By OBINNA EZUGWU

Prices of essential food items have risen by over 100 percent in Ogun and Lagos states following the lock down declared by President Muhammadu Buhari in the two states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja in a bid to contain the spread of Coronavirus pandemic in the country, survey by Business Hallmark has shown. This is even as residents who, on account of the lock down, are unable to earn income for daily survival, have continued to lament inability to feed, while relief packages promised by government have either failed to arrive, or proved to be too little to make any difference.

For instance, in Akute, an Ogun community bordering Lagos State, residents had for days, waited for food and other relief items promised by the state governor, Dapo Abiodun, but when the items eventually arrived last week, it comprised of only four ‘Derica’ of rice, four small sachets of oil, and a pack of Maggi for each Community Development Association (CDA).

Typically, a CDA comprises of about 300 households, and few thousands population strength. Thus the provided meager food items is supposed to serve 2000 to 4000 individuals, and for at least a period of two weeks that the lock down is originally supposed to last, with possible extension.

“They (the government) promised us food items, made us waste time to compile names of all the house-holds living in our estate,” said Mr. Taiwo, a landlord in Palmview Estate, Denro. “But when eventually they brought the promised food items, it’s just four Derica of rice and a pack of Maggi, noting much more. Do they expect us to share the rice with spoons?”

Palmview is a low income estate hosting about 200 houses and over 2000 people. It is one of the CDAs in the Akute area of Ifo Local government area, Ogun State. The same items were given to other CDAs, some much more in population.

Taiwo said he expected much better from the government, and now with the disappointment, himself and his family are having to survive with no income and, depleted savings and rising food costs.

“Last week, I gave my wife N12,000. She complained that it was too small. But it’s all I have and I can’t kill myself. Since then we have been struggling to cope, eating just to stay alive.”

According to the survey carried out by BusinessHallmark, prices of such essential food items like gari and bean have doubled for over the past few days. A bag ‘white’ gari sold for N7,500 before now has suddenly risen to N14,500 while the ‘yellow’ gari has gone from N9000 to N18,000.

Accordingly, the price of one ‘paint’ of the commodity has gone from N500 to N1000 for the ‘yellow’ variety and from NN350 to N8000 for the ‘white’ gari.

“It’s how we buy these days,” said Iya David, a shop owner at Denro-Ishashi, Ogun. “The white gari we used to buy N7500 is now more than 14,000, now we sell half paint N400, it used to be N200. We no longer have N50 gari. Everything is expensive now.”

At Iya David’s shop and elsewhere in the neighbourhood, even prices of bags of sachet water have risen from N150 to N180 or N200.

“The manufacturers say the price of materials has gone up, and that they are finding it difficult to access the products. That’s why the price has gone up too.”

For other food items, bag of imported rice has gone from N26,000 to N30,000, while the local variety has gone from N18,000 to N22,000 for the very clean type; and from N15,000 to between N18,000 and N20,000 for the not very clean ones. Consequently, ‘paint’ price has increased from N2000 to N2500 for the imported variety; N1500 to N2000 for the clean local variety, and N1200 to N1800 for the stony type.

Prices of beans have also risen. Bag of ‘white’ beans has shot up from N11,000 to N19,000, while the brown variety has gone from N14,000 to N21,500.

Double Jeopardy

It’s presently a tale of hunger and desperation for many households in the area. No money in the pocket, and prices of food items going out of reach. It’s now a case of solution proving more painful than disease.

“How do they want us to survive?” wondered Dare Olarenwaju, a resident of Akute. “I have four children but we have nothing to eat. Gari has become luxury. I have been looking for where to borrow money, but nobody agrees they have, everyone is complaining. Hunger might kill us before Coronavirus.”

Petty crime and armed robbery are gradually on the increase and food vendors are on the receiving end. At Martins, another estate in the Akute neighbourhood, a group up young men last week gathered bread sellers, ate up their wares and refused to pay on account of having no money. Inside neighbourhoods, young men gather in groups and demand money from passerby. Theft is increasingly becoming common, and for analysts, it’s just a matter of time before there is total breakdown of law and order.

But it is more serious. At the Computer Village last week the union complained of break in in their shop and decided to assume security duty in the day. Most of theunion leaders were on duty to protect the shops from vandalisation. They said that about three shops were burgled last week before they took action. Some of the traders at the village said they could no longer afford to stay at home so they had to come whether there would be a way out.

“If this lock down goes into Monday next week, there is going to be total breakdown of law and order, and you cannot blame the poor people for that because as it is right now, the rich are looking after themselves, they don’t care what happens to the poor,” noted Dr. Bongo Adi, economic analyst and senior lecturer at Lagos Business School.

Adi argued that the lock down is ab-initio a class thing, as according to him, nothing explains the draconian policy of locking down poor people without providing them palliatives.

“It’s a class thing. Why is this draconian policy of getting people to stay at home, or locking them down without giving due consideration for their livelihoods? If you look at it dispassionately, you can see that this is crack down on the poor people. They are locking down the poor people because the elite is fearing for their lives. It’s unconscionable,” he said.

“In analysing this issue yesterday because the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry did a presentation, and in our presentation on them, we tried to compare Lassa fever and Covid-19 for a period. We noted that the fatality rate from Lassa fever for the period is 20 percent, but the fatality rate from Covid-19 for the same period is just 2 percent.

“So, the fear is that if Covid-19 goes up, everyone will be affected, especially the elite, because it’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate. For Lassa fever, you are likely to get it if you cohabit with rats, and we know the kind of homes where rats can go in. That’s the poor people’s homes, homes with holes and all of that.

“So, because of that, nobody cares about Lassa fever, no money has been donated by any individual to curb the spread of Lassa fever. Meanwhile, Lassa fever has afflicted about 27 states in Nigeria. Between January and March 2020 close to 200 people have died from Lassa fever! The fatality rate as I said is 20 percent. But has there been any lock down or any sort of large scale communication programme undertaken by any government at the state, local or federal level to curb the spread of Lassa fever? No.

“This is because the poor and the rich in Nigeria do not share anything in common. They do not meet in the same hospital or in the same events. But for Covid-19, anybody can just get it, it doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor. That’s why there is the heavy crack down. So you can see the class based society that we are in. This is like the gang up of the rich and the wealthy and the powerful against the poor.”