Relaxed lockdown chaos and the days after

Relaxed lockdown chaos and the days after
May 08
21:28 2020

When the notice lasting seven days for easing the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States was given by President Muhammadu Buhari in his third consecutive nationwide broadcast on COVID-19, it may have been received with mixed feelings. As the President read his speech, you could sense from his body language and the general mood in many homes that he would announce easing of the lockdown and the President did. The expectation was that after a compulsory isolation lasting over four weeks, a prolonged lockdown was not a feasible solution; the time had therefore come to balance the public health crisis with the reality of economic survival. “Oh my, why add another one week; I was actually looking forward to tomorrow to get to the bank to renew my ATM card that had expired,” a family friend, exasperated, told me on the telephone as he wondered why he – and the rest of us – would have to wait for another seven days to “enjoy the benefits” of the relaxed lockdown.

But then, what happened eventually? Hell was let loose on the streets of Lagos and Abuja as caution was thrown to the winds even when the number of coronavirus infections was growing exponentially and causing anxious moments across the country. It now looked like a mistake; maybe President Buhari, on hindsight, should have allowed the lockdown to continue. I drove round some of the streets in Ikeja and was I surprised at what I saw? I would say not at all; in fact, I would have been shocked if the streets were not busy. It looked like the deadly virus had disappeared and life was swinging all over again. The thinking by some people is that coronavirus is not their “portion” because they have “natural immunity”. Prior to the lockdown, all kinds of coronavirus myths that were unhelpful to an ignorant community had gained traction on social media and word of mouth communication.

Ordinarily, you would expect the enervating coronavirus media headlines and death toll globally to “humble” us, but that clearly amounts to wishful thinking; it is not going to happen. Even with the strange deaths from Kano and increasing number of COVID-19 infections in the country, our folks couldn’t be bothered. You can characterise “Naija people” from the way we behave: we’re always on edge and too impatient; we like to do “shakara” and we’re also full of bombast. A common scene was overcrowded bus stops and traffic jams. In spite of the chaos, nearly everyone had the presence of mind to wear a face mask – come to think of it, face masks have become a talking point with the different shades and colours on display, resembling the theme explored in a “Coat of Many Colours” in “Just Because I’m a Woman” (1968) by Dolly Parton, American singer and song writer — but there was nothing like social or physical distancing. In addition, driving was still as reckless as ever and commercial buses ignored the 60% capacity limit requirement for passengers.

Although I was not surprised, what I witnessed made me uncomfortable when we call to mind the rate of community spread of the virus. It was the same report from other places. Akpandem James, my associate and media consultant based in Abuja, told me the scene at a popular supermarket in Asokoro was unacceptable. “The place was overcrowded and most of the customers including some attendants and cashiers did not wear face masks,” Akpandem lamented when we reviewed compliance scenarios. “As if this bad behaviour was not enough, customers going in and out of the supermarket did not was their hands with soap and water provided by the supermarket,” Akpandem further observed. “I blame the supermarket for lack of enforcement of COVID-19 basic precautionary measures,” I responded, adding that stricter lockdown conditions could be imposed by the authorities if we continue to misbehave and disregard COVID-19 safety protocols.

However, the notice by the Computer Village Market Board, visible as you descend the fly-over leading you into Kodesoh Street from Oba Akran Way, blew my mind away. Advocating for the safety of everyone, the notice read: “No Mask, No Entry Policy. Thank you for your understanding. Let us all stay safe and healthy”. This level of community relations to promote safety in the marketplace is truly commendable.

President Buhari is obviously concerned and disturbed with the rising number of infections in the country. Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, is also worried and he was right to be angry recently. He could not hide his frustration at their regular media briefing because of the level of recklessness and indiscipline by Nigerians relating to safety protocols to combat the virus. Mustapha’s thesis is that we should see the virus attack as a war-like situation because, if we continue to disregard health guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19, we’re putting our lives at risk. “When you wear a mask, you protect yourself and those around you,” Mustapha stated. It is trite to say that if we’re unable to manage the spread of coronavirus, it could overwhelm the capacity of our public healthcare system.

