President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday proclaimed the lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as well as Lagos and Ogun States with a view to containing the coronavirus pandemic.
In a broadcast to the nation, he said the shutdown, which will last for an initial 14 days, will serve as the containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases.
This bold step taken by the president to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the country could not have come at a better time for well-meaning Nigerians. Recently, the swirl of speculations and rumours never stopped and the critics accused the federal government of responding too little too late to contain the scourge. Some even went as far as blaming the rapid spread of the virus on the disposition of the president.
As a newspaper, we strongly believe that the shutdown of these high incidence areas and the measures taken by the president are necessary in view of the progressive rise in the number of confirmed cases in Lagos and Abuja, with a consequential effect on neighbouring states. At this most critical time of unprecedented but clear danger, what the country needs is purposeful leadership and that is exactly what President Buhari has demonstrated.
In declaring the lockdown, the president observed that although the measures put in place would bring untold hardship on Nigerians, they have become inevitable sacrifices the citizens must make to address the global pandemic which, he said, had become a matter of life and death.
But not unmindful of the collateral damage, the president took far reaching measures to cushion the effect of the lockdown on Nigerians. These measures approved by Buhari include two months cash transfer for vulnerable Nigerians, deployment of relief materials to citizens living in suburbs and satellite towns, and two months of food rations in the coming weeks for internally displaced persons, among others.
The lockdown of the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States is, in our view, a great initiative to minimize the spread of the deadly virus which needs to be tamed quickly in Nigeria. We could argue about not having enough time to prepare for the lockdown, but the virus won’t wait for anyone.
As the coronavirus pandemic trudges around the globe, countries with escalating outbreaks are beginning to take a cue from China’s lockdowns which were responsible for bringing the crisis in that country under control. Other nations are now following China’s lead and limiting movements within their borders, while dozens of countries have restricted international visitors.
In mid-January, Chinese authorities introduced unprecedented measures to contain the virus, stopping movement in and out of Wuhan, the centre of the epidemic, and 15 other cities in Hubei province which are home to more than 60 million people. Flights and trains were suspended, and roads were blocked. Soon after, people in many Chinese cities were told to stay at home and venture out only to get food or medical help. Some 760 million people, roughly half the country’s population, were confined to their homes.
However, as the measures taken by China are being adopted around the globe, it is important to explore how applicable they would be in a country like Nigeria with a seemingly unstructured system – one where major industries would not survive if their staffs have to work remotely.
While we commend the president for rising to the occasion, we urge the government to, as a follow-up action, consider more palliatives to organised businesses to enable them to survive this crisis period. In the face of prevalent strangulating economic conditions gazing at the poor informal traders and others in the SMEs bracket, government should further provide guidelines for companies in the food processing business and to allow free passage during the lockdown period.
When lockdowns are imposed, governments are obligated to ensure access to food, water, health care, and care-giving support. Many older people and people with disabilities rely on uninterrupted home and community services and support.
Governments should also ensure that the information they provide to the public regarding COVID-19 is accurate, timely, and consistent with human rights principles. This is important for addressing false and misleading information.