Nigeria: As COVID-19 Lockdown Ends Today - Pressure Mounts On Buhari to Relax Restrictions

An empty road in Abuja during the COVID-19 lockdown of the Nigerian capital.
27 April 2020

Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Jos — As the lockdown declared by the federal government in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to curb the spread of COVID-19 expires today, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and experts have expressed fears of negative impact of the stay-at-home on the citizens and the economy if extended.

Daily Trust reports that besides the federal government, many of the 36 states of the federation have also declared complete or partial lockdown amid complaints by citizens and businessmen on the terrible impact on their wellbeing and businesses.

On their part, medical experts insisted that the federal and state governments should maintain the tempo of restricting movements so as not to jeopardise the gains recorded so far. Virtually all economic activities including services and manufacturing have been grounded, not only in Nigeria but across the globe as the attention of world leaders' shift to how to contain the coronavirus from spreading further. Some of those spoken to yesterday, including economists, industrialists, bankers and investment experts, said they were conscious of the dangers that might come when the country is let lose, and people allowed to flout social distancing and other measures.

They, however, said there was the need to kick-start the economy as obtained in other countries but with measures that will compel citizens to observe the rules.

The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said there was the need "to relax the total lockdown so that some economic activities can go on."

He said, "If you look at the situation around the world, it is clear that what is needed to be reinforced is the issue of preventive measures.

"We have goods imported at the ports and the distribution has become a problem despite the fact that the port authority said that people should go and take their goods. But if there is lockdown, how can you take your goods?" he asked.

He said that the lockdown extension would lead to shortage of essentials including medical items.

"I have seen many countries relaxing the curfew because lockdown cannot be perpetual. And what we have said is that many people are hungry and there is no way of getting means of livelihood; we don't want a situation where people will then take laws into their hands," he said.

When contacted yesterday, the spokesperson for the Vice President, Laolu Akande, said the reaction of Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Mr. Clement Agba, was enough to address the concern over the pressure to re-open the economy.

Agba, who spoke last Thursday after the fourth meeting of the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had revealed that talks on reopening the economy for business and related activities had begun as the country prepares for a post COVID-19 era.

A medical practitioner, Dr. Abdullahi Aminu, said the federal government should not allow free movement in the coming weeks to avoid escalating the spread of COVID-19. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) also said that relaxing the lockdown would lead to rise in the number of cases recorded across the country.

NMA President, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, said, "I am not an economist, so I may not be able to properly advise on that. But with the rising figures of recent, it is not the time to ease the lockdown."

Dr. Fatima Damagum said restricting movement of people to prevent the spread of disease is not a new phenomenon. "Indeed, it has been used for thousands of years," she said, but advised relevant stakeholders to provide necessities of life for the people.

Nigeria deserves unique approach

An economist who is also the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Kaduna State University, Dr. Usman Aminu, told Daily Trust that implementing measures adopted by the western world without recourse to Nigeria's peculiarities will be counter- productive.

"Continued lockdown of the economy will kill business and jobs with concomitant negative impact on poverty and well-being. The level of poverty will endanger people's lives and affect their immunity to fight the virus if affected," he said.

Aminu, who is a member of Daily Trust Board of Economists, said lockdown may not achieve the desired results given the level of poverty in Nigeria and weak industrial and agricultural base of the nation.

"The policies of relaxing the lockdown to enable people restock on food and other critical needs proved that the exercise is of no effect... . Government must get majority of the people to be working rather than staying at home with nothing to do. The ultimate cost to the economy will be quite unbearable for everybody," he said.

Also speaking on the matter, an expert in microeconomic analysis, Mr. Abiola Rasaq, said like most countries, Nigeria was stuck between a rock and a hard surface in choosing whether to extend the lockdown to ensure we flatten the COVID-19 spread and avert probable loss of life or we defy global consensus on lockdown to save the economy, which is already at a tipping point.

Rasaq, who is also the Head of Investor Relations at the UBA Group, said an extended lockdown will obviously do more damage to the economy and heighten insecurity.

"We must have a well thought out measure before junking the lockdown measures," he said.

