Local responses to the Coronavirus lockdown: Adapting to change in Lagos Island
Assistant Lecturer in Urban Planning and member of Pro-poor Development Cluster
“Future history will teach us if a lockdown was a justifiable unprecedented drastic measure applied in such a scale. However, it already teaches us a hard lesson that urban hardship is not only related to climate change and natural disasters, but also to viral viruses penetrating and harming human bodies” – Fel Chen
The whole world is waking up to a strange and harsh reality of the notorious COVID-19. This virus which was initially detected in China in December, 2019 has swept across the world, including Nigeria. It was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization in January, 2020.
Lagos is the epicenter of the disease in Nigeria, with over a hundred cases currently. As a result of the exponential increase of confirmed cases, the federal government declared a total lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and FCT for 14 days. The Lagos State Government announced the closure of all markets and schools in the state, except the food and drugs market, disinfection of public places, restriction of gathering.
However, the response to the lockdown and indeed the pandemic has been varied in Lagos Island – one of the city’s oldest communities and business district. Many people still believe that the disease does not exist, others consider themselves immune and so are going about their business as usual. For example, A 50 year old resident of Lagos Island – Mr Adebayo, stated that “coronavirus cannot do anything to me o, after all the agbo (local herbs) I have taken in my life”. Another resident stated that ‘after we don face ebola for 2014, wetin corona virus wan do for us. God dey our back always. Conversely, the virus has also triggered irrational fear in some residents. For example, the Lagos state government hospitals witnessed a spike in chloroquine poisoning after the US President Donald Trump endorsed chloroquine as treatment for coronavirus.
The market closure has also been partially successful as many traders in Docemo, Jankara and Oke Arin markets flouted the lockdown order by opening their shops. Other residents, rather than staying at home and practicing social distancing as recommended by government have taken to the streets for exercise and football. Many have since been apprehended and charged to the magistrate court based on the recently passed ‘Law to combat and stop the spread of Corona virus pandemic in Lagos state and for connected purposes.
There have been some unintended consequences of the lock down in Lagos Island. Many residents are employed in the informal economy, and so earn a daily wage. Even though the government provided some palliatives to cushion the effect on vulnerable groups, the distribution was hijacked by political gatekeepers hence disenfranchising those for whom they were intended. While some desperate ones resorted to acts of food (cow meat) theft in the Tokunboh area, in places like Isale Eko and Bamgbose, families shared foodstuff with their more indigent neigbours.
There has also been an increase in the cost of basic services as itinerant water vendors who are only able to supply water in defiance of the stay-at-home order have increased their prices. Mrs Bello from Isale Eko, who now pays N500 daily to get water to her home stated that “how do they expect us to survive, when we earn on a daily basis, I am a single mother with 4 children with no money”.
Social relations are also getting fractured in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Conspiracy theories in the wake of the pandemic have also been discussed in the area. As many traders obtain their goods from China, the claim that the coronavirus pandemic is an intentional act of the Chinese to attain world domination was popular. While, this has triggered stigmatization of Asian people who hitherto had been part of the market and business community, traders such as Mrs Afolabi said that– “I don’t care if they did it intentionally, I will still buy from them because my business is important”.
This shows that there is need to further interrogate the relationship between disease outbreak and socio-spatial, economic and environmental processes of the city. The pandemic also provides an opportunity to reconsider the linkages between urban planning and public health, especially in the area of water supply and sanitation. There is need for increased dialogues between various stakeholders to prevent and mitigate future disease outbreaks as well as the address the unintended consequences that arise.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development University of Lagos, Nigeria.