Umuahia, Abia State, NIGERIA – At first, to some people here, the coronavirus seemed to be a threat to other countries, not a worry for Nigerians and their loved ones.
Then it hit home, prompting a national lockdown that halted the economy as well as important personal events.
“I felt unconcerned about the coronavirus disease ravaging the world and doubted its existence in Nigeria until I had to postpone my wedding indefinitely in order to adhere to the social distancing rule,” said Chinweokwu Sandra Okeiyi.
Okeiyi, a public servant who lives in Aba in Abia State, had hoped to tie the nuptial knot with her heartthrob in April after a traditional marriage ceremony in January.
Like Okeiyi, many other Nigerians are going through the same or even worse fate as a result of the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria and the consequent lockdown of most states in the country.
The lockdown entails the closure of states’ land borders, closure of schools and tertiary institutions, inter-state transportation – except for workers providing essential services and vehicles conveying essential goods and materials. There is a gradual relaxation on intra-state transportation and operation of markets.
An Italian businessman who visited in late February is believed to be Nigeria’s first case of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Since that first case, Nigeria has seen a daily increase in the number of people with the dreaded coronavirus. This upsurge prompted a lockdown order by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
The lockdown, which began March 30 in some parts of the country, went on for five weeks.
The federal government announced a total lockdown in Lagos State – which so far has the highest number of infected persons – and the neighboring Ogun State as well as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
But starting Monday, May 4, the federal government announced a relaxation of the total lockdown across the country including Lagos State, Ogun State and Abuja, while a total lockdown is to be implemented in Kano State because of the rapid spread and increasing corona virus-related deaths there.
As part of the relaxation of the lockdown, some categories of businesses and places of work are allowed to operate with a maximum of 20 persons in each government ministry and establishment.
Following in the steps of the federal government, states implemented the lockdown either as partial, total or as a dusk-to-dawn curfew to suit the particular need of each state.
Bans on public gatherings including places of worship, weddings, burials, meetings, eateries and restaurants – are relaxed in some places with limits on the number of people permitted. In Abia State, for instance, burials are allowed 30 people, workplaces are limited to 20 people and religious gatherings limited to 50 people.
The federal government has also mandated the wearing of face masks in public places in addition to mounting campaigns on the need for regular washing of hands with soap under running water or alternatively, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and social distancing of not less than 1.5 meters.
These actions by the government are aimed at containing the spread of the virus across the country.
According to a daily update from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), as of today, Nigeria has recorded nearly 4,400 cases of the virus, more than 140 deaths and almost 800 discharged cases since the first recorded case.
This is even as the virus has spread rapidly to 34 of the 36 states in the country as well as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
Owing to the lockdown, transportation, workplaces and other economic activities have slumped. This inadvertently has its effect on Nigerian’s economy across various social strata.
For Justice Nwafor, a journalist who stays and works in Ibadan, Oyo State, the lockdown order has affected his job in more ways than one.
Given that he has to keep the public abreast of news, Nwafor, 30, has to grapple with commuting to work every day even with the now-exorbitant cost of transportation.
The situation has added more pressure to his already tight work schedule, Nwafor said, so he can beat Oyo State’s 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.
“On some occasions, I have encountered security agents,” said Nwafor. “I was almost abused the other night. I showed them my ID card and my pass. It actually saved me.”
The changes impact how he does his job, but also the idea of community, according to Nwafor.
“On the other hand, about going about reporting, we are very cautious and very careful right now. You can no longer see your friend and hug your friend,” Nwafor said. “It is actually altering our culture of seeing ourselves as one. When you get to the office, you don’t see people around you, no shaking of hands, no hugs, being very careful, very cautious, wearing facemasks, washing hands every time.”
With the ban on inter-state transportations, except for people providing essential services, other classes of workers – including business owners – are advised to work from home.
Working from home poses its own challenge. Nwafor said that in order to stay safe, save cost of transportation and still carry out his work, he spends more to use the internet.
“Now I spend more money on data than I should have and sometimes I have to stay home and do my work from home. I now spend more money on food. The cost of goods have almost doubled. The amount of money you get hasn’t changed rather, it’s even going down,” Nwafor said.
