By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The economic crunch that had led to recession before COVID-19 has been compounded by COVID 19 making life difficult for ordinary Nigerians. Life has become sadly surreal for many Nigerians, as if they are living out the plot in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Hard Times’.

The Dickensian nature of life for most Nigerians, where poverty, hunger and unemployment are spiraling out of control has become a big nightmare, but the bigger challenge is that authorities may seem unperturbed going by alleged hoarding of COVID19 palliatives by state governments, even when their people are suffering. No doubt, the year 2020 has become a difficult one in the annals of Nigerian history.

Like the events in Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, the year 2020 has altered people’s lives, ruined businesses, and shredded national economies, and among the worst hit is the fragile Nigeria’s, which was already hobbled before COVID19 by mismanagement, wrong economic policies, corruption and long years of cronyism and prebendal politics.

“It will take some times and a lot of social reinvestment programmes and direct interventions, genuine ones that will bring on board non governmental agencies , and not state governments to avoid total collapse and acute poverty and hunger of the ordinary people”, says Professor Adejobi Ademuyiwa of the department of Economics, Kogi State University, Ayangba.

He says poverty rate has increased during COVID as millions have lost their means of livelihoods.

“I know of a family of four here in Ayangba that owned small business where they processed gari, but today, the business has collapsed partly because the herders destroyed his farms where he got the cassava, and partly because he could no longer access soft loans from the bank.”

Adeyemi, an Agbado, Ogun State resident, was once a happy man until there was a tragic twist about five years ago when he lost his job at Nigeria Distilleries, Sango Ota. From his little saving, he managed to secure a hire purchase motorcycle, which he now uses as commercial, carrying passengers from under bridge to Ogba Ayo (Ijoko).

With six months to feed, and his wife a petty business woman who roasts plantains by the roadsides, he says life has become difficult, more like being in the hottest part of Hell in Dante’s inferno.

“My brother, I am not the only Okada rider plying this route, as you can see there about 40 of us. I will settle Agbero (area boys/ motor parks thugs-cum- road transport union officials). I am lucky if I make N3000, and after settling all these people, I will pay the installment on weekly basis then settle my family.

“To buy rice now is costly, it is now N450 per Derica, a tuber of yam is N600, and a satchet of tomato that used to cost N60 is now N120 or N150. I will pay rent every three months, pay school fees and attend to other family needs. I pray I will not have hypertension or develop stroke”, he told this newspaper.

His story is similar to what John, a roadside mechanic at Ajayi road, Ogba narrates to this newspaper.

He says he believes he’s living in hell already. “What else is worse than my present condition? How many people now come here to repair their vehicles? Since the beginning of the week I have not had a single customer, and yet I must feed my family. How? If I continue like this, I may lose my wife to another man. I am sick and tired. Since March, things have been hard; and yet government did not come to our aid, it was only #Endsars that exposed their wickedness.”

He said his landlord has given him quit notice, saying he has nowhere to turn to. “You can’t imagine, at home I owe NEPA money, my two children are at home. On the first week of resumption I begged the school authorities they allowed them, thereafter, they refused them entry.”

Yetunde Ige, a wholesale food stuff business woman at Iyana Ipaja told this reporter that “I have since stopped giving credit facility. Throughout the COVID period, when the pandemic was raging, I was giving out credit facilities to my customers, even those I never expected could ask for such facilities. But my business has been affected, so I have stopped. ”

She said she is not happy with the state of affairs, saying food stuffs have become expensive. A bag of rice now hovers between N32,000 to N28,000, something she said used to cost N22,000.

In the midst of this difficulty, rent has not come down, and landlords appear unperturbed.

Felix Chukwu, a patent medicine seller was very angry with his landlord at Agbado Crossing.

“Before COVID-19 I used to borrow my landlord money but business has declined, so in June, he announced an increase of 65 percent on rent, in spite of protests from tenants he refused to back down. I had to cough out the money. How many people come to me now to buy medicine, they prefer local herbs called ‘Agbo’.”

