OPINION: National Lockdown: 'To Be, Or Not To Be' By Michael Onjewu
As the two-weeks COVID-19 lockdown extension imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja gradually comes to an end, there has been a debate as to whether the lockdown should be relaxed or extended based on the prevailing circumstances. Some have also opined that a nationwide lockdown is needed if Nigeria is to flatten the curve and limit the spread of the deadly virus.
Those opposed to an extension have argued that it would increase the level of hunger, unemployment and plunge Nigeria into a deeper economic crisis since most citizens depend on daily wages for sustenance. Already, fluctuations in oil prices occasioned by a decrease in global demand have led to a sharp decline in government revenue, setting the pace for a recession.
But with the current surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, can the government afford to relax or lift the lockdown?. Does Nigeria have the capacity to handle a full-blown pandemic compared to what we currently have in the United States and Europe?. Well, your guess is as good as mine.
Considering the fact that physical distancing is by far the most potent way of preventing a further spread of the virus and giving the fact that Nigeria is yet to flatten the curve, I would opine that the president declares a nationwide lockdown for two weeks including a ban on interstate travel - with the exception of those providing essential services.
You can't have a lockdown in say Abuja while people are busy moving around in neighboring Nasarawa, Niger and Kogi or in Kano, while people are busy moving around in Jigawa. Reports have shown that people sneak out at night from states with lockdowns to other parts of the country, hence increasing the chances of more community to community spread of the disease.
Index cases in most states occurred as a result of this.
A nationwide lockdown, including a ban on interstate travels, will help mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 and prepare the ground for the reopening of the economy - and a return to normal life.
But can we have a successful lockdown extension in the midst of hunger? The answer is No.
Majority of Nigerians must go out daily to feed themselves and their families - hence, a successful national lockdown must be backed with a robust and well thought out stimulus package.
So far, we don't seem to have a workable policy on palliatives or stimulus package to cushion the effect of a possible national lockdown. The 2016 social investment register currently being used to distribute palliatives is not achieving the desired results. Despite the President's directives that the register is expanded, the Humanitarian Affairs Minister appears short of ideas on how this can be achieved.
The Nigerian government must include in their list those that been rendered jobless as a result of COVID-19 lockdown. The tailors, mechanics, shoemakers, hairstylists, fashion designers, shop owners, etc fall into this category. Unless we capture these categories of people in addition to the poor and vulnerable, our stimulus package will not achieve the desired result.
Almost 40million Nigerians are bankable. The government can reach out to these categories of persons through their BVN. Those in the hinterland without BVN can be reached through the local government chairmen, councilors, and traditional leaders.
Aside from a national lockdown, the government must intensify efforts in conducting more tests across the federation, provide more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers, intensify effort to develop a vaccine, enforce the compulsory use of face masks and work on modalities to keep the economy and educational system working.