Nigeria struggles towards shutdown as virus fears grow

LAGOS (AFP) – The normally bustling markets have thinned out and the notoriously clogged roads are eerily free: Lagos is lurching towards shutdown as Nigeria tries to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Enforcing strict social distancing rules is proving tough all across the globe – but in a chaotic megacity in Africa’s most populous nation, it represents a mammoth challenge. Local authorities in the economic hub, where some 20 million souls are packed tightly together, have stopped short of ordering a total lockdown.

But they have advised people to stay home, restricted gatherings and shut schools, bars, non-food markets and shops to try to empty the streets.

People were still out skirting the pools of foetid water in Jankarra market on Friday but the crowds were well down on normal.

Rotimi Oyedepo stood in front of his shuttered chemical store after local police had ordered him to lock up.

“It will not be easy for us to survive – but there is nothing that we can do,” the 47-year-old father of four said.

In a country where around half of the 190 million population live in dire poverty, many cannot afford to stop working for too long.

“We can’t stay (away from work) more than one week,” Oyedepo said. “By Monday, Tuesday, in one week everyone will come out to do what they need to survive.”

Nigeria has so far confirmed just 65 infections but testing has been limited.

Officials admit the country is at a critical moment. It faces a race against time to try to stop an “exponential” rise in cases.

The authorities have closed international airports and sealed the borders in an attempt to stop new infections coming from abroad.

Most domestic airlines have stopped, trains have been halted and several regions have cut all travel in and out. But convincing people to stay home is not always easy.

Dauda Ali, 24, said he had ventured out to try to get money from a friend in another Lagos suburb.

“I sell building materials and since the government said we should not open, I am not finding it easy to feed my family,” he told AFP. “I want government to provide some relief to those who are unable to do anything because of the restrictions.”