Low-earning families in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, were most adversely impacted by the restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19, according to our investigation, showing the government palliatives were not enough to lessen the impacts.
For several weeks, Abuja was on lockdown, thereby halting business activities and mobility. For low-income earners, whose daily livelihood depends on going out to trade or work for wages, the restrictions presented difficulties.
Yet, our investigation revealed stories of those, especially women, who were able to swim against the tide and create means for others to depend on amid the COVID-19 threats.
COVID-19 has ruined our businesses
Muhammed Yinusa, 54, a resident of Karshi, in the Abuja Municipal Area Council of the FCT, sells sportswear at Karshi market. He acknowledged that COVID-19 is deadly and can kill but observed that people stayed at home in the initial weeks of government ordered lockdown but started flouting the rule because of food.
“The main problem is that when they said everybody should stay at home, they need to help poor masses to give food, but the food they said they gave people, we didn’t see anything,” said Mr Yinusa. “I don’t know about others but myself, I didn’t see a seed of rice. So, I cannot stay at home and die in hunger with my family. That is why I come out to look for what I will eat with my family.”
He said the selection process did not allow him to benefit from the largesse, alleging that indigenes were given priority in the distribution.
Nurudeen Olajiire is a 34 years old meat seller who bemoaned the COVID-19 lockdown for poor business patronage.
“We are the ones calling customers and if we call to inquire if they would buy meat, most of them would simply tell us they had no money. So, this has seriously affected us,” he said.
He admitted that the government brought some items from which he got only ‘a small portion of rice’. He, however, lamented that the items were significantly unsatisfactory compared with the population of the community. His colleagues however chorused they did not benefit anything.
Rita Edwards, a plastic wares seller in Mpape, described sales as ‘too bad!’
“Market is too bad. There is nothing to write home about it,” she said.
She added that athough there was patronage for her goods, the percentage was very insignificant compared to the pre-COVID-19 period.
Mrs Edwards told PREMIUM TIMES that she heard that the government brought some palliative materials but only few people were able to get them. In Gwagwalada, Yusuf Salihu, a bicycle rider who claimed to be 24 years old and father of two, lamented that life has been so difficult for his family since the lockdown. He said the inability to afford basic needs due to reduced income often pitch himself and his wife at loggerheads. He lamented that people really did not go out like before anymore and that has affected his business.
We have been settling domestic disputes – Monarchs
PREMIUM TIMES sought from traditional rulers how their subjects fared under the lockdown. Bawa Jetta, the Esu of Jikwoyi, praised President Muhammadu Buhari for donating two trailer loads of food items as palliatives to the community. He, however, said that the items, which were “orderly distributed and documented” could only reach about 20 per cent of the community.
He said the pandemic so badly affected the people’s livelihoods that he had on different occasions emptied his purse to assist residents who daily throng the palace to seek his assistance.
“I cannot count the number of people I have supported personally from my own pocket. Even yesterday, one retiree under the Ministry of Education, because of the pandemic, started running out to where he could beg for food. Eventually, he got drunk and has a mental (psychological disorder) touch. He is from Akwa Ibom and we even called the state’s Liaison Officer. He is a retiree of over 70 years without home; he didn’t know where he was and had nothing to feed himself; no food, no clothes. We have to assist him in the little way we can.”
On instances of domestic violence, Mr Jetta said he had intervened in family disputes traceable to finances and lack of food. He, however, noted that most of these cases were resolved through the provision of basic needs. But it was not always easy as he had to run from the public any time he found himself incapable of coming to the rescue of the needy.
He narrated how some adults would be emotionally down, crying because they could not feed or meet basic needs in their homes. He appealed to the government for the provision of more support to the people at the grassroots in view of the long-term impacts of the pandemic on businesses.
Adebayo Ladejobi, a Yoruba community leader at the Nasarawa part of Karshi told PREMIUM TIMES that he had no information on palliative from the government or any other sources in his domain.
Mr Ladejobi said the people were facing difficult times, especially those that had to go out daily to make a daily living. He explained that people would come to him several times genuinely to seek assistance for feeding.
