The total lockdown which took effect in Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor Local Government Areas of Rivers State on Thursday, May 7th, 2020 was temporarily relaxed on Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 by the Governor to enable residents of the State replenish their stock of basic needs and cater to other necessities, in view of a resumption of the total lockdown on Sunday, May 17th, 2020. This came as a breather to the people of both LGAs who have been on a 24-hour lockdown. Following the initial two-day lift slated for Tuesday and Wednesday (May 12th and 13th) but which was later extended till Sunday, May 17th, Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGAs came alive again with several humans seen hustling and bustling on the streets and other public places.
Virtually everyone was in a hurry, apparently to make the most of the few days break. Banks had long queues and the “No face mask, no entry” was boldly written on the gates of several Banks. Yet, social distancing was far from being observed as people were seen scampering about and pressing on one another. It was obvious, many did not care about adhering to social distancing measures because their survival was their utmost concern and ensuring they could get enough cash in hand and food in the house before the lockdown begins again in a few days, was the primary concern of majority of residents as they stepped out of their houses for the first time since the lockdown commenced.
When the State Governor announced the relaxation of the lockdown in a radio broadcast, he said his intention was to enable residents have some fresh air and replenish their foodstuffs and medicine. He stated that shops, malls, banks and hospitals could open and offer full services but markets will remain closed while everyone was mandated to observe strictly the social distancing measures.
Despite the warnings of the governor, the government and its officials failed to put measures in place to check citizens’ excesses. The street markets functioned like a normal market. People came in great numbers to buy and sell goods and services.
Social Action’s personnel under the Covid-19 Situation Room monitored the situation while also talking to some traders. The crowd in the makeshift markets was shocking and no form of social distancing whatsoever was observed. Men, women and children came in their numbers. The food items were sold at very high prices, most selling at twice the price sold prior to the lockdown. People were seen sweating and rubbing each other in the crowded market.
One may wonder, what then is the use of the Rivers State Taskforce? Why are people being asked to stay at home, then released like hungry lions to go into the jungle and fend for themselves in the face of danger? Recently the Governor in a broadcast announced a case of Covid-19 in Diobu Area of Port Harcourt and sadly this area has two major markets to its credit – the Mile 1 and Mile 3 markets. Cases of the Taskforce destroying traders’ goods have been cited but then the taskforce is not being credited with creating awareness on social distancing.
Some sellers interviewed by COVID-19 Situation Room narrated the hurdle they pass through to buy the items they were selling. One seller pointed out that as many others, she had to travel to the villages where she bought the items she was selling as early as 1am in the morning. Despite going that early, she was only able to buy a small quantity at an inflated price.
Buyers and sellers in markets in Obio-Akpo without nose masks and not practicing any form of physical distancing
Another market woman who sells dried fish noted that before the lockdown was eased, she and her seven children went hungry for days. She pointed out that on one of the days, they got so hungry that she pounded the dried fish she sells and fed her children with it. Others who could not endure the hunger risked a lot to participate in the illegal market that operated during the lockdown. They noted that risking armed attacks, they leave their houses at night with the little money they have to buy items which they in turn sell to others who sell within their houses. A good number of children were also in the market hawking. They noted that they were trying to make enough money to support their parents in buying as much food as they could afford, that will serve their families when the lockdown re-commences.