.

At the same time, we are talking of cities where millions of youths are unemployed. These people survive on daily basis from whatever they could garner from hustling. The lockdown, which no one factored into the plan, came like a thunderbolt to jolt everybody. How to support Nigerians who have been restricted to their home without means of survival is the biggest challenge.

While the covid-19 has reportedly killed 10 persons in Nigeria as of April 13 and infected 323, poverty and hunger, which are endemic here and which have worsened as a result of the pandemic, are doing more damage and yet there is no record of such. Millions of people face virulent hunger and potential death more than covid-19. Last week, two people reportedly collapsed and died apparently from hunger. The only way out is for the authorities to rally food supplies and cash handouts to desperate Nigerians.

It is good enough that the Federal Government reportedly approved N10 billion to the Lagos state government to combat covid-19. These huge resources should be applied judiciously in the fight against the disease. Part of the effort should be to provide food rations and cash to the people. The Federal Government reportedly mapped out some N200 billion as emergency funds to combat the pandemic. Nigerians need cash advances for support. It is not only the unemployed that are in difficulty; most of the employed workers are also facing dire challenges. The poor salaries that are paid irregularly have compounded the plight of most workers.

While different federal institutions like the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020 (the Bill) by the House of Representatives are proposing plans to cushion the impact of the pandemic, the most urgent and critical need of the people is food and cash to meet some basic personal needs.
The release of 70,000 tons of grain by President Buhari from the nation’s grain reserves is worthwhile. There are also reports of Lagos State getting 6,000 bags of rice and two truck-loads of vegetable oil while the Federal Government is to distribute 150 of seized rice! These are positive moves. But one thing is to announce these hefty food consignments, yet another thing is for the foods to reach the people who need them without corrupt unscrupulous government officials who have the responsibility to distribute diverting them for personal enrichment.

Interestingly, some political figures across the states are responding wonderfully to the situation by donating lorry loads of food items. In Lagos, Ogun, Anambra, Imo and others, politicians and philanthropists are showing solidarity with their constituents by way of food support.

I wish to conclude this that we are in a sort of war situation. There is an invisible enemy that is killing people and making others sick. Every minute, scores of people are dying around the world. The situation on ground is daunting. This is a time to separate leaders from rulers. While the leaders will rise to the challenge with all their might, the rulers will be warming their seat waiting for the crisis to end. Whatever is the case, the plight of youths should be addressed promptly to prevent a new wave of restiveness that would compound the battle against covid-19.

The Guardian

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