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Inside Kwara Communities Where Residents Ignore COVID-19 Safety Measures

“COVID-19 exists only in Lagos and Abuja, not in Kwara. And it only exists in those states because of international airports. People in Government only want to squander funds, that is why they are inconveniencing citizens with their lies and exaggeration about coronavirus,” Taibat Abass, who sells fried potato at Oja-oba in Ilorin, Kwara State, reels out her doubt over the existence of coronavirus in the state.

For Taibat Abbas, COVID-19 only exists in states like Lagos and Abuja and not in Kwara where she resides. She faults the government for their failure to disclose the identity of those who have contracted the virus, insisting that that is the only way she can be convinced.

Even as the number of people who have contracted coronavirus increased to 672 total confirmed cases, 414 active cases (as at 11:00 pm on the 21st of July 2020) in the state, commuters, marketers, motorists, event organisers and places of worship in Kwara State disregard directives given by the Kwara State Technical Committee on COVID-19. 

In line with Federal Government directives on the ease of lockdown across the state, the Kwara State Deputy Governor and the Chairman of COVID-19 technical Committee, Mr Kayode Alabi, explained that:

“Markets and Businesses will open every day but in 60 per cent capacity of their pre-COVID 19 operations.

He noted that Kwara state citizens should use face masks in public places and offices and adhere to the social distancing policy. He also directed that all shops should provide handwashing stations, maintaining that strict sanitation protocols must be adhered to by the people of the state.

However, CAMPUS REPORTER’s visit to major markets in the state, religious gatherings, transport services, events, ceremonies and football viewing centres show that most residents in the state are sceptical about the reality of COVID-19 in the state and, as such, disregard the guidelines laid out by the Government.

Coronavirus: How Real Is It?

At Oja-Oba and Oja tun tun markets located in Kwara State, buyers and marketers carried on with life as they did pre-COVID-19, that is, with the social distancing policy being flagrantly flouted. Only a few people were seen using face masks and hand washing equipment is nowhere to be found.

In his address on May 1, the Deputy Governor and Chairman of the Kwara State Technical Committee On COVID-19, Kayode Alabi, announced pre-conditions for the reopening of market places. Local markets are to operate between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. and all safety measures observed.

The picture illustrates the overcrowding at Oja-Oba Market

Alhaja Madina Mukaila is a flower vendor at Ojo-Oba market. Her facemask, except when she is compelled to comply is kept in her shop rather than on her nose and mouth. 

“I even have up to six inside my shops but it’s affecting my breath that’s why I don’t usually use it,” she said, pointing to her facemask kept inside the shop.

Unlike Alhaja Madina, Ibrahim Alabi, who works as a bricklayer, believes safety precautions cannot curtail the spread of the coronavirus disease. For him, the coronavirus cannot affect the poor.

“All these ‘don’t do this, don’t do’ that cannot solve the problem of coronavirus. If it’s poor people that are largely affected now, our leaders would have run abroad. What are we eating that will make us contract coronavirus? It’s our leaders who go abroad that are having it.

“Those of us that are looking for our ends meet do you think we will have time for one COVID-19 directive,” he giggled along with his friend seated by his side.

For Transporters, the Social Distancing Policy negates Profit-making

To ensure that the social distancing policy is observed, the Kwara State Government directs tricyclists and motorists to convey 50% of the passengers that they were conveying before the onset of COVID-19.

But in total defiance of the directive, commercial transporters now convey passengers in full capacity. According to them, the directive has lowered their daily income and it is inconveniencing citizens. 

“We know COVID-19 is real, but we can’t live without eating. Our sustainability is very important to us. Before we were asked to convey two passengers at a time and we obeyed. But our income at the end of the day usually falls drastically and it usually causes fights between us and park managers as we are unable to meet up with park charges.

“To balance this, we decided to increase the price to N70 per person. But passengers resisted saying they can’t pay the new charges. This left us with no option than to return to the way we normally did it before,” said Kabiru, a transporter who expressed the frustrations he and his fellow tricyclists contends with.

Another transporter who identified himself as Jamiu also explained that reducing the number of passengers does not favour them and it does not favour citizens as well. He faulted the government for hiking the price of petrol during the pandemic period.

“They said we should reduce the number of passengers and they increased the price of petrol to N143, how can we abide by their directives without inconveniencing the citizens?” he asked. 

The tricycle with passengers fully loaded

On why he is not using a facemask, he said he only has it in his tricycle and usually uses it where there are checkpoints.

“My facemask is here. Our leaders who are enforcing us to use facemask are not using it. Even the President of the country does not usually use a face mask so how do you expect ordinary citizens to abide?”

Football Enthusiasts: Hobbying in the Absence of Safety

Acting indifferently to the state Government directives, football enthusiasts insist that they cannot sacrifice their love for football for the COVID-19 panic. Watching and playing football, some of them say, is a habit they cannot let go even in the face of the fast-spreading COVID-19.

Rafiu Ajakaye, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor and spokesman of the Kwara State Technical Committee on COVID-19, said in a statement signed on June 16th, that  “Football viewing centres are not allowed to open under any guise during this pandemic. Doing so will actively promote the spread of the virus, endanger people’s lives, and further stretch public resources to the limit.”

But for Shuaib Bashir, football enthusiast and a resident of Itakudimoh in Ilorin, aside from the vagueness of truth around coronavirus, the passion for football clouds one’s minds from thinking about it, he explained.

“Most of us are bored and football is a game of passion on its own. So, the game spirit itself makes us think less of the COVID-19. Most of us at the moment usually forget about coronavirus.

