The inhabitants of Dic-Fiberesima, a remote riverine village in Rivers State, have cried out for government support as the community suffers from the impact of the coronavirus lockdown in the state.
On April 19, the governor of the state, Nyesom Wike, announced a lockdown in the state after the state recorded its first case of coronavirus.
While the lockdown has made things worse for residents of Dic-Fiberesima, an earlier tragedy also contributed to their situation.
In February, a few weeks before the lockdown was announced, fire razed several properties in the community situated in Okrika Local Government Area, rendering several people homeless and destitute.
Since the lockdown, members of the community have not been able to get to the mainland where they get fresh water and other basic supplies. The lockdown has also denied them access to customers from the mainland who buy fish and periwinkles, which are their main sources of income.
“Before the governor shutdown market, each time I pick periwinkle from the forest, I take it to creek road market to sell, I make a least N1000 gain since I pick myself but since the shutdown, no market, no buyer. I only make N500 gain”, said Ambah George, 50, a periwinkle seller who lost all her belongings to the fire.
Naomi Alphaus, a mother of four, complained that the task force set up by the government to enforce the lockdown was harassing traders. As a result, she has not been able to sell enough periwinkles to feed her children.
“We sell in early morning market before the task force will resume work and start chasing us,” she said.
Pointing at a small cooking pot, Mrs Alphaus said: “See that pot of periwinkle, it has spoilt. I bought the periwinkle N2,500 but the day to sell, on my way to the market, I was told that the taskforce is chasing traders.”
Fidelis Ebenezer, a fisherman, also lamented his inability to sell his catch as a result of the lockdown.
“I catch and sell at evenings at the New-market but since the lockdown, I can’t sell again and this is what I use in feeding my family.
“No buyers, before I see people buy the fish, the fish have gone bad and they will price it very low. But when there was no lockdown, I sell at the market and make gains. Now, when no one to buy, I dry and my family will cook it anyhow we want,” Isaiah Williams, a community leader said.
Scarcity of Potable Water
Dic-Fiberesima is one of several rural communities in Nigeria that lack access to potable water. There is a borehole in the community, but it is damaged.
While the inability of the residents of the community to trade worries a lot of them, their main source of concern is their inability to get enough potable water.
The World Health Organisation recommends constant washing of hands as part of the preventive measures against coronavirus. However, the scarcity of freshwater in the area has made observing this recommendation nearly impossible.
A resident, Hannah Naphatali, 22, said she has not bathed for two days. She said she buys sachets of pure water to bathe her baby. She said getting water to cook has become difficult.
“Wey water no dey, na wetin we go use wash our hands”, said Bubaye Maxwell, another resident.
Ms Maxwell said residents use canoes to get fresh water from the mainland because of the damage to the only borehole in the area. According to her, a 20-litre keg of water cost N10 outside the community
“For almost a week no water in the community, we were told our generator pumping the water has spoilt,” she said.
Another resident, Happiness Tamunoiyuwona, a breast-feeding mother, lamented the impact of lack of potable water on her and her child.
“Today, the baby did not bath,” she said. “I used four sachet water, boil a bit and press my son’s navel, while I took water from the river to bath. Since they said we should wash our hands, I wash my hands with the water from the river before breastfeeding so that I would not contract the coronavirus”,
Residents are also worried that due the unavailability of a medical facility in the area, they may have nowhere to seek help in case of a disease outbreak caused by the poor sanitation in the community because of the scarcity of freshwater.
The nearest healthcare centre from Dic-Fiberesima is about 20 kilometres after getting to the mainland.
Members of the community said since the lockdown they have not received the palliatives the federal government and the government of Rivers State promised the poorest Nigerians.
While the federal govenment has not commenced the distribution of its palliatives in Rivers, Governor Wike recently promised to set aside N2 billion to provide food for the poor in the state following the lockdown. Two committees were inaugurated, one was for buying agricultural produce from farmers while the other was tasked with sharing palliative to vulnerable communities in the state.
The committees were to work with all the local governments in the state.
However, residents of Dic-Fiberesima, said they have received no support.
Asime Kalio, the chairman of the Community Development Committee, said the only gift residents have received was from the Ijaw People Assembly Worldwide.
The chairman of Okrika Local Government Area, Philemon Kingolin, did not return several unanswered calls made to his mobile number neither did he reply messages sent to him via WhatsApp.
What should the government do
Sophia Sonime, the deputy Rivers State coordinator of Partners for Peace, a non-governmental organisation, said that for the palliative to be equitably distributed, the government should send an ad-hoc committee, which should include women and youth leaders to visit remote communities like Dic-Fiberesima in advance to determine the amount of food and support each community needs.
“The palliative committee should go first and identify the various families and map out a way on how to take these items to them,” she said.