Going Crazy In Lockdown

Going against popular will in a political matter is one thing and totally another when it touches the religious sentiments even when it is a matter of public health and the lives of millions are at stake

An Abuja road deserted during COVID-19 lockdown / Photo credit: voanews.com
An Abuja road deserted during COVID-19 lockdown / Photo credit: voanews.com

Sitting at home for a few weeks seems like the easiest thing to do.

It’s meant to be a break from the usual daily routine that gives most people a sense of purpose or means of livelihood.

It even offers a chance to spend more quality time with spouses and other family members.

The reality however is that millions of Nigerians are literally going stir-crazy and are struggling with the lockdown imposed on several states across the country due to the coronavirus outbreak, which now appears to have enveloped the whole world.

No one is talking about the impact the stay-at-home order will have on mental health.

Well, in this society, no one ever does.

In this year of COVID-19, the only focus appears to be stopping its spread and saving lives.

And if there is any other concern, it is caring for the poorest and most vulnerable population whose hours of labour is just enough to feed them one day at a time.

Inconsistent policies and guidelines from the ministry of health, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control have been the cause of all the confusion

Yet, the psychological effects of staying at home is already causing serious problems in the family set up.

In India, France, Mexico, the United Kingdom and even the United States, there have been increases in the number of reported cases of domestic violence.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, has spoken out against the surge during the lockdown, calling for peace at home -and in homes- around the world as it battles to beat COVID-19.

In some parts of Nigeria, hospitals are now shutting their doors to anyone with physical injuries or even real ailments.

In public hospitals, the excuse is that you have to be showing symptoms of coronavirus and in private hospitals, you have to prove you have tested negative for the virus.

So, if you are a victim of domestic violence, were in an accident or suffered a stroke, you have to turn to the so called traditional healers.

In truth, hospitals are a red zone for COVID-19 and just being inside one puts you at risk.

But for the hospitals to completely shut down and stop treating the millions of patients in need should not be an option.

Of course, inconsistent policies and guidelines from the ministry of health, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control have been the cause of all the confusion.

It is unthinkable though, that the police would voluntarily cede the streets to hoodlums

The sit-at-home order is proving to be particularly hard on teenagers.

In a different part of the world, there has been reports of teenage suicide because of the stay-at-home order.

The lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and a dozen other states appears to be straining marriages.

That spouses being forced to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a weeks in each other’s company is turning to be too much time.

The frustrations many are feeling are ending up in posts on social media.

The idea of social distancing could not be more alien to the way of life in Nigeria.

In parts of Europe and America, it may come naturally.

If there is any city in Nigeria that people live in self-isolation from neighbors, it would be the Abuja, the federal capital.

And not everyone is strictly adhering to the lockdown order, yet many Nigerians are for the first time experiencing loneliness on a level known only in west.

The social distancing order in so many other ways is leading to social disorder.

In hundreds of neighbourhoods in Lagos, there appears to be no such problems.

With the entire transport system in the state, which has provided the daily bread for many would-be ‘area boys’ grounded, they are choosing to take charge of the streets in the name of defending them.

Yet, the same set of people are being accused of robbing homes and looting shops.

The outcome has been a combination of gang wars and carnival-like vigils in many parts of the state on virtually every single night.

It isn’t just the money they seem to be losing everyday because of the lockdown, the idleness is in some way pushing them towards violence and aggression.

There are quotes popular in Nigeria which readily come to mind with what is happening in the state, like a hungry man is an angry man and an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

The only problem is that in this case, it isn’t a single mind that has been left idle, it an entire country.

And for a whole country to be the devil’s workshop would be a nightmare in real time.

In all of this, at least in particular neighborhoods of Lagos, the police and any form of government authorities have been largely absent.

The real politically explosive issue at stake is stopping people from praying in congregations

It is hard to say what the strategy of the Nigeria Police is in containing social unrest in Lagos.

Maybe the looting, robbing and the gradual breakdown of law and order is not as bad as news reports are making it out to be.

It is unthinkable though, that the police would voluntarily cede the streets to hoodlums.

Whatever it is, the looting and nightly bonfires is proving to be a public relations disaster for the police.

It is clear that the PPRO in Lagos, Bala Elkana, cannot keep pace with the number of incidents of looting and thuggery.

Yet, incidents in remote parts of the state make national headlines, or at the very least, go viral on social media.

And if the lockdown extends for a few more weeks, the hoodlums who are openly flouting the stay-at-home order may end up imposing their own rules and law on the society.

Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Unlike other states, in the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, he has imposed only a one week lockdown in Kano, which makes no sense scientifically because the incubation period of the virus is anything between two and 12 days.

And also, the rate of infections, at least in the initial stages, appears to be higher in Kano than any other state in the country.

Yet, he probably had to summon the courage to order even the one week lockdown.

There is no denying that millions of people could go hungry in the state due to the lockdown.

Even without the lockdown, there are people who roam the streets, not particularly looking for work, but looking for food because they haven’t eaten in days.

And you can say that about virtually any state in Nigeria.

The real politically explosive issue at stake is stopping people from praying in congregation.

On the first Friday of the lockdown, prayers held on virtually every other street.
Any attempt by the state government to stop any congregations would have likely and could still lead to social anarchy.

Already, clerics who advocate praying at home are being accused of turning politicians or compromised by politicians.

The reasoning of those in denial about the Coronavirus is that everyone is going die anyway.

Naturally, if they don’t value their own lives, their attitudes will probably change if people they care about start to get afflicted.

And in a state with millions of inhabitants, there is only so much law enforcement can do.

It wasn’t accidental that Ganduje only ordered a one week lockdown.

The real test of his strength of character will be what he does when the one week order ends on Thursday night, which depending on the sighting of the moon could be the first day of Ramadan.

Going against popular will in a political matter is one thing and totally another when it touches the religious sentiments even when it is a matter of public health and the lives of millions are at stake.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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