Abdulmajid acknowledges the possibility of the coronavirus spreading faster at football centres but he explained that watching football for him is indispensable.

“We know that it’s risky but it’s due to the situation of the country that we are now. In most of those developed countries, people watch football from home. But here, we can’t watch football until we go to football showroom and it has become part of us.”

The Nigeria Centre For Disease Control(NCDC) recommends the regular washing of hands with soap, the use of hand sanitizers, maintenance of physical distance of at least 2 metres, and the wearing of facemasks. It also recommends avoiding gatherings of more than 20 persons and gatherings where physical distancing measures are not put in place. 

The Co-founder and Head of Strategy of Know COVID-19 Nigeria, Mr Abideen Olasupo, explained that negligence of safety measures by the citizens is due to their lack of trust in government and it is not peculiar to Kwara alone. He charged the government to imbibe transparency and accountability in the management of COVID-19.

“When they see Governors saying some people have COVID-19 today and three days later they would say they have recovered, it feels suspicious. The government needs to do its best in the aspect of accountability and transparency.”

He bemoaned how citizens flout the precautionary measures and fault government for being lenient in the enforcement of safety measures but he emphasised that strict enforcement of protocols and community sensitisation is the way to increase public awareness on COVID-19.

“[The] Government needs to carry out community sensitization at the grass-root level apart from sensitization on social media and radio stations,” he concluded.

The Coordinator of the Elite Network For Sustainable Development (ENETSUD), Dr Alagbonsi Abdullateef buttressed the need for the government to adopt a more practical approach in sensitising the public–one which integrates the way of life peculiar to that of residents of the state.

“[The] Government needs to adopt the practice-based approach in sensitizing the public, the sensitization being done by the government is too theoretical, it’s not practical based and that doesn’t make people believe COVID-19 exists, the Government needs to change their approach. It’s not enough to air jingle on the radio before they believe that COVID19 exists.

“[The] government needs to recruit volunteers from COVID-19 survivors. Those who went through a lot at the isolation centres, have now tested negative for the virus and are back to their normal lives, [the] government can recruit as enlightenment officers. They can be put on their payroll to incentivise their activities.”

He noted that most people in society are aware of COVID-19 but do not believe that it is real. He suggested that “people will tend to believe the reality of the virus if they hear directly from those who contracted and survived the virus, not from someone who has never tested positive for the virus.”

He said: “Now that movement has been allowed across states, the cases will rise and the government should enforce compulsory use of face masks outside homes saying that embarking on another lockdown is not sustainable.

“Flattening the curve is not easy, so, the government should allow the people to do their normal businesses, enforce the use of facemask, encourage social distancing, promote other means of business transactions devoid of physical contact, and ensure that our normal way of life is sustained but with compliance to the safety and prevention protocols.”

‘COVID-19 is Real,’ – Governor’s Spokesman

The Chief Press Secretary to the Kwara State Governor and the Spokesman of the Kwara Technical Committee on COVID-19, Mr Rafiu Ajakaye, while speaking with Campus Reporter expressed the government’s concern over the scepticism about COVID-19 despite the havoc it has wreaked on the people of Nigeria and across the globe.

Mr Rafiu Ajakaye – The Kwara State Chief Press Secretary and Spokesman, Kwara State Technical Commojittee on COVID-19

He said: “The government is concerned that some people still think that COVID-19 pandemic is some sort of hoax. Such disbelief or scepticism is not supported by the fact of what has happened not only in Kwara or Nigeria but across the world where millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands have died, with many families losing their breadwinners. We have lost our own respected Chief of Staff.”

He jettisoned the claim that the government is exaggerating the number of infected patients advising the public to dismiss such claims as it is detrimental to the health of the people.

“It is reckless to say the government is exaggerating the figures. If anyone says we are exaggerating figures for whatever gains, are countries in the developed world also exaggerating figures? To gain what from where? There is no fact to support the claim that the government is exaggerating anything. Those saying such things constitute a serious danger to the greatest majority of innocent members of the public and they should desist.”

He further explained that the government is intensifying effort in the enlightenment and creation of awareness among the citizens regarding the reality of the virus as well as in the enforcement of the safety measures.

“We are stepping up advocacy to not only enlighten the public about the virus but also [to] explain the consequences of our people not adhering to safety measures.”

“We are stepping up advocacy across various media platforms. The traditional institutions have also keyed into the campaign and we are getting increased understanding. Very soon, the government would roll out further measures to enforce the use of facemasks in public places to help curtail the spread of the virus.”

Stressing the government’s effort in fighting the pandemic, Mr Ajakaye noted that the recent establishment of COVID-19 test centre in the state is a new landmark attained by the state government in combating the virus.

“The recent establishment of a test centre is a big plus for the fight. That is huge progress because we are increasingly getting to know our true status as a state. This boosts proactiveness, allows for quick contact tracing of potential carriers, and early and successful management of cases. This, ultimately, helps in helping to gradually flatten the curve of transmission.” 

He, however, advised the people of the state to act responsibly and abide by the safety measures as directed by medical experts.

“We have gone beyond the stage of pessimism or baseless scepticism. COVID-19 is real. It is an existential threat to all of us and we all must act responsibly to save lives and lessen the negative economic consequences this pandemic is having on socioeconomic growth and human civilisation. Our people should wear their face masks appropriately, they should avoid crowded places, and they should wash their hands from time to time to stop the spread of the deadly virus, among other safety protocols.”

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