COVID-19 Lockdown: Poor Masses And Their Empty Stomachs

COVID-19 Lockdown - Poor Masses And Their Empty Stomachs

President Muhamamdu Buhari addressed the nation on 29 March and mapped out the plans of the government to curb the Coronavirus in Nigeria. With over 800,000 reported cases and almost 40,000 deaths worldwide, measures must surely be taken by every government to curb the spread of COVID-19, and the President’s proclamation did not come as a surprise.

Lagos, Ogun and the FCT are at present on total lockdown for the next 14 days! This means that all movements will be totally restricted and those who will be able to move around are key workers. People are expected to stay in their homes; no travelling will be allowed. Also, schools, business and offices are mandated to remain closed. Both commercial and private jets are also barred from taking off.

To be realistic, the next few weeks will be challenging for the poor masses in Nigeria. Not because of the immediate lockdown and the impending increase in the numbers of coronavirus cases, but mainly due to the consequences of the lockdown on poor households. Without considering contextual factors, the president has replicated the Western-styled method of curbing the pandemic. Fair enough! But how such a lockdown and social distancing could be effective in Nigeria, without putting in place an effective welfare system should give researchers, policy makers, NGOs, Trade Unions and conscientious people grave concern. Although, the President told us that the Federal Government has put in place plans to prevent, contain and cure citizens and fervently ask Nigerians to put personal comfort aside as they wait for relief materials, which shall be deployed “to ease their pains in the coming weeks”. I wonder if that includes our lawmakers, who purchased exotic cars with our collective wealth, with fat monthly pay cheque!

The implications of the lockdown on poor household?
Despite having its first case on 27th February 2020, it is sad to note that no concrete plan is in place to date to cushion the imminent hardship poor households will be subjected now that they will be forced to stay at home. Although the President made mention of a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans, by the way, what percentage of the poor masses have actually benefitted from those schemes?

A lockdown without concrete welfare system in place will surely push the economic hardship of poor households beyond the roof!

Despite following the steps of the European countries in the lockdown and social distancing, it is shameful to note that the government is doing nothing to help workers, market women, children and unemployed people that would be significantly affected by the lockdown. Should in case his advisers did not tell our president, the UK government, for instance, has pledged to pay up to 80% of workers’ earnings for forcing them to stay at home (This is not a political promise). Not only that, provisions have been made for additional medical facilities to victims.

Non-provision of a robust welfare system will spell doom for the masses in particular and the country in general.

The impact of the coronavirus will be negligible when compared to the consequences of hunger and other social vices. Rather than being afraid of COVID-19, poor households will have to go on an empty stomach, no medical facilities for other ailments, and no basic amenities. This will lead to a breakdown of laws and order as people will engage in all sorts of shady things to survive.

The federal government should be sincere enough to implement the lockdown as practiced by western countries. It is suicidal to ask people to stay at home on an empty stomach! What do you want them to live on?

It is also pathetic that the federal government did not carry out extensive consultations with stakeholders before the broadcast! As expected, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) is in slumber and despite the sudden lockdown without concrete plans by the government to cushion the hardship it would cause the workers and the poor masses, our docile NLC leaders are keeping mute!

The federal government should be sincere enough to implement the lockdown as practiced by western countries. It is suicidal to ask people to stay at home on an empty stomach! What do you want them to live on?

Way out for the Poor Masses

The problem Nigeria will face during this lockdown is not that of the total number of people that will die of coronavirus, those that will die with coronavirus will be much greater. This can be done by delineating cities, villages and communities into clusters and groups through which these funds will reach the poor masses. To curb social vices, the government should, as a matter of urgency provide centres for relief materials in each neighborhood. This will help to avert looting of shops and social unrest if the entire country is on lockdown and the masses become restive. Private hospitals should be opened up and backed with government funding. This is not a time to toy with the lives of the masses

This is the time the poor masses need the help of the religious organizations. The world has not witnessed something of this magnitude for decades, and some religious groups still think it must still be ‘business’ as usual! If I may ask, what is the usefulness of our 20,000; 40,000; 100,000; 2,000,000 auditoriums at this point? The great mosque of Mecca that has the capacity of 1.5 million worshippers was empty last Friday and will be in the next few weeks or months; the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome had only the pope in attendance few days ago. How many students are presently occupying the expensive schools built under the guise of charitable cause? Of what use are the private jets we were told would be for ‘propagating the gospel’ at this hard time? Will it not serve humanity better if those jets are immediately released to NGOs to help distribute relief materials to affected people within and outside the country?

The rate at which people are dying in countries like Spain, Italy and France from the pandemic reveals that the world is vanity! Capitalism is on holiday and welfarism has suddenly become world’s new bride! Suddenly messages of prosperity and hyping the members are gradually being replaced with those of hope and steadfastness! We no longer care about what we might lose by not going to work and more interested in saving our lives at all cost! We should all be our neighbors’ keeper in this hard time. We should see giving of alms directly to the poor and less privilege as a compulsion. A rich man is not the one that has several millions of investments and houses scattered across the world, but one who makes sure the last poorest man is fed before he goes to bed!

I will urge NLC & human right crusaders to wake up from their slumber! Government should be compelled to look after the workers and the masses. The silence of the NLC shows the body is heartless; no sane labour body would allow its members to be locked at home with empty stomach.

Coronavirus has shown that it is no respecter of anyone-no one is immune, and no one is invincible! Our religious leaders should offer more than prayers. The millions of Naira idle in religious pockets should be released to cater for their members and the community! Yes! If we fail to collaborate, the worldly edifice and structures we presently boast of may soon become relief and treatment centres!

Our politicians should also know that travelling abroad is not a solution for them at this point in time as Europe, Asia, America are all in turmoil. Evidence has shown that most of the cases of coronavirus in Nigeria today were imported by our politicians, so if they do not come together to put palliative measures in place to make sure the needs of the masses are met during this crucial period, they should expect a revolution!
I am optimistic that at the end of this trying period, we shall all come to realise that those things we pursue under the sun are all worthless and a chase after the wind!

By Dr F F Shaba



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