‘We’re not bothered about washing hands, let’s get water to drink first’
Days after the lockdown order in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), residents who live on the lower rungs of the social ladder have begun to fret about how they would get food to eat and portable water.
Most of Abuja’s suburbs do not have portable water and residents depend on vendors to get their supply from boreholes.
Grace Ijeoma lives in a slum at Abattoir, Karu, a suburb of Abuja, with her three children. She is one of millions of Nigerians who live from hand to mouth, so the lockdown means that getting her daily sustenance is a big challenge.
“We are not talking about washing hands. Let us get enough water to drink and bath. In this lockdown we are afraid we might run out of resources, so we have to manage,” she said.
Some of the vendors who supply water in the area said they could not comply with the lockdown because they had to meet residents’ water need, and at the same time, earn a living. They noted that water was getting scarce now that more people are at home and use more water. They added that some vendors who left for their home states before the lockdown had made it difficult for those of them who stayed behind to meet the high demand for water by residents.
“Because people are staying at home more than normal, they need more water, and the few of us cannot meet their demand. Some people just have to manage the water because they can’t get enough,” a vendor, Ahmad Sani, said.
Tunji Adeboye also said, “This is the third day of the lockdown and we are already feeling the impact. I am afraid of what would happen in the next few days because we depend solely on what we earn daily. This will be tough for us.”
Daily Trust Saturday observed that businesses were also opened at Durumi III, Lokogoma and Utako village, Abuja’s prominent slum areas.
Some residents who spoke with our reporters said they could not stay at home for 14 days and do nothing because they lacked a sustainable source of income.
A welder at Durumi III said he had to open his workshop so that he could get money to feed his family. The man, who pleaded anonymity and operated without a signpost at his workshop, said he resided in the community and had no challenge coming to his workshop.
A vulcaniser at Lokogoma, who identified himself as James, said there would be nothing for him to eat if he did not work. He said the risk of disobeying the lockdown was worth it as his family could also risk going to bed without food if he stayed at home.
At Utako village, a cobbler, Isah Abdul, said he had walked round the community and other places looking for customers, but business was not the same anymore. He, however, added, “The little I have made is worth it.”
Abdul, who spoke in Hausa language, was resting under a tree before a motorist parked to polish his shoes. There was a mild drama when Abdul insisted on collecting N100 for polishing a pair of black sandals while the motorist disagreed as he was ready to part with only N50.
Abdul said the lockdown led to the increase in price as they later settled for N80.
Residents coming into the FCT from the suburbs in nearby Nasarawa State were left stranded at the border checkpoint where security agents screened people and stopped many from passing. Trucks were parked in a long queue, creating chaos on the road.
Coronavirus as a blessing in disguise
Some Abuja communities are full of thanks for the coronavirus pandemic, saying it is a blessing in disguise.
Residents of Dubaidna, Durumi III in the FCT are thanking God that coronavirus has brought the much-needed infrastructure to their community. Located in Garki, the community is less than four kilometres to the reference laboratory of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), many housing estates and private organisations, but had been bereft of infrastructure, especially good roads.
But they said that few days to the end of March, they woke up to see construction workers on the road. Three days after, work had progressed, allaying the fear of ‘another uncompleted government project.’
The community head, Bawa Iyah, who spoke through his secretary, Phillip A. Babawa, said if not for coronavirus they would have been subjected to hardship and pain as they go to their places of work.
“I thank God for coronavirus, although some people will be badly affected. None of these people want to treat themselves in this country because they don’t want to put our place in order. Now, they have remembered that there is NCDC office here. And because of coronavirus we have this road now,” he said.
He said residents had stayed many years with the bad road despite their appeals to the government. “If not for coronavirus, nobody would have done the road. You can see the construction of the road into the community. They are doing this road because something is happening at the NCDC,” he said.
Another resident, Prince Solomon Ogbonna, a taxi driver, said government only did what benefitted them, adding, “If this coronavirus did not exist, they would not fix this road. They are doing it because they want access to the NCDC. If the road was meant for us, they should have done it long ago and ensured it led to the community.”
On receiving a N500million donation from the United Bank for Africa (UBA) to fight coronavirus, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) said government would collaborate with the NCDC to ensure it got the necessary working tools.
The minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, said plans were already in motion to grade the road leading to the NCDC, testing office in Gaduwa for ease of access. He said the donation would help in getting the job done faster.
Although the road project would terminate at the junction to the reference laboratory of the NCDC, less than two kilometres to the community, residents said they would benefit from it.