With seven mouths to feed, he has no kind words for those in authorities who he blamed for the suffering of the people.

“During this difficult period government could not do anything for the people. It is very bad. A lot of people are suffering. One man bought a drug costing N120 from me on credit for the past two months, because of it, he doesn’t pass this place again, he prefers to go round to avoid me to get to his house. It is that bad.”

As the economic hardship triggered by COVID-19 bites harder, it has also taken its toll on unlikely victims: pregnant women. Some of the pregnant women how the situation is taking toll on their health. They said that in their efforts to earn a living, the attendant lack of rest is exposing them to the risk of high blood pressure amid huge financial responsibilities.

This is a cause for concern, physicians say, as the situation may increase Nigeria’s already high maternal and infant mortality rate.

Mrs. Funmi Deolu, a catfish seller, says she was excited when she became pregnant in March this year without knowing that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will make the pregnancy stressful. The 29-year-old Ogun State indigene said the current economic situation in the country has shrunk her husband’s business, thereby, placing the responsibility of providing for the daily needs of the family on her shoulder.

Deolu, who is eight months pregnant, said continuing in her catfish business at this stage of her pregnancy has been stressful, though she has been advised by her doctor to avoid stress and ensure she has adequate rest.

Poverty, experts say is a key hindrance to women’s wellbeing, especially during pregnancy resulting in malnutrition, anaemia, low birth babies or foetal loss.

Sharing her experience with our correspondent, Deolu said, “I learned catering, but there was no money for me to start my own catering outfit. So, in 2015, my mother helped me to start a catfish business. Since that time, I have been on it even after I got married in 2018.

“The business was doing well before COVID-19, though it is very stressful. Even the activities of task force officials affect my profit. But it has not been easy doing the business since I became pregnant.

“The stress of going from Palm Grove where I live to Ogun State or Ikorodu to buy fish as early as 6:00am and come back to sell in Bariga market from Monday to Saturday is not easy. The problem is further compounded by the inability of my husband to provide for our needs because he has lost his job.

“The whole load of providing for the family since June has been on me. This is seriously affecting me. I no longer sleep well at night and from Monday to Saturday, I am busy.

“But how can I have rest when there is no other source of income except my business?”

Deolu, who said this was her first pregnancy, said it was not easy for her to raise the N13,500 she used in registering for antenatal at Shomolu General Hospital.

“I make profit of N2,500 per day and sometimes less than that, depending on patronage. But, out of the N2,500 task force officials collect N1,500 from it. So in a week, I make about N7,000 which is barely enough for us to feed let alone meeting other needs.

“So, you can see that it is not easy for me to have rest in this kind of situation, though I really need it.

“The doctor had warned me to reduce stress, that my blood pressure is high and that it is not good for a pregnant woman, but what do I do when there is no other means of survival.

Unless government moves fast to address the issue of poverty and hunger and unemployment, I can see a revolution coming; the #Endsars protests may well be a child play; when we consider what is coming”, says Dr. Olu Omoyele, of the department of Management, Redeemer’s University.

He told this newspaper that the trigger for his prediction is clear, saying” hunger has no colour, no tribe, no religion and no tongue.” According to Omoyele, poverty will trigger social upheaval in the country, if not tackled.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently released the “2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria” report, which highlights that 40 percent of the total population, or almost 83 million people, live below the country’s poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year.

The NBS report is based on data from the latest round of the Nigerian Living Standards Survey, conducted in 2018-2019 with support from the World Bank’s Poverty Global Practice and technical assistance from the LSMS program. The Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS) is the official survey that is the basis for measuring poverty and living standards in the country and is used to estimate a wide range of socio-economic indicators including benchmarking of the Sustainable Development Goals.

However, the present survey was done between September of 2018 and October of 2019, a decade after the previous one, which does not accommodate the Covid 19 crisis. Experts believe that the situation has worsened since the last survey was conducted.