Similarly, the Provost of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Business Entrepreneurship Skills and Technology Centre (ACCI BEST), Professor Adesoji Adesugba, said lockdown could not work in a developing country like Nigeria where 70 per cent of the urban population live in overcrowded unplanned slums.

The professor said most people were living below subsistent level and were daily paid workers without any form of a social security programme.

Pressure everywhere

A leaked letter dated April 24, 2020 from the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) and addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation/Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had advocated compulsory use of face masks in the public after relaxing movement restrictions.

The letter signed by NGF chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, was written as a follow-up to a teleconference meeting with Vice President Osinbajo on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

If approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, the governors suggested in the letter that the impending broadcast that will mark the end of the fourth week incorporates "Internal free movement (within a state) but with restrictions on large gatherings and assemblies; overnight curfews; lockdown of flights; and compulsory use of face masks/coverings in the public."

Also, members of the Presidential Taskforce (PTF) on COVID-19 were locked in a marathon meeting on Saturday, April 25, on the format of the partial restrictions to put in place in 33 states without fuelling the spread of the coronavirus. According to a source, members were inching towards partial restrictions in some states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

"One of the knotty issues is a recommendation by the NGF that there should be internal free movement but with restrictions on large gatherings and assemblies nationwide. But the PTF took exception to partial lifting of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos, Ogun and Kano states," the source said.

The need for caution

The Director General of Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Olawale Timothy, said: "While it is desirable for the lockdown to be relaxed and not totally removed, it is important to state that mismanagement of the lockdown relaxation process might spell doom for the gains already achieved.

"A relaxed lockdown with legislated state and national guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus will go a long way in maintaining the gains of the past few weeks.

"The guidelines should include compulsory use of sanitisers, free protective gears by government (face mask, hand gloves where necessary), maintenance of social distancing, increased education and awareness (posters), total banning of religious, political and social gatherings, limited number of passengers in public and private transportation and strict enforcement of same, amongst others," he said.

Penultimate week, chief executive officers of banks and multinational companies led by NECA held two series of session with Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on the possibility of restating operations albeit cautiously. Daily Trust findings revealed that over 80 per cent of the 28 managing directors/CEOs of organised businesses and companies in attendance argued in support of the gradual restart of the economy.

The Director General of Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, in a chat with Daily Trust, said that neither Lagos State Government nor the federal government has the capacity to manage the social consequences of a prolonged lockdown, which include hunger, restiveness and insecurity among others.

A Risk Manager in one of the Micro-Finance Banks, Mr. Olutayo Akande, said "If you don't allow people to go out to hustle for their daily needs, the death we are running from will come knocking at their doors. So, the negative impact is huge," he said.

Nigerians speak

A fashion designer in Kubwa, Mr. Tunji Ismail, appealed to government not to extend the lockdown, saying the last 14-day extension crippled entire businesses in Kubwa.

Similarly, Mrs. Bisi Ayuba, a caterer in Dei Dei, noted that since the government ban on occasions, her family had been finding it difficult to make a living. A businessman in Kano, Alhaji Gambo Kofar Dawanau, said the global economy was in shambles saying each country was adopting to realities of the time.

"We are lucky that the federal government had started grooming us towards embracing agriculture. We should be encouraged to go back to farms," he said. Malam Bello Haruna Singa said it was time to fully concentrate on farming since the country was blessed with fertile land for agriculture.

Hadiza Saidu, a food seller near Kalwa House at Zarmaganda Junction in Jos, the Plateau State capital, said the lockdown had affected their businesses saying they lost many perishable food items.

Malam Isa Abdullahi, a butcher at Kurmin Mashi Market in Kaduna, called on the federal and state governments to come up with a plan that will see to the gradual reopening of the country's economy.

Some residents of Lagos who spoke with our correspondents said the government should ease the lockdown, noting that any further extension would further deepen their economic woes.

Mr. Ayodeji Adeniyi, an insurance broker who resides at Aina Street, Ojodu, in Ikeja, noted that the lockdown had brought untold hardship on many Lagosians especially those who work in the informal sector.

Francis Arinze Iloani, Muideen Olaniyi, Idowu Isamotu, Sunday Michael Ogwu, Christiana T. Alabi, Abdullateef Aliyu, Ibrahim Musa Giginyu, Lami Sadiq, Dickson S. Adama

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