The casualties of COVID-19 lockdown By DONS EZE

With the extension for another two weeks of the sit at home order by President Muhammadu Buhari, arising from COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that many more people will be suffering terribly, as a result.

We know that many other people in the country are already feeling the pains, but there are those whose own case appears to be more severe, those who may be experiencing more difficulties as a result of the continued lockdown.

We have in mind, the POOR and the VULNERABLE, those who sit at street corners soliciting for alms, without which they will not eat. With the virtual desertion of people from the roads, these people no longer see anybody to give them alms. I wonder how they have been managing to keep body and soul together.

Since Nigeria has a faulty or distorted social welfare scheme where this group of people are excluded from the federal government’s poverty intervention programme, but left to stream along the road, thereby constituting public nuisance, what will now be the fate of these extreme poor people? Only God knows.

How about the HAWKERS or VENDORS of various food items along the roads, like gala meat, minerals, pure water, etc, as well as the ARTISANS, or the daily paid LABOURERS, the dregs of society who live on daily income? Who patronizes or engages them now that the country is on lockdown, and how are they managing to eat, together with their many dependants?

Then, there are the PRIVATE EMPLOYEES, many of whom have since been laid off by their employers at the beginning of the lockdown. These people equally have many family members and dependants, or many mouths to feed. How are they now coping with the situation without any income?

How about those who take care of the spiritual life of the people, the PRIESTS, the PASTORS, and the IMAMS, who depend on little offerings by their flocks or members of their congregations, for sustenance and welfare? But now that nobody goes to church or to mosque because of the lockdown, and the little offerings no longer coming, how have they been coping? Many of them have no farm, no barn, and no previous savings. I guess that things may have been going thoroughly rough for them.

Next are the RETIREES. These were people who spent most of their productive and active lives in service of their dear country and later returned home almost as carcass. Now, nobody remembers them any more. Nigeria is a country where once you are no longer serviceable, they will dump and forget you.

Very often, the little thing they pay them as pension does not come as regularly as it should be, while some state governments have completely forgotten about paying them their gratuity, as they continue to agonize. How are these people managing to cope in this era of COVID-19 lockdown?

We categorize all these people and many others, as casualties of COVID-19. They bear the pains of the lockdown much more than other people.

Out there, many people in the country are fagged out, frustrated, tired and fatigued. People no longer have food to eat, and no money to take care of their basic needs. It is becoming a hopeless situation, which has resulted to dramatic increase in criminal activities like armed robbery and burglary.

In other words, people no longer “sit at home”, but ” steal at home”. The people can no longer freely walk along the streets or relax in their homes for fear of being molested or attacked. That is how bad things now are. It is a terrible situation.

The federal government says that they will be giving out undisclosed amount or items as palliatives to some people to cushion the effect of the lockdown, but it will only be to those who have less than N5,000 in their bank accounts, and who do not recharge their mobile phones with not more than N100.

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, in a press briefing in Abuja, said the ministry would now focus on the “urban poor” to carry out President Buhari’s directive to distribute palliatives to cushion the effects of COVID-19.

In her words, “You are aware that the President in his broadcast of Monday 13th April, directed that we expand the beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer by one million, and in this regard, we are going to focus more now on the urban poor.

“These are people who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood; they are daily wage earners and these are the people that we are really going to focus more on as well as people living with disabilities.”

She further stated that the ministry had three options to be adopted in selecting the beneficiaries of the scheme: one, using the national social register; two, focusing on the urban poor by using their verified BVN accounts to get people that have an account balance of N5, 000 and below.

“We are also using the mobile networks, to know people that top up the credit units for their phones with may be N100 or less”.

We hope that the federal government will not be applying double standards in selecting beneficiaries of the palliatives. Before they began paying those they claim to be in their register N5,000 every month, did they identify them through their BVN bank accounts? Did they not claim to have first identified the poor people, and later asked them to open bank accounts through where they are now paying them?

Interestingly, majority of those who sit at street corners soliciting for alms, who sell pure water or gala meat along the roads, very old women in the villages who find it extremely difficult to eke out a living, do not have any bank account. For them, what is utmost in their minds, is their daily bread, and not opening bank account.

Even when people are doubting the genuineness or authenticity of the so-called national register used for sharing out what belongs to us all to the poor, which of course, does not include extreme poor people in my state, in my local government area, and in my community, the federal government still insists on using the same register to administer its largesse to the people, and at the same time, wants to add to that list, other questionable names, called the “urban poor”, whose bank accounts would be less than N5,000.

May God help us.

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