Lockdown causes hunger epidemic in Nigeria Featured

Daily life in Nigeria after coronavirus lockdown relaxation: a scavenger picks scrap in Lagos. Press Association Daily life in Nigeria after coronavirus lockdown relaxation: a scavenger picks scrap in Lagos. Press Association

Nkiru James, a 45-year-old housewife and businesswoman, had managed her beauty salon for eight years when the Covid-19 outbreak happened.

For the first time in eight years, her salon was locked for more than two months because of the lockdown.

According to James, her earnings pay for the food for her family of six, while her husband’s monthly salary settles utility bills and house rent.

Unfortunately, her husband’s monthly salary has also been slashed due to the impact of the pandemic.

After one week of lockdown, her family could barely eat as the little money she saved before the lockdown didn’t last long.

The family waited, believing that there would be support on the way from the government or NGOs, but all was in vain.

She said: ‘We were hoping that before we finished the food we stored in the house, the government intervention would have reached us.’

It never came.

Fortunately for the hairstylist, a friend introduced her to a new line of business of buying and selling perishable foodstuff daily.

‘My friend took me to the market, where vegetables are sold in bulk, and gave me a small space to display the perishable food I bought, so I can make sales and refund part of her money.

‘If we were waiting for government, we would starve to death with our children,’ she said.

‘It is a stressful routine for me and there is still no real financial gain in it. The hair-making business was decent and less stressful.’

James’s experience of the lockdown period is nothing unusual, with most average families in Nigeria also being forced into hardship before, during and after the lockdown.

Patrick Dosu, 39, was already struggling to survive when the lockdown bit.

In January, Dosu, who drove tricycles for a living, suddenly found himself out of work.

The Lagos state government had just banned the use of tricycles and motorcycles in some major parts of the state, causing a sudden rise in unemployment.

About 14,000 motorcycle and 50,000 tricycle operators lost their jobs overnight, while the cost of public transport soared as companies took advantage of the sudden collapse in competition and raised prices.

Dosu, who has an Ordinary National Diploma (OND), had been struggling to find a new job when the Covid-19 outbreak further crippled his efforts.

He said: ‘I was stranded when the lockdown was announced.

There was no money to buy food for two days, let alone for a whole month.

He said the church, his friends and family members gave him money and food that stopped him and his wife and two children from starving.

But added: ‘Life is even more difficult for a common man like me after the lockdown.

‘Instead of looking for means to ease our suffering, the government has increased the electricity tariff and the fuel pump price as well.’

With a young population and high levels of poverty, the fear is that lockdown-induced poverty will kill far more people than Covid-19 ever could in Nigeria.

About 90 million people, or 46 per cent of the population, lived on less than $2 a day before the pandemic.

Unemployment was also rising before the coronavirus outbreak, and the situation has further deteriorated with the pandemic.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate came in at 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, the highest on record.

It was the first time since 2018 that Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published such figures. It compares to 23.1 per cent seen back in the third quarter of 2018.

According to World Food Programme (WFO), it has been necessary for many major governments to introduce incentives and economic relief programmes that not only provide a financial cushion for affected individuals, but also fight the broader economic disruption caused by the virus.

Such programmes are intended to help alleviate small-scale business stress and bolster economic growth.

Elizabeth Byrs, a WFP representative, said more than 3.8 million people, mainly working in the informal sector, already face losing their jobs amid rising hardship in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, analysts maintain that the support measures introduced so far have not made the desired difference in the lives of citizens.

‘The donations made by individuals, corporate organisation and developed countries are yet to be accounted for,’ said Azu Osumili, a radio journalist and political analyst.

As a means of mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government created a Special Public Work programme of 774,000 jobs for 1,000 youths in each of the 774 local government areas in the country.

According to Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, the jobs are expected to provide modest stipends for itinerant workers to undertake drainage digging and clearance, irrigation canals clearance, rural feeder road maintenance, traffic control and street cleaning.

One of the youths who is well informed about the proposed federal government job intervention, Israel Ukpong (not his real name), said he is still waiting for the commencement of the project as announced by the government.

Ukpong, who used to work in a factory in Ogun state, said he also lost his job when the foreign nationals who ran the company he worked for left Nigeria at the start of the pandemic.

He stated: ‘Even the money and food they promised didn’t get to me. As it is now, I have no stable source of income. I go about taking menial jobs. Riding okada (motorcycles) would have been good, but then okada have been banned.’

To worsen the situation, the federal government through the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, more than doubled the cost of electricity.

Different stakeholders and some former leaders have expressed disgust and resentment at what they described as the insensitive hike in electricity tariffs and fuel pump price, saying that the increments are ill-timed and disregards the challenges currently faced by Nigerians.

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