DEFIANCE! This describes the situation in suburban communities in Nigeria regarding the order issued by President Muhammadu Buhari for a lockdown in some parts of the country to check the spread of COVID-19.
In such areas residents carry on with their daily routines.
On Sunday, March 29, President Buhari ordered a lockdown of Abuja and Lagos as well as Ogun State, areas considered to be critical in the spread and containment of the diseases.
By Saturday, Nigeria had recorded over 200 cases of the disease with Lagos having no fewer than 98 cases and Abuja with 38 cases. Four persons have died from the affliction in the country.
Globally, there are over one million COVID-19 cases and nearly 60,000 patients have died as scientists struggle to find a solution to the pandemic which started in China in November 2019.
After the president’s announcement,Nigerians rushed into the market to get stocks of necessities that could serve for the 14 days the lockdown would last.
Considering that the announcement was sudden, Ogun State Governor, Mr Dapo Abiodun, delayed the commencement of the lockdown on Tuesday to Friday to enable the people to make purchases for their homes.
He said the delay would enable the government to distribute relief items to some underprivileged persons to enable them to survive during the lockdown period.
The order which allowed the people just one day to prepare led to increases in the prices of basic commodities by up to 300 per cent.
Once the order took effect on Tuesday, major roads in Abuja and Lagos were empty and security personnel ensured compliance. So was the situation in other cities across the country as state governors took a cue from the president to impose different levels of restriction on movement in their areas of control.
The police, the army and other law enforcement agencies were deployed to enforce compliance to the order.
Going by what was obtained in the cities, the Minister of Information and Culture , Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Friday, expressed satisfaction with developments regarding efforts to check the spread of the disease.
But the scenario in the surrounding communities of the cities is different.
Although the order exempts persons on essential duties, such as medical personnel, emergency workers, journalists and businesses in the food and medical services sectors, everyone else has taken advantage of the exemptions.
Outside the city centres, businesses are open, transporters operate, children play and people interact freely in spite of advice by health authorities for improved hygiene and social distancing.
Some of the activities have resulted in conflicts between the people and the security agents and in one instance led to death.
For instance, on Thursday, the third day when the order became operational, 28-years-old Joseph Pessu, a motorist and resident of Warri, Delta state, was shot dead by a soldier for refusing to obey the order.
In Bwari, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, a video footage in circulation showed vehicles which tyres were allegedly deflated by policemen who tried to compel their owners to obey the order.
Similarly, another video showed policemen attached to the Lagos State Task Force on COVID-19 destroying goods in shops that opened in defiance of the lockdown.
In Lugbe, Abuja, some businesses providing non-essential services were open on Friday, while food stores opened outside the four hours, between 10 am and 2 pm, permitted by the government for them to operate.
In some parts of the Federal Capital Territory teenagers and other young residents played street football.
Because of the hot weather and the lack of electricity, families who cannot afford to run generators sit outside to relax as happened on Thursday when some elderly men sat in groups and conversed. While some smoked cigarettes, others consumed alcoholic drinks.
At a small neighbourhood barbershop, about eight young men crammed inside a room and played video games on PlayStation.
Commercial motorcyclists operated freely almost as they did before the lockdown.
Most drug stores, supermarkets, and restaurants were open but few offered customers sanitisers before allowing them entry.
Some religious groups have also been reported to resist the order, particularly in Jos and Kaduna, where one local Imam led a large Jum’at service and two clerics were arrested.
Experts say countries should not simply impose lockdowns but must ensure compliance.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the lockdown is simply a means to an end to be complemented with other measures.
These measures include expanding, training and deploying the public health force; implementing a system to detect all suspected cases and improving testing capacity and availability.
Others are identifying and adapting treatment and isolation facilities; coming up with a clear plan to quarantine contacts; and refocusing the whole of government towards containing the health crisis.
“If we don’t put in place strong public health measures now, when those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up,” Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, said.
In his address on Sunday, President Buhari said the government would train medical representatives from all the states as well as the armed forces on how to handle the spread of coronavirus.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control is establishing more testing laboratories across the country to increase the country’s daily testing capacity to 1500 during the week.
But current concern in government circles is how to check community spread of the virus which the resistance to the lockdown promotes.
On Thursday the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, captured the mood in government when he said that the country had been able to check the importation of the virus because of the curtailment of air travels, the origin of the index case.
But he noted that there were cases of persons infected locally who had no contacts with persons who returned with the infection after traveling abroad. He said it would be difficult to trace the persons this group of patients might have contacted.
(Additional reporting from Chukwudi Ekezie and Itoro Udofia)