President Muhammadu Buhari’s address on March 28, 2020, on the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic and the measures the federal government had put in place to avert its spread has stirred controversies, especially regarding the fate of Nigerians who are daily earners. TOPE SUNDAY writes.
After repeated calls from a section of Nigerians and the opposition parties for the president to address the nation, President Muhamadu Buhari on March 28, 2020, addressed Nigerians to unveil some of the measures the federal government had taken to curtail the spread of the dreaded coronavirus (covid-19) that has held the world hostage.
However, his speech has sparked another round of debate, cantered basically on the hope of the common Nigerians who live on a daily pay following the lockdown and restriction of movement by the federal government.
President Buhari in his 65-paragrah address described covid-19 as a world-wide emergency, and directed that Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) be locked down for 14 days, in the first instance, because Lagos and Abuja had recorded the majority of confirmed cases of the virus.
He said, “As we are all aware, Lagos and Abuja have the majority of confirmed cases in Nigeria. Our focus therefore remains to urgently and drastically contain these cases, and to support other states and regions in the best way we can. “As I mentioned earlier, as at this morning, we had ninety-seven confirmed cases. Majority of these are in Lagos and Abuja. All the confirmed cases are getting the necessary medical care.
“The few confirmed cases outside Lagos and Abuja are linked to persons who have travelled from these centres. We are therefore working to ensure such inter-state and intercity movements are restricted to prevent further spread.
“Based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11:00pm on Monday, March 30, 2020.
“This restriction will also apply to Ogun state due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States. All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.”
He said further, “For residents of satellite and commuter towns and communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods will surely be affected by some of these restrictive measures, we shall deploy relief materials to ease their pains in the coming weeks.
“Furthermore, although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with state governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme during this period without compromising our social distancing policies. The minister will be contacting the affected States and agree on detailed next steps.
“Furthermore, I have directed that a three-month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect. I have also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all federal government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.’’
As at Wednesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across Nigeria was 151 after 12 new cases were confirmed on the same date. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the 12 new cases were reported in three states: Osun, Edo and Ekiti states.
NCDC had in a tweet stated that nine of the cases were confirmed in Osun, two in Edo and one in Ekiti state.
“As at 12:30 pm April 1, there are 151 confirmed cases of covid-19 reported in Nigeria. Nine have been discharged with two deaths,” the Centre stated.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Lagos had 82 cases, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT – 28, Osun – 14, Oyo – 8, Ogun – 4, Edo – 4, Kaduna – 3, Enugu – 2, Bauchi – 2, Ekiti – 2, while Rivers and Benue s states have one case each.
Remarkably, Lagos and the FCT which were most affected by the pandemic recorded a high degree of compliance in the first and second days of the lockdown order.
Blueprint Weekend can reliable confirm that the Abuja residents complied with the sit-at-home order of the president as major roads were deserted, major motor parks closed down and while offices exempted by the presidential order rendered skeletal services.
Also, on day two, the ever-busy Kubwa, Nnamdi Azikwe and Abuja-Keffi expressways were devoid of human and vehicular activities for the most of the day. Expectedly, residents of Abuja city also complied with the order while areas like Maitama, Lokogoma, Galadimawa, Games Village, Wuse, Garki and Gwarimpa, Apo, Asokoro, etc were in total lockdown.
According to reports, in some parts of Lagos state, the movement restriction order recorded a high level of compliance, as shops, offices and business outfits were under locks and keys. Major roads and streets in the state were deserted.
However, while the sit-at-home presidential order of the government could be said to have been totally obeyed in some of the affected cities, this medium gathered that most of the affected Nigerians are expectant of the palliatives from the government to cushion the effect of the order on their lives.
Implementing the palliatives
As at the time of filing in this report, the method or process adopted for the distribution of the palliatives was not known but the federal government, through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development had started disbursing the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) to the poorest families.
In what appears as its pilot scheme, a total of 190 people were reportedly given N20, 000 each in Kwali area council of the FCT on Wednesday. Distributing the money to the beneficiaries, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, said President Buhari was determined to cater for the welfare of the less privileged especially during this period of Coronavirus pandemic.
“We have about 5,000 households in the FCT enrolled in the CCT programme. It is targeted at the poorest of the poor in Nigeria, whereby government pays N5, 000 stipends to the poorest of the poor in the country. Government has decided to pay N20, 000 to the beneficiaries, which covers a period of four months; in order to relieve the economic pressure on them.