Apart from having to postpone her wedding plans indefinitely, Okeiyi said she also has to battle with staying financially afloat during the lockdown.
“It has affected my finances adversely as cost of living skyrockets,” Okeiyi said. “It has stopped me from traveling, going to church, participating in group sporting activities, going to work and shopping.”
Accountant James Ndudi, 25, who lives in Lagos, and Gospel Lebari, 25, of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said they hoped and believed that the virus wouldn’t reach Nigeria. They expressed doubts about the country’s capacity to combat the disease, seeing that it is crippling most world powers.
However, after weeks of the lockdown in Lagos occasioned by the rapid spread of the disease, Ndudi said the experience has been draining.
“It could affect one emotionally to be indoors all day. It’s better off when you can go out, but you choose not to but when you can’t go out, it’s challenging,” said Ndudi.
Lebari said price hikes hurt.
“Markets have been closed down and a few vendors who are still open for business have thought it a good thing for whatever reason to hike the price of their goods beyond good conscience, making it increasingly difficult to buy food,” Lebari said. “The cost of transportation has not increased, I don’t think the cost of petrol has increased as well, so I fail to understand the reason for the increase in the cost of most essential commodity,” said Lebari.
Ndudi said his greatest desire is the freedom to go out, especially to work, like before.
“It has affected my whole routine. We used to feel like we shouldn’t go to work but now we really wish to go to work because we really want to meet different faces and not just family members,” Ndudi said.
But Ijeoma Anulika, a 25-year-old communications manager from Lagos, said the lockdown has made her realize she can do her work better from home. It also helped her appreciate the little things in life.
“I believe it has made management where I work realize that most of our activities and jobs can be done equally well and even better from home,” said Anulika. “In essence, it has altered our concept of ‘work.’ Work is fluid.”
There are other benefits, according to Anulika.
“Things are much calmer now. There’s more time for reflection and I’m beginning to realize that it’s the little things that matter — family, health, care for humanity and the earth,” Anulika said.
Gracious Ezeobi, a 23-year-old student and accountant in the Gwagwalada area of Abuja, said she had doubted the existence of the disease in Nigeria since the federal government and the NCDC did not disclose the identity of the index case.
“I don’t go to work anymore, and it has kind of disorganized me,” Ezeobi said. “At the end of the day, I end up sleeping and lazying about.”
Ezeobi said she tries to read motivational books, Christian literature and her school texts in preparation for an exam.
While the lockdown has taken its toll, Ezeobi said the pause can be beneficial.
“It’s a time for us to also calm down and relax, breathe, have a retrospect, think of what you want to do in life because I don’t think this time will ever come again,” Ezeobi said.
Serving in the National Youth Service Corps and posted to Oyo State, Simra Joro, 28, had to relocate to his hometown of Takum in Taraba State before the lockdown.
“I’ve been unable to contribute my quota to the development of humanity at my place of primary assignment and the society at large,” said Joro, 28.
Though Joro said he was not surprised that the virus found its way to Nigeria, the lockdown robbed him of attending many activities and programs, including taking part in a friend’s wedding last month.
“I was supposed to be one of the men in suit,” said Joro. “I sold my old phone and hoped to buy a new one, but I couldn’t. My movements have been restricted because of the lockdown. I’m always indoors and get bored, thanks to corona virus!”
If the lockdown across Nigeria continues, Ezeobi predicted that hunger will kill a lot of people before covid-19 does.
“Nigerians are really poor, and they eat from hand to mouth,” said Ezeobi, who said that while people can get by on their daily hustle, they don’t have savings to sustain them when they can’t work.
Dennis Dike, an IT consultant working in Suleja in Niger State at first underestimated the impact of the virus and believed that a cure for the disease would be found soon. His sympathy was with the nations ravaged by the disease.
Dike, 26, still goes to work, but said his work has been reduced drastically compared to the full operations he is used to.
Despite the increase in the number of Nigerians who have tested positive, Dike said the virus isn’t a life sentence.
“There is always hope,” Dike said.
Nchetachi Chukwuajah is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.