New Corona Hunger and Poverty in Nigeria
By Femi Oluwasanmi
In as much it is inappropriate to underestimate the danger embedded in the escalation of Coronavirus, at the same time, the insensitivity of the government to the “Corona poverty and hunger” in the land is a matter of concern as government continues to shut down States and peoples sources of livelihood without putting in place strong social welfare scheme to mollify the hardship occasioned by this catastrophic virus in Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in a national broadcast, on 29th March, 2020, directed the cessation of all movement in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States for period of 14 days in order to identify, trace and isolate individuals that had come in contact with confirmed cases of the virus with effect from 11pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. Though, it later commenced in Ogun State on 4th April due to the plead from the State Governor.
While this seems to be commendable because it will prevent the virus from snowballing into a cataclysmic situation, at the same time, it is worrisome because it further aggravate the colossal poverty and hunger which have made the country a laughing stock in the comity of nations even before the outbreak of the pandemic.
For instance, in 2018, the World Poverty Clock declared Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world while in 2019, warned the government of an imminent rise in the slope of the nation’s poverty curve as the report released shows 91.16 million Nigerians living in an extreme poverty. In similar view, the world Bank reported that the 87 percent of the poor people in Nigeria live in the North among so many organizations that have said their views on the risen issue of poverty and hunger in Nigeria.
Against this backdrop, the government ought to have rolled out strong social welfare system as an antidote to ameliorate the effect of this lockdown directive and reduce the job of the law enforcement agents in enforcing the restriction, instead, the directive was matched with the deployment of armed troop that have embarked on the brutalization show in disguise of enforcement of lockdown directive.
Though, the president had in the broadcast promised to deploy relief materials to the residents of satellite communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods will surely be affected by some of these restrictive measures; a three month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans; two months conditional cash transfers to the most vulnerable in the country among others relief measures ordered to commence with immediate effect.
However, since the commencement of the lockdown only few among the measures promised by the president have been activated while the daily income earners continue to cry of hunger due to the “sit down at home directive.”
Similarly, some of the private companies have retrenched their staff, while some have embarked on ‘half payment salary policy’ and compulsory leave for their staff.
Also, the telecommunication companies still continue to deduct Values Added Tax (VAT) and exorbitant charges on calls, data to mention few among many. Yet, the government seems to be insensitive to this especially, at a time like this when the means of communication and transaction are mostly done through this medium.
In the advance countries like United States of America, Britain, among others where self-isolation, Social distancing and close down of people livelihood practically and popularly originated from as an antidote to the pandemic, the government there have in place strong social welfare system to assuage the hardship. Though, this might appears is different forms but the citizens have relief from the government.
But in Nigeria, opposite is the case as the citizen continue to endure epileptic power supply, roads full of pot holes, unemployment, insecurity, poverty, and hardship even before the importation of coronavirus to Nigeria. That is why the Community Development Associations (CDA), religion centres, both local and international philanthropists have turned Nigeria to a ‘brooder land’ for all kinds of ideas.
Although, there is nothing bad in contributing positively to the community both as an individual or organization but that is the x-ray of Nigeria even prior to the importation of coronavirus and ought to have guided the government in designing strategies to combat the Coronavirus in the country.
This would have helped reduced the stress of the law enforcement agencies in enforcing the lockdown directive and minimize the brutality being meted on the hungry Nigerian who believe that it is better to die of Coronavirus outside than to die of hunger inside.
So, while commending the great effort of the government to nib the bulb in the head by restricting the movement of Nigerians in order to prevent the escalation of the virus, at the same time, it will be of a great joy to the majority of Nigerians if the government can find the missing link in it’s directive by coming up with strong social welfare system that will ameliorate the hardship occassioned by this pandemic and restrict the telecommunication companies from deducting VAT and other exorbitant charges from the calls made and internet used in Nigeria.
Femi Oluwasanmi, a Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Ibafo, Ogun State.