Lagos lockdown

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement imposing a 14-day lockdown on sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city triggered a last-minute rush as people hurried to stock up on food and other supplies.

Traffic snarled streets and touts made quick money taking cash to leave cars in no-parking zones.

“Everything is expensive, may God help us,” said Jimoh Kolawole at the Oyingbo market on Lagos Island.

“Rice, beans, cassava grain and palm oil are all expensive, even onions. Only God can help us.” he said the back of his car laden with sacks of flour, rice and yam.

Lagos and Abuja, the capital, banned movement for two weeks from Monday night.

Lagos, the epicentre of Nigeria’s coronavirus outbreak which has so far spawned 111 confirmed cases, is home to at least 20 million people. Many dwell in slums and eke out a living at the best of times. Social safety nets do not exist.

“It’s not easy to buy a week’s food, talk less of two weeks,” said Omolara Adejokun, an evangelist who lives off donations from her preaching.

She said her family simply did not have the money to buy in bulk.

Adejokun lives in Iwaya, a flood-prone slum on the shores of city’s lagoon.

Her home is a one-storey compound shared with 20 other families, each with a room. A wooden board divides Adejokun’s house into bedroom and parlour. That accommodates her, her husband, three children and her mother-in-law. All residents share a single toilet and bathroom.

It is not the coronavirus that sparked people’s worries about survival, but having enough food and water to get by.

Buhari’s edict left people from various backgrounds confused. While he ordered movement to cease, he allowed food retailers, medical facilities and other businesses to remain open.

He did not say whether people could leave home to go to such places.

In Lagos, drinking water vendors were not sure if they could operate. Farmers who deliver food to apartments and homes said they were not registered as companies so might not be exempt.

Banks became another casualty of the uncertainty, as throngs of people packed branches to withdraw sufficient cash before isolation.

A week earlier, Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, acknowledged the difficulty of a total lockdown.

“We know what our poverty line is and I’m a realistic leader,” he said. “We need to be considerate while we are fighting corona, we are not also fighting hunger.”

For Adejokun, whose family lives off her evangelism and some savings from before her husband stopped being paid, the matter is out of her hands.

“We pray government finds us something to eat.”