By Libby George
LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria will extend lockdowns in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states for an additional 14 days to combat the new coronavirus, President Muhammadu Buhari said in an address to the nation on Monday that acknowledged the sacrifices of the country’s poor
Initial 14-day lockdowns in the three areas began on March 30. Buhari said it was crucial to extend the lockdown due to an “alarming” increase in positive cases in a number of states.
“It is a matter of life and death,” Buhari said of the nation’s response. “The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.”
There are currently 323 confirmed cases of the virus in Nigeria, nearly three-quarters of them in Lagos and the capital territory of Abuja, and 10 people have died from the virus.
Nigeria, with 200 million people, is Africa’s most populous nation. Some 20 million reside in the megacity of Lagos alone.
Health experts have raised the alarm over the impact of any spread in the virus, warning that the country’s unprepared and underfunded healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed.
But the economic impact on the millions of Nigerians who rely on daily wages, particularly in Lagos, has hit residents hard. The shutdown exempts only critical workers, including those selling food, water and medicine, but has left many without money to buy food and other essentials.
Videos have circulated on social media showing armed robberies, fires and small riots in some Lagos neighbourhoods.
Earlier on Monday, the police said they would deploy additional units to Lagos and Ogun to tackle unrest and crime stemming directly from the lockdowns.
The Lagos state government has been distributing food packages to 200,000 of the state’s most vulnerable households, and plans to double the aid.
Buhari did not address the unrest specifically, other than saying he urged the security forces to “maintain utmost vigilance”, but he acknowledged the difficulties many people would facing by sticking to the rules.
“We made this very difficult decision knowing fully well it will severely disrupt your livelihoods and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and your communities,” he said. “However, such sacrifices are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our country.”
He said the federal government, which has also been distributing cash and food, would add 1 million households to the programme, which is currently targeting 2.6 million.
He also said the government would develop a comprehensive policy to bring its economy through the crisis, and set up a task force to minimise the impact of lockdowns on farmers and the agricultural sector.
(Reporting By Libby George; Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jan Harvey and Alison Williams)