COVID - 19 Abuja Lockdown Free Day: Observation and Matters Arising By Kayode Odunaro - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

COVID - 19 Abuja Lockdown Free Day: Observation and Matters Arising By Kayode Odunaro


I have experienced the COVID-19 Lockdown in two parts of Nigeria. Following the envisaged lockdown proposed at the end of March, I had quickly booked one of the last flights out of Abuja to Lagos en-route Abeokuta on March 27th, 2020 before the airspace was closed to all commercial flights. I made it to Abeokuta to lockdown with my family. Coincidentally while the federally announced lockdown for Abuja, Lagos and Ogun State for two weeks started during that weekend, that of Ogun state did not commence until the weekend preceding the Easter weekend.

When it started in Ogun State, I stayed indoors from Friday till Tuesday, April 7th being the first free day decreed by Ogun State Government for people to restock from 7am to 2pm.  I experienced the frenzy of everyone rushing to same venues at the same time to pick one or two things till the next 48 hours as ‘freedom’. I was able to get some bread after queuing up for up to 30 minutes at a bakery in Ibara GRA, Abeokuta while a friend assisted in getting cartons of Indomie from Kuto Market for my family. Alas national duty calls in Abuja and shortly after the expiration of the free period at 2pm, I was officially ferreted out of Abeokuta to the private wing of Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and by dusk I was back in Abuja COVID-19 Lockdown.

After performing the official duty that brought me back to Abuja on Wednesday and Thursday, I was now stuck in my house alone abiding by the “Stay at Home” measure with not much to do than watch TV, keep abreast happenings on social media, write once in a while, do some official duty through issuing press statements, read some books and take a walk/jog in my neighbourhood. I did not have any reason to break the “Stay at Home” rule even when I have a legit pass and there was the free period of Wednesday and Saturday in Abuja to restock from 10pm to 2pm. The futility of going out is that there is really nowhere to go with offices and fun centres all shut down.

But that changed today, as I decided to drive around the city centre to experience Abuja free day. Only yesterday, the FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello increased the hours of the free days from 10am- 2pm to 7am - 3pm.  From what I heard not much “Stay at Home” is observed in the suburb of Abuja and the various villages and slums that encircles the Federal Capital Territory. Their challenge is gaining entrance into the city centre where they transact daily business on a good day or indeed, the good old days. Sure enough just like Abeokuta, the frenzy was palpable with vehicular traffic quite heavy for a Saturday. The same goes for pedestrians and commuters making the atmosphere look like a normal working day in Abuja.

I drove from Apo, Gudu District to Utako Market to see if I can get a bottle of groundnuts from a customer but was shocked that heavy traffic blocked the access from Berger Round About. I went on to Utako Park to see if I can access the market from there only to discovered jam-packed street filled with cars parked or in traffic all trying to access the market at the same time. Looking into the market from afar, it was predictable that no social, talk less of physical distancing is possible among the teeming crowd haggling in a typical African market day setting, albeit compounded with an eye on the deadline and a possibility of needed products running out of stock from sellers.

I made a U-Turn and headed to the popular Wuse Market and met only a slightly better scenario but access into the market was equally blocked for vehicular traffic. If you are bent on entering the market, then you will need to park almost a mile away and walk in. On my drive around I also noticed snaky queues at most ATM machine with people thankfully showing an adherence to COVID-19 social distancing rule. At traffic lights stops, the ubiquitous street hawkers were making brisk business selling, guess what: locally and foreign made face masks, hand gloves, Ludo Games, WHOT Cards, and skipping ropes, all items in deed at this lockdown season. I observed unusual crowd at Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse 2, particularly where they have pharmacies and stores.

On a general observation, the value of using face masks has not really caught on with Abuja people. At all spots that I traversed, preponderant majority were going about and interacting even in the markets without wearing this item that is now acknowledged as one of the major tools to stop or minimize the spread of the coronavirus. This is even as one noticed street hawkers vending the product of all shape, sizes and sophistication. Under the circumstances, the prayer is that the study coming out from USA showing that sunlight kills the dreaded coronavirus holds true as the sun was scorching during this Abuja freedom day from COVID-19 Lockdown.

Going forward and with the rumored possibility of further extension of the lockdown in face of spike in the figures of COVID-19 infection and spread across the nation, it is desirable that free time from lockdown be sustained if not increased. The practice from the two places one is opportune to observe it is a life saver of sort as many not only get needed items for use during lockdown but make some incomes to sustain themselves even in these short open windows. I saw hawkers hawking bananas, boiled corns and similar. Commercial drivers that ply the route to the markets and other outlets were making brisk business. Bottom line is they will earn some incomes, no matter how meagre to possibly attend to some pressing need including just feeding under lockdown.

The major challenge is for all and sundry to now imbibe the recommended use of face masks in public at all times during the free period and further possible relaxation or lifting of lockdown across the nation. Some State Governments, notably Lagos, Cross River and others, have made its use compulsory. This should be a national policy against COVID-19 pandemic. What I witnessed today is a far cry from observance of the use of face masks and if we are to accept the fact of community transmission, then danger still looms even as we struggle with other parts of the world to combat this dreaded scourge. It is gladdening that the Federal Government through the pronouncement of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo is proposing is proposing the compulsory use of face masks in all public places. That is the way to go particularly in realization that humanity cannot forever be in lockdown and must find ways of living while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation of one wearing face mask and appearing as the odd one among hundreds not wearing mask should be addressed. Face mask wearing is the new normal as the minimum contribution of all of us in the fight against COVID-19 as well as observing all the safety and precautionary measures. Defeating COVID-19 is a task for all of us to achieve to live our lives.

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