Similarly, when the Kaduna State Government announced a temporary reprieve from the 24-hour curfew it imposed on the state, which commenced on the midnight of Thursday, March 26, 2020, many rushed to the market to buy food and other household items, after almost six days of lockdown.
The two-day grace period had created congestion around market areas, banking halls and Automated Teller Machines. Many threw caution to the wind when they mingled in congested spaces without regard to social distancing, defeating the essence of the stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While some residents had earlier been prepared for the lockdown and stocked their homes with food items, the almost six days of curfew had taken a toll on vulnerable groups who rely on a meagre daily income to feed their families.
Our correspondent gathered that in Rigasa, a densely populated neighbourhood, some compounds had put together their food supplies for better rationing since they were unable to feed their families independently. According to Malam Aminu Rigasa, “I had to bring the small portion of rice I had from my house and seven other neighbours brought theirs; that was what we combined to feed.”
For Hassana Ibrahim, a resident of Danbushi in Millennium City, who is presently nursing twins, her neighbour had assisted her with N50 to buy pap for her children to eat because she and her husband had run out of food or money.
“My husband is a motorcyclist and I sell local drinks for a living, but because of the lockdown, neither I nor my husband could go about our normal businesses,” she said.
Sunusi Ibrahim, a fruit seller in Unguwan Rimi, said he faced hardship during the lockdown before the two-day window reprieve was announced by the state government on Wednesday.
“As a daily earner, staying at home will not put food on the table.
On normal days, I walk for long distances to make some sales, but with the curfew, I have to sit in front of my house to chat with neighbours. After a day or two, I left the house and found a small spot to sell my fruit,” he said.
For Esther Paul, who is popularly known as Mama John, sneaking out of her home to sell vegetables during the curfew was a risk worth taking. “While at home, I would just sleep and rest for the whole day. The situation was unbearable, so I had to come out and earn a living. If I had something to lean on, I would have patiently stayed in my home, but I have to earn a living,” she said.
Like Esther, Malam Sanusi Salisu and Malam Muhammad Maitumatir equally defied all odds to feed their families as they were seen selling their goods and providing essential services to residents. Sanusi, who sells yam, Irish and sweet potatoes and eggs said, “If I do not come out to sell, how will people get food to eat in their houses?”
To beat security checks, Sanusi said he often left his home as early as 7;30am. He, however, said because of the curfew, prices of goods had been inflated. For example, a bag of Irish potatoes, which hitherto cost N25,000, is now N30,000, while a bag of sweet potatoes, which cost N4,500, now goes for N6,000. Also, a heap of 100 tubers of yam is now N60,000 as against N50,000 before the curfew.
Muhammad Maitumatir, who sells tomatoes and other vegetables, said he had resorted to getting his goods from nearby farmers, who have equally increased the cost of the goods since there are no markets to compete with the price.
Prices of foodstuff also skyrocketed as a measure of local rice rose from N450 to N850 while beans sold at N250 against N150 before the curfew.
Musa Shehu, a rice dealer, told Daily Trust Saturday that retailers were the ones who inflate the price to recover from the few days of lockdown. “We still sell a bag of 50kg local rice, such as Labana, at N17,500, but retailers, who have been buying a lot of bags from us, deliberately inflate the prices. They target residents whom they know have meagre resources and are unable to buy a whole bag.”
Lagos residents lament
The story is not different in Lagos as most menial workers lament the lockdown. Our correspondent learnt that the 14-day stay-at-home order in the state is biting hard, especially on daily income earners.
Olajide Street, along Ojodu-Berger, is largely populated by residents from the northern part of the country, who came in search of greener pastures. To eke out a living, they sell fruits at Berger market and ride Okada and Keke (tricycles) within Ojodu.
But with the nationwide lockdown, they have been confined at home. One of them, Saleh Umaru said, “We survive by daily activities. We make between N400 and N300 daily. For instance, I sell fruits at Berger, but we can’t go out because of the lockdown. I bought some fruits on credit and they are almost spoilt, yet we are not sure they would allow us to go and sell today.’’
Asked if they got any palliative from the state government, he said, “We have not gotten anything. As I am talking to you now, nobody has given us any food or package.’’
Mama Tochi, a woman in her early 50s who sells roasted plantain along the Lagos/Abeokuta expressway, lamented that life had been difficult for her since the lockdown. She noted that she lived on daily proceed from plantain roasting.
