‘Strict lockdown suffocating us’ – Abuja residents

News Central’s Poloum David reports on the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown in Abuja. Violators of the stay-at-home order are arrested for failure to wear face masks in suburbs of the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
People’s temperature are being measured at a border between Abuja and the Nasarawa State on March 30, 2020, after Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari called for a lockdown to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Over 20 million Nigerians on Monday scrambled to prepare for lockdown in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city Lagos and the capital Abuja, as the continent struggled to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a two-week “cessation of all movements” in the key cities from 2200 GMT in a bid to ward off an explosion of cases in Africa’s most populous country. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

It is Wednesday morning in Nyanya, a suburb in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Residents are seen struggling to find their way to the popular Nyanya market within the stipulated hours of 8am to 3pm authorised for movement by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, Abuja city managers, as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In Nigeria, life has not remained the same since the first case of Coronavirus was recorded on February 27. About 35 states including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, out of 36 now have Covid-19 infection cases.

Living in a suburb in Abuja amidst urban poverty was a struggle before now, but the coronavirus pandemic may have made it even worse.

Most residents are petty traders who sell to public sector workers, who in turn form the bulk of the population in Nyanya, a suburb with a thriving community market that swells on Wednesdays when many throng the town to buy and sell.

– Low sales and social life in Nyanya –

Buyers and traders lament the sharp drop in sales as businesses are affected deeply by the pandemic-induced 8-week old lockdown in Abuja.

“I sell Okrika (urban slang for fairly used clothes), I borrowed money to buy this particular bale of clothes but because we are allowed to sell for only a few hours, I make almost no gain. I don’t know how to pay back my loans and to feed”, lamented Onyinye Caleb, a fairly used clothes seller sandwiched between bustling shoppers and commuters on the roadside.

“It’s hard on everyone, I actually came to buy a few things for my children. I had to rush through my home chores in order to get to the market before the time elapses”, Joy Peters, a shopper told News Central.

As buyers and sellers go about their reasons for being out, a key COVID-19 prevention rule preached by Abuja city authorities is broken without concern – the social distancing rule.

“I don’t understand the kind of social distancing that is being practised in Nyanya, the markets are fully packed within the few hours residents are allowed to trade and shop”, Rachael Niyi, a Nyanya resident said sarcastically.

Abuja city authorities have introduced the compulsory wearing of facemasks to curb the spread of the virus but not many are complying.

As such, violators of the stay-at-home or wear-facemasks order are dealt with by the state’s enforcement team in a mobile court fully staffed with a judge, lawyers and security operatives.

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An Abuja Mobile Court sits at the popular AYA Bridge in Asokoro as defaulters of Covid-19 lockdown measures are tried and sentenced to pay fines or embark on community service./FCT Administration

This has made social life in the once bustling town almost non-existent as the fear of contacting the virus or being rounded up by enforcement teams keep people indoors. Some days, when the number of residents defying state orders are overwhelming, the officials remain helpless until there are more team members to assist them.

“If you don’t wear your face mask, the Police on the main roads will ask you to sit on the ground and embarrass you; so I always go about with my face mask, though the mask makes me feel like I’m suffocating sometimes” Jennifer Nkem, a restaurant owner said.

Aside the health benefits of wearing the masks, a new channel of business has been opened for tailors who now make facemasks using African fabrics or Ankara for sale, boosting an industry that has been on its knees since the pandemic and lockdown began across Nigeria.

Cecilia Godwin, a tailor who couldn’t contain her joy said “I like the compulsory mask wearing, it gave me a new source of income. I make and sell the Ankara facemasks for 100 naira to 200 naira each and market is moving well”.

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A man carries bags of grains on his head wearing a compulsory facemask at Nyanya, a border town between Abuja and Nasarawa State on March 30, 2020 – (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

– Strict lockdown enforcement –

Nyanya is one of the closest suburbs to Abuja city centre with a less than 10 kilometer commute hence it’s burgeoning population. It has not been particularly hard hit by Covid-19 infections but remains a top priority because it borders neighbouring states.

Most workers in the public and private sectors live here due to the cheap accommodation and low expenses but getting to their offices in the city has since become a nightmare as major roads become congested once it’s 6am.

With the partial lockdown currently in place, commuters in Nyanya still expect respite from the huge traffic gridlocks caused by frequently blocked road.

The border town to nearby Nasarawa State, is also affected by the ban on interstate movement making life tougher.

Ikharo Attah, head of the FCT Enforcement Team on COVID-19 lockdown, said there have been a strict compliance with the ban on movement in and out of the capital.

“We have turned back at least 20 vehicles including trucks conveying people into Abuja from various states. Abuja currently lacks enough facilities to quarantine people for 14days so it’s better they go back to their states and obey government orders”, Attah explained.

“We know it’s affecting essential service workers who need to come into Abuja daily, that’s the sad irony of the interstate ban but plans are ongoing to ease the entry from Nasarawa and Niger states”, Attah added.

City authorities have battled for weeks to ensure that Abuja reduces its Covid-19 infections. Successes are being recorded following the enforcement of measures like closure of markets, parks, gardens, shopping malls, ban on interstate movements and religious gatherings.

A couple of weeks ago, it was second on the national list of states with high numbers of infections but as at May 18, FCT-Abuja placed third with 418 infections and many patients discharged. Lagos State remains first with 2,550 infections and Kano state places second with 825 infections across Nigeria.

Abuja currently has about 1,000 Covid-19 bed spaces in 6 isolation and treatment centers scattered across the capital to tackle the virus while also enforcing its 8pm to 6am overnight curfew.

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People wait as health workers prepare to take samples during a community COVID-19 coronavirus testing campaign in Abuja on April 15, 2020. – The Nigerian government commence search and sample collections of eligible cases as they struggle to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as cases rise in Nigeria amidst lockdown. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

– ‘It’s petty crimes’, Police say –

The Covid-19 lockdown has seen an increase in social vices due to loss of jobs and idleness at home by people who had in the recent past lived busy lives. Crime rate is on the rise but the Police say most reported crimes in Abuja are petty burgling and robberies.

Police spokesman in Abuja, Anjuguri Mamza told News Central that the capital is relatively calm as they have “deployed proactive crime fighting measures” while carrying out their lockdown enforcement duties.

“People may not be too comfortable with the whole enforcement process but we try to make them understand that the lockdown enforcement is for the good of all, considering where the world has found itself today” Mamza added.

While most Nyanya residents feel the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic due to enforcement measures by Abuja city authorities rather than a high infection rate, they remain hopeful that the measures are temporary and will be lifted once the rate of infections drop in affected areas within the capital.

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