Nigeria: Bonny Residents Resort to Barter As Lockdown Bites

Port Harcourt — An impromptu lockdown on Bonny Island of Rivers State to check the spread of coronavirus means residents are trapped without food or cash and have to exchange commodities to survive.

Barely days into the total lockdown of Bonny Island by the Rivers State Government to contain increasing cases of COVID-19, have residents of the gas-rich island turned to barter to get goods and services.

The cash-strapped residents had to take the measure as the lockdown has prevented them from clearing their goods at Bonny Coal Beach as well as accessing their business places leaving them with no cash and no essential commodities.

The barter system is a way of trade in which parties exchange goods for services or other goods without using money. It was the system ancient traders used before the invention of money.

Life had been going on as usual on the island, apart from spikes in cases of COVID-19, before the state government imposed a total lockdown on Bonny Local Government Area and Onne Community in Eleme Local Government Areas on June 21.

Governor Nyesom Wike had, in a state-wide broadcast, ordered everyone on the island, except those on essential duties, to stay at home. After he had reviewed the situation in the areas, the governor had concluded that a total lockdown was necessary to stop the spread of the virus.

Gatherings, including religious, burials and weddings, have been prohibited and entries to the areas have been shut.

Hundreds of Bonny Island residents said they were not given enough time to prepare for the lockdown as the order came into effect within 12 hours of the governor's speech on the evening of June 20th.

Many residents have perishable commodities locked down in many of the warehouses at Coal Beach.

A resident, Goodswill Jumbo, told our reporter that goods worth millions of naira had arrived from Port Harcourt on Sunday, June 21, hours after the governor imposed the impromptu lockdown.

The lockdown means many residents and traders could not access the goods, which are now in warehouses on the beach, resulting in a shortage of food and essential supplies.

Security operatives manning the area are said not to have clearance from their superiors to release the goods but allowed their evacuation from the cargo boats that brought them from Port Harcourt into the warehouses.

A source who preferred anonymity said an official of the COVID-19 task force in Bonny reportedly approached security operatives to allow the evacuation of the goods but was told that they don't have such clearance from their bosses and would not want to risk granting a waiver without authorisation.

A security source within the COVID-19 task force in Bonny told our reporter that desperate efforts were made to get a clearance for the evacuation of the warehouses but the security operatives would not budge.

Another resident, Justina People, said her consignment of drinks had been held at the Coal Beach since its arrival on Sunday, June 21.

"My drinks are held up there at the beach, no way to bring them to my shop. Same thing with other traders who have their perishable goods there. Those goods must have spoilt by now. That is the cost traders have to bear in this lockdown," she said.

She said residents of Bonny have resorted to barter, using commodities like garri, rice, beans, salt, and yams as means of exchange for other commodities of immediate need.

Another trader who simply gave his name as Dagogo, said his baskets of tomatoes, pepper and other perishables he bought at Port Harcourt are trapped at a Coal Beach warehouse.

With no cash or food, he worries his family might suffer from hunger.

"Is this how they do lockdown? Is this not wickedness? How can people be subjected to this kind of suffering? At least the governor should have given a day or two notice so that we can carry our goods and bring them to our shops instead of losing huge amounts of money buying the goods and bringing them to Bonny but can't take them home," he said.

Another resident, Michael Johnason said that residents are finding it very difficult to obtain their basic needs as they were caught out by the lockdown.

"Since the lockdown, many residents are finding it difficult to cope. We were taken unawares and those that went to the market to buy goods have it trapped at the beach. The governor made a broadcast on the evening that Bonny and Onne would be locked down the next day and true to his words the communities were locked down and residents find it difficult to move around. Markets, shops and the entire island were shutdown making it very difficult for residents to carry out last-minute shopping. As it stands now, many of the residents are using trade by barter for exchange of goods and services," he said.

Another resident who simply gave his name as Manila said that residents go out in the night to exchange what they have with others.

"As we speak now, there is no way one can get money to buy his or her essential commodities. The entire Island is locked down," he said. "No time was given to us to prepare for the lockdown. Many of us who went to Port Harcourt the previous week before the lockdown have our goods trapped at Bonny Coal Beach and many of these goods are perishable items that are rotting away."

At Finima in Bonny, goods worth millions of naira were said to be trapped at the jetty with traders not allowed to evacuate them. There are fears that in the coming days, the perishable goods would have been lost to their owners and the millions of naira spent in purchasing them would have gone down the drain.

The general lamentation of hunger and lack of access to foodstuffs has now been aggravated with losses as there may not be foodstuffs to purchase by residents immediately the lockdown is lifted.

The residents have called on the Rivers State government to relax the lockdown so they could clear their goods at the Beach and restock for their various families.

Efforts made to speak with the Bonny COVID-19 taskforce on lockdown, Mr Jones Banigo were unsuccessful.

For now, the resident of the island would continue to exchange the little they have, like their forefathers used to do, while trying to stay safe in a pandemic.

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