“The exercise will take place in all the states across the federation. We are starting with FCT, Lagos and Ogun, the three states that are currently under lockdown because of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria. Therefore, this stipend will go a long way to support the families of the beneficiaries in their daily lives, especially at this time of the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the world.”
Nigerians, others react
Barely 48 hours after the sit-at-home order became effective in Abuja and Lagos, have some Nigerians who live on daily pay income asked the federal government to hasten its palliative method.
An FCT resident, Niyi Adekunle, a bricklayer, told this reporter that he was tired of the sit-at-home directive and asked the government to hasten the palliative mechanism. He said he was one of Nigerians who live on daily incomes.
According to him, his stay at home for two days has depleted his savings, lamenting that he feeds his wife and two sons on what he earns daily.
“The government has made us to know that Coronavirus is deadly and the president had asked us to stay at home. But how do we survive for 14 days? I am tired. I don’t have anything in my savings any longer. I am a bricklayer and I feed my family from what I earn every day. I will plead with the president and his cabinet to hasten the relief materials he promised to give us,” he said.
Similarly, a painter, Abdul Zakariyau, a resident of Bwari in Bwari area council of the FCT, raised a poser on the method that the government will deploy in the distribution of the palliatives to the affected residents of the FCT.
Zakariyau, who faulted the government’s order, said there were no concrete agreements before the president gave the sit-at-home order, adding that Nigerians are experiencing severe hunger.
“If truth must be told, our government did not plan very well before asking us to sit at home because of coronavirus. Yes, we are already sitting at home, but what method or mechanism will our government deploy to distribute the relief materials they had promised to give us?
“We have spent almost two days at home, but I can tell you that there is serious hunger in the land. As an individual, I did not prepare for this compulsory sit-at-home order. We are hungry and I am of the view that our government should do something on time to help us,” he said.
On his part, a former presidential aide, Reno Omokri, punctured the president’s address, arguing that he did not address the major area of interests of some Nigerians.
He said, “…Buhari said he had introduced fiscal measures. That is a lie. He has done little or nothing for individuals and businesses. No economic package for citizens forced to stay at home, even while NASS shares exotic cars. General Buhari boasted about providing ₦15 billion intervention. That is nonsense.
“That is only $37 million for a population of 200 million people. India released $27 billion for food alone. That is less than the ₦150 billion he budgeted for NASS. How can the federal government compete with the private sector in amount provided as relief? You collect taxes, oil rents and Abacha loot and all you give is ₦15 billion. The private sector gave more. Why do we pay you tax? Why do we have a government?
“…Buhari ordered a lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun. These areas have already been on lockdown for a week. Does it mean Buhari did not know? How can you ask people to stay in lockdown without providing adequate reliefs to them?”
“Nigeria has a strategic food supply established by previous administrations. He should have ordered that the grains be released to the people. After all, during Ramadan, government shares goods. Why not now?
“In summary, Buhari’s #CoronaVirus broadcast was just hot air! He did not redirect the $37 billion budgeted to renovate the NASS or the $150 billion budgeted for less than 500 Reps and senators towards providing relief for Nigerians.”
However, the Presidency said government was on the right track. This is as the Presidency in a tweet stated that President Buhari had ordered the release of 70,000 metric tonnes of grains from the National Strategic Grain Reserves, for distribution to poor and vulnerable persons in frontline #COVID19 states.
According to the tweet, all the persons whose livelihoods will be affected by the lockdown will also be captured.
UN chief lauds Nigeria’s response
In his reaction, the United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, commended Nigeria’s response to the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic.
Speaking during a virtual news briefing in New York on Thursday, Guterres singled out Nigeria as one of the developing countries that “have shown a remarkable capacity to respond.”
“I have to say this; some of these developing countries have shown a remarkable capacity to respond. I was quite impressed to see, for instance, Nigeria putting in place and immediately establishing a hospital.
“And I saw difficulties in countries that are much more developed to do quickly the same,” Guterres said.
Also, applauding the president’s efforts, Mr. John Adejoro asked the government to make the relief materials available to all Nigerians whose sources of income have been crippled.
He said, “The president should be commended for locking down the country in order to curtail the spread of the contagious and dreadful coronavirus in the country. However, the palliatives that the government had promised should be made available to all the affected Nigerians.
“While people are expecting that government should give cash, I am of the opinion that relief materials should be distributed to Nigerians because if the cash is entrusted with Nigerians, it may be diverted.
“I will suggest that polling units should be used as the distributing points. This will ensure that the affected Nigerians will be captured, but anything contrary may be counter-productive.”