COVID-19 lockdown: Between social distantcing and compression

If the purpose of the lock-down order by the federal government on Lagos, Ogun and federal capital territory of Abuja, along with several such orders across the states in the country were to ensure physical and social distancing and help individuals isolate from one and another, the cumulative results have actually achieved the opposite of what an Indian writer and political activist Mr. Arundhati Roy called “social compression”.

There is no better evidence that the blanket lockdown have achieved social compression than a casual glance at residential areas in such suburbs of the federal capital territory like Nyanya, Mabushi, karu village,Dutse Alhaji, Galadimawa , Lugbe , Garki and Utako villages where a standard block of about eight to twelve rooms houses an average of family of six in one room.

This shows that a block of eight rooms houses an average of 48 persons or more and simply translates that only the “magic science” of the Presidential Task Force on which president Buhari relies to drive further his ruthless order of blanket lockdown can justify that 48 persons living in a single block of rooms on a “stay at home” order are actually self isolating and socially cum physically distancing from each other. If the harrowing fact that these blocks of rooms may have just have one or two toilets and similar number of bathing rooms with no running water and almost electricity blackout, you can begin to appreciate the stark warning contained in a scrupulously researched report in the April issue of the highly regarded America, Foreign Policy” journal that “imposing strict lockdowns in poor countries where people depend on daily hands- labor to feed their families, could lead to as many deaths from deprivations and preventable disease as from covid19”. The Report urged for a differentiated approach in assessing the impact of the disease across several countries.

For example, the Report observed that “while young people are not safe, covid-19 hits old people hardest with an estimated fatality of 6.4 per cent among people above the age of 60 and increasing to 13.4 per cent for people above 80’’ , and informed that “low income countries(like Nigeria, other sub-Saharan African countries, South Asia and Latin America) where  per capita income is less than 1000 USD have smaller proportions of over 65 years old (3per cent) than wealthy low fertility nations (17.4per cent) according to the World Bank”. Corroborating this fact, the World Health Organization has consistently and emphatically said that “most people infected with the covid-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease are more likely to develop serious illness”.

While not in any way undermine the severity of covid-19 virus and the health hazard it could spell if allowed to roam, the current strategy in vogue of blanket lockdowns are not particularly helpful. It cannot be reasonable, rationale and scientific to close market stalls, shopping malls, even worship centers and social outlets where rules of social and physical distancing can be reasonably enforced, using the various leaderships of these groups than the socially and physically compressed residential blocks where existential necessities would trump any need for physical and social distancing.

In the specific instance of the federal capital territory of Abuja, apart from the city center and its adjoining residential towns with segregated apartment flats, housing less than 20% of the city residents, the lockdown is a huge joke in the outlaying suburbs where majority of slum dwellers carry on as usual, mocking the disconnected and isolated elites that issue banal instructions from the comfort of their over-supplied and barricaded posh homes.

The Presidential Task Force that inserts itself in the frontline of the fight against covid-19 could well pass for a committee is preparing for political party convention than a serious panel in the unraveling of a dangerous disease and life- threatening pandemic whose complex internal structure and dynamics is still rousing the world scientific community.  For the famous palliatives that government at all levels are claiming to distribute to the vulnerable groups to justify the harsh and mostly counterproductive blanket lockdowns, there are actually sections of the population that do not need it but are in dire stress.

For middle cadre business people and artisans who may not be dealing in government defined essential goods like medicine and food, they cannot be defined as poor and vulnerable but government ordered lockdown have put such people in vulnerable situation but under the current rules of vulnerability, such people cannot receive palliatives. For a motor or motorcycle spare parts dealer, whose spouse may be a dealer in textile materials, who count on cumulative daily sales to replenish his stocks and feed the family, the situation is certainly dire. For a motor mechanic, furniture maker whose spouse is a tailor is equally embroiled in such a dilemma without the reprieve of qualifying for government palliatives. No serious scientific analysis of our social realities can ignore such glaring facts in policy outputs.

The “Foreign policy” report yet advised “leaders in Africa, South Asia and Latin America need to carefully examine alternative policies including harm-reduction measures that allow people in low income countries to minimize their risks from covid-19, while preserving their ability to put food on the table”, and without ambiguity took the position that targeted” social isolations of the elderly and other at-risk groups, while permitting productive individuals with lower-risk profiles to continue working”, in addition to improving access to clean water, hand washing and sanitation”.

It is still not too late to reconsider the blanket lockdown, for reports which have now filtered that more Nigerians have been killed by security enforcement agents of the lockdown than the dreaded covid-19, for a policy of graduated and targeted isolation of the most vulnerable. And this has become urgent before the lockdown drives informal sector workers and migrants to reverse- migrate from densely populated urban areas and spread the disease to remote rural areas where government reach is either too modest or non-existent.


The latest news that was heard of the 50 billion naira covid-19 intervention fund is that it is ready for disbursement and that about 80,000 applications have been received from households and businesses who wish to access the fund. Meanwhile, applications are not online but requiring physical visits to NISRAL and Micro Finance banks. With a near nationwide lockdown, the CBN and its intermediaries need to explain how about 80,000, comprising of 50,000 households and 30,000 businesses managed to submit  and have their applications processed that disbursement is even ready now. And one may ask, how on earth would households be selected from those impacted by covid-19 when all households are actually in the same boat and the same goes for businesses which are all taking drubbings from the pandemic of the vile virus.

Except for households and businesses who are not really contending with the pangs of the pandemic because real households and businesses genuinely smarting from the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic cannot afford the luxuries of the fund applications. The hoax about the 50 billion naira intervention fund by the CBN said to be about to be disbursed  when people are self isolating with offices shut down and cities and communities in a lockdown will one day come to hunt its masterminds. The ruse must not stand and the CBN should call it off.

Mr. onunaiju is a senior research fellow in an Abuja-based Think Tank.

Leave a Reply