PRE-COVID-19 ERA: Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria life was on the existence pedestrain and survival gear. Before mid February when Nigeria recorded her index case, survival was for the fittest and existence was a mere lip service. It was all man to thy tents and no man for nobody. Joblessness was rooted, hunger was a surname to most families especially rural dwellers, take homes could hardly reach home, and the urge to survive waiting for the next meal was high.
Prior to the outbreak, we complained of the catholic of beggars littering the streets in our major cities looking for survival. Some cities were also decorated with well packaged professional beggars looking for opportunities to swindle unsuspecting victims. We complained about the menace of these fellow Nigerians who had no known addresses but survives on daily begging. These co citizens decorating our internal roads had the penchant for quick relocation of your items smartly stolen and subsequently used or sold.
They engage in forceful break in during traffic with criminal intention to acquire or resale to feed and look good like others. They often find abode in undeveloped plots of land, uncompleted buildings, under the bridges, beaches without observing the stay at ‘home” or social distancing (that’s your business because even when they are aware, they can’t observe it not by choice but by geographical situations). The described environments are often the home of fellow citizens which also double as den of criminals. We know these, government know these and security agencies are fully aware of these hot spots littered across the country all observing “stay at home” and social distancing advice and/or order. How are they surviving?
Prior to the outbreak and subsequent clampdown order by various states and federal governments, beyond those our brethrens described in the last paragraph, there is yet another set of our legitimate citizens who work and survive on daily engagements. They depend on their daily earning. Majority had to bury or suppress their criminal instincts and tendencies by getting their hands on things to earn a living surviving from hand to mouth. Men and women are involved. The list is never exhaustive ranging from hairdressing, barbing, road side food and essential vendors, vulcanizers, mechanics, electricians, head and barrow hawkers, spare part dealers, hoteliers, drinking bars, distributors (recharge cards etc), cab drivers, bus/ keke/okada drivers and conductors, restless touts at motor parks and merciless NURTW officials.
These ones are not civil servants that earn salaries and so not under the government categories of those to be paid. The government and society forgot them. From their daily endeavors they do the needful like save to pay school fees, house rents, buy clothes, feed and take care of immediate relations and needs. These are fellow Nigerians trapped at home by mere government pronouncement without accompanying palliative measures to cushion the excruciating impacts of the order.
Prior to covid-19 reign of terror, some of the criminal activities bedeviling us are but not limited to highway robberies, car snatching, kidnapping, rapes, herdsmen attacks, bank robberies, rituals, child trafficking, burglaries, pickpockets etc. Today, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are back to us, living with and amongst us, trapped by the order and perhaps angrily waiting for the legal siege to be over before returning more aggressive to their suspended ways. After all no one wants to die and safety and survival are the key consideration of every criminal because they need to be alive to enjoy the spoils.
Barely two weeks after the stay at home order, the story is clear, they are known, told and untold stories. Majority of Nigerians have exhausted their supplies, no money to sustain families and the real meaning and definition of hunger can be narrated by innocent toddlers. The greatest pain is watching your children cry and dying of hunger when you are helpless and koboless not by your design but by circumstances beyond your control. No one to run to and nobody to borrow from. Anger is building up against those seen to have and government officials. Innocent victims at the receiving end of societal perception are the hardworking class misinterpreted as hijackers of their own cakes. It is tensed that some lack money to buy mere paracetamol (minus some states that included basic medical palliative measures like Lagos). Hopes of current survival lies in the balance. Hungry citizens are cursing organizations and individuals that donated billions to government knowing that it will not be properly deployed and would wish that its directly given to poor Nigerians.
Scammers flooded the social media with various degrees of fake and non existing stories. Stories of the governmentpaying N20,000.00 for staying at home luring the gullible to apply and today majority have bitter stories to tell. Some made others to believe that network providers are giving free airtime and the victims can tell different stories of being burnt.
Currently trending is the alleged statement by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Sadiya Umar Farouq on the category of Nigerians to be paid N20,000 and the geographical location of the proposed beneficiaries. Some sections of the country is crying foul of being further marginalization while posing questions on how she could properly identify the poor and expressed doubt over the judicious management of the fund.
A good number of our fellow Nigerians are shouting but hunger has dwarfed the velocity of their voices, the high risings has blocked their visibility since they were confined to their homes and their agony and frustration can only increase by the day than being abated. Hope are extended to hopelessness and patriotism is finally buried because they feel unloved. The pains of explaining to hungry children why there’s no food at home and why Mama and Papa cannot work has become the lots of many parents. Anger and frustration has enveloped many homes with accusations and counter accusations of who caused what threatening the foundations of some marriages. What was to be happy family reunion is now tearing families apart as those who used to help are now helpless themselves. There is anger in the land. Nigerians are not tired of staying at home. Who doesn’t like good things but Nigerians, poor, average Nigerians are tired of staying at home because their food reserves are dried up and no hope of immediate replenishment. No need to mention that Nigerians are forced to be at home without light but that’s not the focus of this work. More absurd is the directives that we should regularly wash our hands with “running water”. Which running water? How many state capital have functional running water not to talk of semi urban or rural areas? We copy from what oyibo said without doing what oyibo did. What a shame of the nation!!!