Beyond that, the community leader also lamented that financial pressures on account of COVID-19 have worsened relationships in some homes. “There are violence and problems in some homes. We have many and there are others where we’re trying to settle up till now.”
Gov’t did well, but… – Karshi Residents
Although some expressed disapproval over inadequate palliatives, Amodu Audu, a security operative overseeing a local school and father of five, affirmed the reality of COVID-19. He applauded the government as he personally benefited from the donated items, having received three measures (mudu) of rice alongside maggi, garri, sugar, groundnut oil and semovita before Sallah. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the items were sufficient.
In his case, however, a junior-level civil servant who craved not to be named disagreed with Audu. Although he commended the government for the food items, he condemned the distribution pattern which he said was hijacked and politicized in favour of indigenes.
“I assist others, nevertheless”
Chinanso Chime is a middle-aged woman selling foodstuff at Jikwoyi Phase 1. She is a mother of three and wife to a builder whose business is out of demand due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Mrs Chime said though businesses were affected; being a foodstuff seller made it possible for her to be in business from where she has supported her family and loved ones.
“I also consider my customers by giving them the opportunity to buy food items and pay back when they have money,” she said “I know it has not been easy for everyone, and for some of my friends that have asked for little assistance like food items, I do give what I can afford.”
We must guard against higher crime rate – CSO
Ibrahim Dan-Halilu, secretary of Accountable Leadership for Better Nigeria Initiative, a non-profit organisation, while acknowledging the impacts of the lockdown socio-economically, wants government and the people to prepare against high crime rate due to unemployment occasioned by the collapse of businesses especially in the informal sector.
He attributed this to loss of income, job losses as a result of closure of industries and businesses, high cost of food, boredom and mental disorders resulting from a long stay at home to the pandemic. Mr Dan-Halilu urged the government to relax the lockdown and, instead, should enforce precautionary measures recommended by health experts.
We fear there could be spike in cases – Medical expert
Speaking anonymously with PREMIUM TIMES, a medical doctor working on the frontline in the FCT blamed inadequate palliatives for the compliance and humanitarian challenges attributed to the pandemic.
“How can you keep a hungry man locked down with his wife and kids? Imagine a hungry man living on the daily proceeds of his okada or keke. There’s no way he can be locked down and be happy. He just won’t comply especially with government’s palliatives that were farfetched. Many don’t even have homes. Where is he even going to lock himself down or self-isolate if need be?” she wondered.
She observed that the lockdown was never really thorough or complete and is responsible for the rising figures. But looking at it critically, she admitted that the restrictions have helped in reducing massive spread that would have occurred, especially from interactions in schools, places of worship, parties, clubs, pubs and even in the hospitals.
She cautioned that the worst was yet to come, saying that “things may get worse.”
Coronavirus: In the beginning
Like every other year, 2020 was greeted with optimism by many people across the world hoping for a successful year. On the part of the Nigerian government, the early passage before January of the year’s budget heightened hope that all was going to be well and indeed, there was no reason to believe otherwise.
In the Chinese city of Wuhan, a report of a coronavirus outbreak took the world by surprise; the novel variant of the virus – COVID-19 itself was spreading globally at an alarming rate with devastating consequences. Over 11 million people have been infected globally leading to over 500,000 deaths.
In Nigeria, about 30,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to over 600 deaths.
On March 29, Mr Buhari declared, for an initial fourteen days, a total lockdown in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
In a nationwide broadcast, Mr Buhari ordered all citizens in those areas to stay in their homes while interstate travels were banned. He also instructed closure of all businesses, offices and places of worship but hospitals and stores selling essential items such as groceries and medicine were all exempted from the restrictions. The purpose was to use the period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases.
However, no sooner was the lockdown announced than demands started mounting on the government for the provision of palliatives in the form of food, stipends, drugs and other means of supporting the vulnerable and poorest citizens in the affected communities.
In response, the government announced moratoriums for TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans, including government-funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank. The president similarly asked the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to capture 3.6 million households to benefit from its direct food distribution and cash aids.
However, an estimated 82.9 million Nigerians, representing 40 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line, according to a study by the National Bureau of Statistics about poverty and inequality from September 2018 to October 2019.
Support for this report was provided by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism with funding support from Free Press Unlimited.