COVID-19: OVERCOMING CHALLENGES OF THE LOCKDOWN
As confirmed cases of COVID-19 hit 407 in Nigeria, there seems to be a looming threat of severe escalation as Nigerians are beginning to scale down their adherence to the various lockdown orders. It would seem the need to survive and raise cash to buy foodstuff has forced a good number of Nigerians out of their homes at various times of the day.
Across several states including Lagos, Ogun, Delta and the FCT, Nigerians have devised various means to ensure that their families survive the threat of hunger even as they try to keep COVID-19 at bay.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu only recently warned transport operators to stop operating at night as the lockdown meant that there should no movement 24 hours of the day. Meanwhile even in the FCT where the IGP spoke from, bus and cab operators now operate within the day as they have devised means to beat the various checkpoints or bribe their way through. It has consistently been reported that the lockdown is barely being observed in the various satellite towns around the city center.
In Lagos, while the lockdown is mostly observed during the day, the city comes alive in the night with various small businesses operating at full blast and other citizens moving freely to patronize them. This is evident in the usual high traffic at the entrances of many high-brow estates in the state.
Even empowerment activities where the governments at various levels and groups of individuals are seen handing over cash or relief materials, intending beneficiaries are seen queuing too closely together or in some cases, struggling to get a piece of the action, a situation that prepares the ground for unhindered community spread of the coronavirus. A very scary prospect indeed!
The World Bank had indeed earlier expressed reservations about developing countries copying the lockdown programs of developed countries. The Bank gave various reasons why economic policies implemented in Sub-Saharan Africa should be different from those adopted in advanced countries and (some) middle-income countries. The Bank observed that informal employment is the main source of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 89.2 percent of all employment (ILO 2018). Excluding agriculture, informal employment accounts for 76.8 percent of total employment respectively.
Based on the number of entrepreneurs (own-account workers and employers) who are owners of informal economic units, the vast majority of economic units in the region are informal (92.4 percent). Informal workers lack benefits such as health insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid leave.
Most informal workers, particularly the self-employed, need to work every day to earn their living and pay for their basic household necessities. A prolonged lockdown will put at risk the subsistence of their households. Additionally, the majority of workers hired are in a precarious situation, and most of these jobs are temporary and with low remuneration, do not offer social security, and put workers at a greater risk of injury and ill-health.
Also, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), an important driver of growth in economies across the region, account for up to 90 percent of all businesses and represent 38 percent of the region’s GDP.
From the foregoing, it is clear that about 90 percent of Nigerians are currently in dire financial situations as the various relief programs are either yet to take effect or are grossly insufficient to meet the needs of households. Clearly, the lockdown programs were not fully thought through before implementation and Nigeria now stands a grave risk of suffering double jeopardy: a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases and an economic calamity during and well after the lockdowns. Neither scenario bodes well for the country.
Since it is clear that Nigerians must move around to survive, maybe it is time for the government to review its strategy. Citizens could be mandated to move around in non-medical masks. This is apart from observing all the other protocols including hand-washing, sneezing etiquette, social-distancing, regular disinfection.
It is also important that the COVID-19 treatment protocols be made available to the various tiers of hospitals and standard clinics that have the human and infrastructural capacity to give care and treatment to patients. It is becoming clear that if there is an explosion in the number of COVID-19 cases, the current arrangement where only government-run isolation centres are in charge of treatment will be grossly inadequate.
The COVID-19 fund and part of the donations made by companies and individuals can be used to make beds, work-tools, medicaments, food and other requirements available in those accredited treatment centers while the cost for services will equally be worked out and settled from the same fund.
We need to get proactive now so that we do not end up fulfilling the grim prophecy of Melinda Gates who said that developing countries could end having their streets strewn with bodies of dead COVID-19 Patients due to inadequate planning and infrastructure.