CoronaVirus versus Poverty: The Reality of Most Lagosians

A short fictional story based on glimpses of the plight of the underprivileged across Lagos


After President Muhammadu Buhari announced the lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja to curtail the spread of  Coronavirus on the 29th of March 2020.

In Lagos, we came out in our numbers filling supermarkets, markets and petroleum filling stations in an effort to get all the necessary supplies for the mandatory lockdown. 

The usual traffic jam was upped by several notches across several parts of Lagos. Many supermarkets had to enforce social distancing among customers to ensure the dreaded virus was not transmitted in their establishments.

This social distancing directive involved allowing between five to twenty people only (as the case may be) into the supermarket at a time, while others would wait outside in a single file with gaps.

Many businesses that were still open at that time were closing much earlier than usual so that all members of staff could get home long before the 11 pm curfew started.

It would seem as though by the time 11pm came around, everyone in Lagos was safe in their various homes waiting for the coronavirus to go away so that life can resume once more. But that was not true. Many of us did not have enough money to ‘stock up’, irrespective of how important it was to do so.

Mama and Papa are lucky. I am their only child. So even though Mama will not sell fish and Papa will not fix cars, we will manage as we always have. Many of our neighbours are not as lucky.

Money has always been tight for us, but Mama managed to buy a small sack of garri, a tuber of yam and a carton of ‘Indomie’ with the little money she always kept for emergency situations. This lockdown certainly counted as one.

I keep going through all the things people say we have to do to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. With each point I come across, it seems more impossible to avoid this thing if it eventually becomes a plague here.

  1. Stay home as much as you can.
  2. Keep a safe distance: We live in one room in a ‘face me I face you’ house. I don’t see how we will all stay inside all the time when there is almost never light. And how exactly do we measure a safe distance from our neighbors? We’re close enough as it is.
  3. Wash hands often with soap and running water: All of us in this building share the same two toilets and bathrooms and water does not run in either of them. We all have to go to the next street to fetch the water that we use. Fetching extra water just to wash our hands is a lot of effort. Besides, since we are not meant to be going outside to begin with, wouldn’t more water trips increase the possibility of us getting infected? There is always a crowd at the small space in front of Mama Olomi’s house as we all jostle to fill our Jerry cans before she switches off the water for the day.  Also, I don’t think a lot of us have the extra money to spend on soap just to wash our hands.
  4. Isolate from others in the home if you feel unwell: Unless the sick person is to be kicked out on the street, that is impossible. We live in one room!

I had hoped that the government would do something to clear the virus away from Nigeria before the situation becomes more serious. But with the extension of the lockdown, even my small family started to feel the brunt of the lack of cash inflow.

Papa had to go out to look for work no matter how menial. Even if it  definitely put him at risk. But what choice did he have? He is obeying the directives as much as he can at the moment. But when we run out of food, he will be forced to look for money.

If the coronavirus doesn’t get us, hunger will. This virus is not our problem. Our problem is hunger – the struggle to make ends meet. It has always been.

A short fictional story based on glimpses of the plight of the underprivileged across Lagos Written by Nonye Ezeaka

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