OF GRANDSTANDING AND HURRIED LOCKDOWNS

That there is serious slowdown in economic activities countrywide due to Covid 19 triggered lockdown and restrictions is no news. It is self-evident. Shortly after the Center for Disease Control confirmed the index case and subsequently some other cases of the dreaded coronavirus in the country, a number of state governments reacted .by imposing restrictions and lockdowns in their respective states. Markets and businesses were closed down. Many states followed suit in our characteristic herd mentality, no plans, no arrangements for the emergency period, not a single thought for the welfare of the citizenry and how the hasty shutdowns will impact the economy of the states. They simply followed other states. State borders were announced closed to entry and exit.

The Federal Government on its part directed a total lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states. This was for an initial fourteen days period starting from the 30th of March, 2020. On the eve of the expiry of that period, the president made a national broadcast extending the period for another fourteen days; the number of people who can barely find something to eat and the upsurge in crime in Lagos particularly is eloquent testimony to the quality of preparation made before the lockdown. Without doubt, there was plenty of time between the time we learnt of the rapidly spreading virus and the time we recorded our index case.

The daily cost of the lockdown in Lagos alone is better not imagined.

It will not need an expert to know that it would have been much cheaper to mount necessary equipment and put machinery in place to ensure that this virus does not enter our shores at all. Given how this virus has brought great economies to their knees, what it will do to us should there be a serious escalation will be nothing short of apocalyptic.

Experts have already predicted global recession on a scale not seen in the past half century. The effect this will have on our dependent, fragile economy should be a matter of worry to any right thinking individual and responsible government.

Back to the states. States following one another shut their borders to interstate movement and restricted movement within the states themselves. Public places and markets were shutdown. Predictably, the first casualties are those who earn their bread by the day. The source of daily income has been effectively shut.

Palliatives are said to have been arranged by both the Federal and State Governments. No need wasting our time with analysing the effectiveness or otherwise of the so called palliatives. No need for analysis at all. The hunger in our neighborhood stares us in the face. The crime spike in Lagos is eloquent testimony. Only prayer can save us from the same scenario/outcome replicating in other parts of the country.

There is no argument as to the fact that government has the bounden duty of protecting its citizens in the way it deems best. Thus the reason for the lockdown is to protect the citizens from Covid 19 infection and the state itself from the effect of such wide spread infections.

But the big question is: are these hurried shutdowns the best we can do? I doubt.

Many of the states that shut their borders to Interstate movements and also shut down schools, public places and markets have not recorded any single case. For a state that has not recorded any single case of Covid 19, the apparent reason for shutting the borders is to prevent the virus from entering the state at all. This is quite reasonable and easy to understand but the further steps taken within the same states to contain spread of the virus is quite confusing and inexplicable.

Now, if we close the borders effectively, there is no way the virus will enter the state, because it can only travel with a human carrier who cannot come in because of extant prohibition of interstate movement.

Having shut out the virus what is the rationale for internal lockdown and complete shutdown of economic activities? It looks more like using mosquito nets in Washington DC. In any case, how long can these lockdowns be sustained? Will states that ordered a lockdown when there were a hundred and thirty cases open up when the number ranges between five hundred to one thousand? I do not believe that our leaders are too dumb to see this elementary point. There must be something else that we are not being told.

But one thing that is apparent is that the various state governments are not serious with the interstate border closure. A new source of income has simply been created for the security agents of state. How come the governors entrusted the enforcement of closure of state borders to the security agents of state? How come no one remembers all the arguments that have just very recently been made, indeed still ongoing before the covid disruption, in support of state police and the incontestable effectiveness of community policing and vigilantes?

Road blockage

It is common knowledge that most state are interconnected not only by the major roads manned by the military and police, but also by a maze of local roads unknown and totally unmanned by the state security agents. Countless communities have the same track roads and trade in the same local markets. It is not unusual to have part of a community in one state and other parts of the same community in a neighboring state.

In most cases therefore, only the natives know the “apian ways” and can easily identify strangers trying to sneak across.

The humongous sums of money being touted as palliatives would have done much better if employed to keep as many of our teeming youths as possible busy with manning the interstate borders. Once the borders are secured, businesses within the state can proceed almost as normal. Once economic activities are running, quite a lot of people will keep making enough daily income to stave off hunger.

Given our penchant for “follow follow” it is easy to predict that the states that are yet to lockdown will follow the same pattern sooner than later, why we cannot be proactive is still the difficult question.

The Nigerian state like most other countries in the world is heading for an economic crises, but the effect on the common man can be greatly reduced if the states are able to sustain economic activities as much as possible. The converse would be best described by the word “disaster”

Anthony Ezenwoko

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