POST COVID ERA
Foundation have been laid for the emerging calamities that will define the real pains of stay at home order without supports to millions of self employed and struggling Nigerians. The fears are palpable and mutual and they are stark realities. The dimensions and spread of occurrences are unknown to me but it’s a sure bet. It’s not a panic button but a time bomb waiting to explode unless urgent and proactive steps are taken. The governance and policy execution may be badly affected and security agencies may be overwhelmed. The boys must survive as some may return to their vomits, some as recruits and some to familiar terrains. We don’t wish for these impending catastrophes but the cumulative operators may jolt the ordinary citizens and government of the day if we fail to plan now. This is not just in Nigeria but globally. It will worsen because some that feel they still have jobs may not have jobs after all or may make do with pay cuts. However, there is expectations of high surge in cross movements of citizens in the country which is a natural platform for some vices.
Again, have we considered the fact that private primary and secondary schools being patronized by average and below average income earners and artisans are in those schools? Have we linked our pointer to the fact that clients of such schools are majorly people that are in the brackets of daily income earners slammed with stay at home order? Are they not citizens who save daily so as to pay the fees? Has it occurred to us that they may not after all be able to pay the fees on resumption? Have you reasoned that school owners need funds to also open and run the schools? Who will blink not even first this time? School owners or parents? Refusal on the part of the school will lead to mass withdrawal and majority of the schools will collapse leading to jobs loses and distortion of the future of such children…..is the government thinking of the fallout that may invariably lead to pockets of crimes?
Anticipated New and Enhanced Social Disasters:
1. Many people will lose their means of livelihood;
2.Increased prostitutions with attendant consequences especially amongst students;
3.Increased quest for survival through sustained rituals activities and internet fraud;
4.Unprecedented Frustrations and Depressions;
5.Increased pressure in the nation and families due to return of people to Nigeria because of Covid-19 effects;
6.We should anticipate uncontrollable xenophobic attacks across Africa especially South Africa;
7.Increase in number of school dropouts because of inability of parents to pay fees;
8.Breakdown of marriage and increase in divorce suits as fallout of stay at home order;
9.Unpaid bills especially house rents;
10.Anticipated health complications and forced emergence of diseases;
11.Renewed carjacking and armed robbery attacks;
12.Upsurge in unfortunate mental health issues;
13.Pressure from pressurized parents on their youthful children which will lead them to crime;
14.Pickpocket will be a common occurrence;
15.Criminal activities will centre around stealing food for survival
16.Molesting and harassment of fellow citizens by many poor Nigerians on the inner roads especially highbrow areas; and
17.We must anticipate incessant shop breakages for the sole aim of stealing food items.
Its pertinent to state that most of the stated disorders were there before COVID-19 and will remain there even forever. However, the concern is on the intensity of occurrence and the attendant consequences. The application of the following suggestions may reduce the scale and scope as some may withdraw or drop their devilish plans, group withdrawal may be recorded, social engagements to keep them busy and recovery of some depressed citizens.
Instructively, they are majorly proposed government interventions directly and through her agencies. In addition to the announced interventions by President Muhammad Buhari and some state governors the following should be considered.
a.Government should begin to think of how to absorb the pains of private school operators;
b.Government should grant citizens access to three months free electricity consumption;
c.Government should grant small and medium businesses two years tax holidays;
d.Government should appoint some financial institutions and reputable citizens irrespective of party, religious and ethnic leanings to handle the Social Intervention Programs on her behalf than the current politicization of the process along some considerations;
e.Government should further reduce fuel pump price to assist in transportation and movement of goods and services;
f.Government should reduce the cost of kerosene drastically;
g.Government should speed up and complete ongoing rail and road projects;
h.Government should lubricate the economy by injecting funds through payment of outstanding fees to contractors;
i.Government should massively award contracts that has passed due process and mobilize contactors to sites;
j.Banks should initiate and give collateral free loans to small businesses;
k.Telecoms should respond to this crises by reducing call and data rates;
l.Landlords and landladies should show some concerns and understanding with tenants unable to pay rents at this time especially if they have been good tenants;
m.Churches that run schools at all levels should show understanding especially for their members through reduction, cancellation and rescheduling of fees;
n.Government at all levels must come up with palliative family healthcare policies.
o.The law enforcement agencies especially the Police should brace up for the security challenges ahead of these possibilities; and
p.Estates and gated communities should reach out to their poor and needy neighborhoods.
The time to plan is now. The dare repercussion of the stay at home order without necessary provisions by the authorities will affect everyone including the law enforcers who will not complain but will be compelled to do the needful because they should. The citizens are bleeding and voiceless but let this voice suffice as their voice that the land will be at peace and the people will rejoice.
Mazi Agodi KANU is a Security Consultant and writes from Lagos, Nigeria.