Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, finally gave in to pressure when he announced the gradual easing of lockdown measures in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun in a televised speech on Monday, April 27.
During his address, Buhari said federal and state governments have “jointly and collaboratively worked hard on how to balance the need to protect health while also preserving livelihoods, leveraging global best practices while keeping in mind the country’s peculiar circumstances.”
The president announced new measures which would accompany the phased and gradual easing of lockdown measures from Monday, May 4th. These measures were a nationwide 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, compulsory use of facemasks and a ban on ‘non-essential’ travel between different regions.
The lockdown order-which has lasted well over a month now- had been imposed on states as part of measures to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa’s most populous country.
After Buhari’s speech, most states across the country adopted some of the new measures, trusting it would help keep the explosion of the pandemic at bay when the lockdown is eased.
The lockdown has inflicted severe economic hardships on many Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector. But the federal government’s decision to ease restrictions did not go down well with medical experts including the president of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, who described it as “premature” and the head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, warned that the easing of lockdown measures would result in more infections.
Expectedly, the rate of infections since then has risen exponentially, albeit inconsistently. By Sunday, Nigeria had a total of 4,399 infections, with Lagos state still the epicenter of the pandemic with 1,845 cases so far.
On Monday, the first day of the ease of restrictions, the usually frenetic Ogbete Main Market in Enugu, which had been closed for the past few weeks, with its roads completely empty, came alive again with cars, buses and tricycle taxis running around.
Despite orders banning gatherings and stipulating that individuals remain six feet apart, large groups of people were seen haggling prices of commodities while others stood by the road waiting for public transport.
The roads were almost impassable because of human and vehicular activities. Traffic had once again returned.
In Lagos, the situation was not any better as there was low compliance on social distancing directives from operators of commercial buses, commercial motorcycles, and the general public.
In a series of tweets, the Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, expressed displeasure with the refusal by residents to adhere to public health guidelines introduced to help tackle the spread of the virus while the eased lockdown lasts.
He said “despite massive advocacy, it is disappointing to see the crowd at banks & markets across the state flouting the guidelines. We will be forced to take the painful decision of bringing the state under lockdown if it remains clear that Lagosians are determined to flout the rules.”
The federal government has since warned it would shut down the country again following refusal by Nigerians to obey the guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on general conduct during the reopening of the economy and social life.
The latest figures have increased fears that the country is about to witness an explosion after the federal government’s decision to ease the lockdown, with citizens violating the basic rules of mask-wearing and physical distancing.
A look at Ghana’s case
Like Nigeria, Ghana eased its lockdown restrictions. But available data shows that the number of confirmed cases have more than doubled since lockdown measures were eased in the country.
On April 20, President Nana Akufo-Addo eased a three-week lockdown in the country, citing improved coronavirus testing and the “severe” impact of the restrictions on the poor and vulnerable in the West African nation.
On April 11, nine days before the ease of the lockdown, the number of confirmed virus cases stood at 408. But two days after the lockdown was eased, the number rose to 1,154.
By April 30th, the number stood at 2,074 and by Monday, May 11th, a total of 4,263 cases are reported to have tested positive for the virus in Ghana, with the country recording its highest daily increase of over 900 cases on Friday.
UN projections are not apocalyptic
In a report released in mid-April, the UN Economic Commission for Africa projected that anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.
The UN agency explained that the problem rests partly with lower ratios of hospital beds and health professionals to its population than other regions, high dependency on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products, weak legal identity systems for direct benefit transfers, and weak economies that are unable to sustain health and lockdown costs. More than any other, the continent is vulnerable.
Additionally, it said Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 percent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings and only 34 percent of households have access to basic handwashing facilities.
The projection by the UN commission might well become a reality if the right measures are not undertaken, especially in Nigeria with a social welfare system that has largely been dysfunctional in the face of the pandemic coupled with a weak health system.