“I make close to N8,000 on a daily basis. From it I buy plantain, charcoal, palm oil and pepper for the next day. Due to the lockdown, I used the small money I made to buy foodstuff, which could not last more than three days because I have four children. Now there is no hope of money from anywhere, and the food is finished. I don’t know what to do,” she said.
She appealed to the government to provide facemasks and sanitisers to the people and let them get back to work so that she could also get back to her business. “Hunger kills faster than any virus,” she said.
This has been the predicament of most the people at the lower strata who rely solely on daily earning. Daily Trust Saturday observed that some commercial drivers and motorcycle riders do a quick one by coming out as early as 5am to transport people to and from wherever they want to go before the security agents mount roadblocks.
By evening too, some business operators open their shops to buyers and customers who might have called them earlier in the day. It was, however, observed that business operators within estates and communities that are not close to the highway or major roads still carry out their operations and transact businesses as usual.
Hawkers, particularly those on the highway, are also not finding it easy as their source of income had been placed on hold for two weeks. A young woman who hawks ‘soft drinks’ and water along Agege Motor Road said she had resorted to working as a maid for any household that needs her service for the period of the lockdown.
“I wash cloths, plates and clean houses for people around my community and get paid daily. Sometimes, when I wash cloths, depending on the number, I get less than N3,000. In some cases, I also sweep,” the woman, who gave her name as Rose, said.
To cushion the effect of the lockdown on the masses, the Lagos State Government unveiled an economic palliative for indigent and the most vulnerable in the society.
According to the governor, the stimulus, which comes in food packs, would be distributed to every local government in the state, targeting at least 200,000 in the first phase.
The distribution of the package had commenced in some local government areas.
However, some residents of the state have faulted the distribution of the palliative, saying it is not reaching the people it is intended for.
They also expressed disappointment at the number of items contained in the package, labeled, ‘Lagos State Government COVID-19 Emergency Food Response’ saying it negates what the governor promised. They also accused those distributing the package of being biased.
While some residents have confirmed receiving the package, many in different locations said they were yet to get theirs.
Those who have not gotten the package, however, accused the distributors of giving to their party members and allies only, while some who were lucky to get alleged that the content of the bag was too small, compared to what the governor promised. They appealed to the governor to embark on house-to-house distribution in the next phase so as to avert a repeat of what was experienced in the first phase.
In Niger State, many have resorted to the option of cleaning homes in exchange for food or money.
Mrs Amina Saidu, a trader at the popular Kure Market, Minna, sells ‘soft drinks’ and water. Like many others, she has decided to take up cleaning jobs as a means of survival. “The lockdown is deadlier than the disease they are putting us under lock for,” she said.
Since the state imposed a curfew, life has been very difficult for her and her family because, according to her, they live from hand to mouth.
“I have decided to take up cleaning job in my area. If I get any family that would let me clean their house, wash their cloths and plates, I am ready to do it to survive during this period,’’ she said.
As they say, in every disappointment there is a blessing. According to a water vendor, Yahaya Tanko, the lockdown is a blessing to him because he has made more money.
“Now, I make more sales as I supply water to households. Demand is higher now that people stay at home. I enjoy it since my work is restricted to my area,’’ he said.
Contrary to what is obtainable in Lagos, Abuja and other states, in Ogun State, the lockdown became effective at 11pm on Friday. It was deferred in the state because Governor Dapo Abiodun said they were not yet prepared.
Daily Trust Saturday observed that between Tuesday and early Friday, residents of the state were busy stocking their houses with foodstuffs that would last for the period.
It was observed that residents besieged major markets like Kuto, Lafenwa, Omida and Olomore, among others, to buy essential commodities.
Some residents who spoke with our correspondent said they had braced up for the lockdown and ready to abide by the order.
Mrs Bisi Adedipe said she had bought foodstuffs that would be sufficient for the 14-day period of the lockdown.
“I have to stock my house with foodstuffs that will last for few weeks. I pray that this thing does not go beyond two weeks; otherwise we are all in trouble,’’ she said.
It was, however, observed that the hustling and bustling associated with motor parks have fizzled in some parts of the state capital, preparatory to the lockdown.
Residents, especially the poor and the vulnerable, are expectant of the palliative packages the state government promised to cushion the effect of the lockdown.
While a number of individuals have given out foodstuffs and protective equipment, the state government said it would begin distribution on Saturday. The government specifically said the palliatives, which would be distributed throughout the lockdown period, were only meant for the vulnerable.
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