Buhari and Finance Minister

By Uche Chris

Strong indications have emerged that the federal government may likely extend the present lockdown ordered in two states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, over the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Speculations on social media had suggested a one-week extension but this was dismissed by officials.

President Buhari gave the order in the nationwide broadcast on March 29, 2020, as a rapid measure to curb the danger posed by the pandemic which in a short space of time had infected so many people especially in Lagos and Abuja, including several prominent persons such as governors and the Chief of staff to the President, Mr Abba Kyari.

Although the lockdown has been in force since commencement at 11 pm on Monday, March 30, it has not achieved full compliance as some residents of Lagos state, in particular, have continued to disregard and flout the order by either going out or holding gathering which disregards the social distancing regulation for preventing the spread. Many Churches had defied the order to hold services after the state government had announced a lockdown, which defeated the purpose.

Just last week, a popular Lagos socialite and actress, Mrs Funke Akindele-Bello, alias Jennifer, held a birthday bash for her husband which had many musicians and actors in attendance. She and her husband were on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, charged to court and pleaded guilty to the offence and were sentenced to two weeks of community service and a fine of N100,000 each. Such partial compliance seems to convince the government that there was a need for further extension to completely ensure that the country is rid of the virus.

Secretary to the Federal Government, SFG, Mr Boss Mustapha, who is chairman of the Presidential Task Force, on COVID-19, gave a hint of the extension on Tuesday during the daily briefing, although he insisted that only the President can make the final determination of the action after being briefed by the committee on the progress report.

Moreover, the number of cases is still on the rise which means that given the limited testing being done there is every possibility that the number of positive cases may continue to rise in the coming weeks especially given the breaches already encountered with the lockdown. Nigeria has increased tested to 1500 cases per day.

Experts at UCH Ibadan had predicted that the total cases in Nigeria may reach 350 before the curve flattens, which may take about two to three weeks given the present rate of testing. The total number in the country by the weekend was 284; while 44 have been discharged with six deaths. Lagos still has the highest number followed by Abuja and Osun state.

However, the delay in the implementation of the promised palliative by the government has sparked a loud outcry in the country among the population over the continuing lockdown and the expected extension without ameliorating their suffering. Although the palliative has kicked off in some states such as Kaduna and Kogi, these are not affected by the federal government directive but only followed the order as a pre-emptive measure. Most Lagos residents lamented the hardship the delay had caused them and rejected the idea of extension.

According to the Prelate of African Church Lagos, Bishop Timothy Osayande, the government should not contemplate the idea because of the suffering of the people.

“The people are going through hardship; Christians are not going to celebrate Easter and the palliative promised by the government has not been forthcoming. So how could anybody think of extending the lockdown in the present circumstance; no, it will not be the best option for government’, he said. Many people shared that view.

However, some other people supported the idea of extension because of the breaches and the need to guard against future occurrence.

“Yes, I support extension completely; what are they saying, unless they are not seeing what is going on in other places. Give me a break; those people are complaining because they are not infected yet. Which is better, to be hungry or sick? The government should do everything possible to ensure that when we are declared COVID-19, it will be the end of it. We should not be sentimental about it. This is not the only Easter in our lives,” said Pastor Cletus Francis.

But it was learnt from competent sources that government is going to use the distribution of the palliative from next week to woo people for the extension since their major concern and complaint against the lockdown and extension is the lack of palliative. President Buhari has already ordered the release of thousands of tons of grains in strategic reserves for distribution as part of the palliative. It was also learnt that about N100 billion out of the N500 billion stimulus package will go into the palliative.

At a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly on Wednesday, senate president, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, warned the PTF on the COVID-19 to ensure fairness and even spread in the distribution of the palliative to avoid marginalization of any part of the country. Some western countries had imposed a lockdown for several weeks but weekly payments are paid to the people to cushion their suffering and loss of wages.

Lagos state’s plan to meet the needs of senior citizens was reportedly sabotaged by those the governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo Olu, who announced it, did not mention, leading to its suspension. SMS had been sent to these people indicating that some ‘goodies’ were coming to them from the government only for it to be aborted. Also attempt by the Speaker of the House, Mr Mudashiru Obasa, to provide some reliefs ended in fiasco as residents of Agege turned the N50 loaf of bread distributed to football material.

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