The banks that opened were also heavily populated on the first day as if the lockdown would return the next day. The images circulated on social media showed desperate customers and overcrowding that was initially hard to control. To their credit, the banks devised a system of closing down most of their branches during the lockdown; so the few that opened turned out to be a beehive of activities resulting in stampedes in some locations; some customers actually tried to force their way into the banks but for the timely intervention of security personnel. As I drove round Ikeja, I observed that canopies had been placed within the premises of some banks to prevent overcrowding within the banking halls.

At one of the banks in GRA, Ikeja, the customers were orderly and the use of hand sanitizers as well as face masks was compulsory. At another bank on Adeniyi Jones Avenue, this was the feedback I received from an accounts officer: “The customers are many and they’re impatient; they want to be answered now, now. They’re yelling, screaming but we insisted on the basic precautionary measures before they’re allowed to interact with our frontline officers. We also set up canopies as holding area from where they’re assigned numbers so that service is on first-come, first-serve basis.”

But in the days that followed, the pressure from customers reduced; most of them wanted to renew their bank cards, according to any findings, while others without online banking tools wanted some cash. In any event, online banking channels are available 24/7 and the use of ATM cards has also enhanced banking experience. Remote banking transactions increased during the lockdown but it came with its own challenges as some customers lost money to fraudsters. We must be vigilant always because phishing is a cybercrime; as much as possible, avoid suspicious emails, text messages and telephone calls from dubious people and you’re not required to disclose any banking information relating to your account and transactions to anyone.

In Nigeria and other countries, there has been significant global awareness on the ravaging coronavirus pandemic and how to stay safe; it is therefore hard to understand why some people in Lagos, Abuja and some other places would decide to put the lives of everyone else in danger. Could it be due to ignorance, plain rascality or our typical I-don’t-care-attitude? In our society that is highly superstitious, what you hear is, “na something go kill man one day.” Yes, no one will live forever and we will definitely see the end of coronavirus — nothing lasts forever — but it is senseless to stand in front of a moving train except the person is contemplating suicide. By “something”, they mean death by any other means such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, malaria attack, tuberculosis, viral infections (flu), hepatitis, hypertension, diabetes, lassa fever, hungervirus, motor accident and plane crash.

Even after the lockdown was partially lifted, some people applied commonsense and preferred to err on the side of caution – they continued to stay at home to minimise risk of infection due to the emerging community spread of the virus. Phased re-opening of the economy is not a bad idea as we try to achieve the delicate balance between survival and staying safe. In China, Europe and the United States, they are gradually getting their lives back – certain categories of businesses are being allowed to re-open based on approved guidelines to minimise job losses. In the US, the prospects are grim; over 30 million jobs have been lost; unemployment rate is over 14%, the highest since the great depression of the 1930s. In the UK, the Bank of England announced recently that the country’s economy is heading for the worst crash in 300 years. Lesson for everyone: fasten your seat belt.

According to the guidelines released by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to gradually unlock Lagos State, all movements in and out of Lagos remain prohibited except for essential services. As an idea, restricting inter-state movements is a good but it is not working; it has been observed more in the breach nationwide. Enforcement of the guidelines has remained a huge joke as security personnel have turned COVID-19 lockdown into a thriving industry and they would prefer the lockdown scenario to continue for as long as possible.

Jordan that is now also opening up their economy imposed strict stay at home orders that were enforced. With a population of over 10 million people, Jordan recorded 471 cases and nine deaths by the end of April and in the week the followed, there was no recorded case of coronavirus infection. From the Jordan case study, genuine enforcement by the authorities, aggressive testing and contact tracing by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), is the solution; Nigerians should wake up to the smell of the coffee because, with 3,256 cases; 107 deaths and 601 recoveries as at the time of writing, it looks like we still have a long night ahead.

*Braimah is a public relations and marketing strategist based in Lagos ([email protected])


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