We’re old, poor and hungry, yet we’ve received no cash from FG –Lagos’ vulnerable persons

Flanked by the National Theatre to the East and a high-rise Lagos Mainland Hotel to the West, Otto-Ilogbo community sits lowly on a swampy, filthy site in the heart of Ebute-Metta. But for a few decent houses on Jones Street overlooking the slum to the outskirts, the neighbourhood reeks of penury–one that defines the daily life of Mrs Florence Njoku, 65, and worsens it amid lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.

Njoku and her husband relied on their eldest son, who is into furniture work, for their daily meals. Unfortunately, that source of income has been put on hold since the state was on lockdown about four weeks ago.

Days into the lockdown, the native of Owerri, Imo State, picked used plastic bottles and sold them to get money to prepare food for her husband, their two young children and four grandchildren living with them. It was a hard task. At N50 a dozen, Njokus leaned on the paltry income and little help from friends to battle hunger.

The grey-haired woman has heard of government palliatives, food and a sum of N20,000 the Federal Government is giving out to vulnerable people like her to cushion the effect of lockdown but none has yet to come her way.  “I have not received any palliatives from government,” she disclosed.

“I have become sick because of hunger. If not for God and help from some generous people, maybe I would have died by now,” the grandmother bemoaned as she began to share her ongoing excruciating moments.

She said, “I used to sell drinks but I stopped three months ago when thieves broke into my shop. I have three children. Only one of them is working. He is into furniture making, but since the lockdown started, he is unable to get money to take care of us.

“The first two weeks of the lockdown, I went out to pick used plastic bottles and sell them so I could get some money to feed my younger children and grandchildren living with me. I sold a dozen for N50. One day while I was going to Oyingbo to sell five dozen I picked, I fell on the road around Railway. Since then, I stopped picking plastic bottles. It was one of my husband’s friends who came to give us some food last Sunday.”

The Federal Government has been giving N20,000 relief fund to vulnerable persons to cushion the effects of the lockdown after the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), imposed lockdown on Lagos, Ogun states, and the Federal Capital Territory. Other state governors have also initiated similar measures to contain the spread of the virus.

According to a report by The ICIR, as of April 9, the North-West region is the highest beneficiary of the Conditional Cash Transfer in the country, with 561,758 households benefitting from an allocation of N500bn.

Others are North-Central, 321,434; North-East, 109,442; South-South, 67,696; South-West, 37,904; and South-East, 27,977.

The report further showed that the highest number of beneficiaries is in Katsina State, Buhari’s hometown, at 133,227.

Other states with the highest number of beneficiaries are Zamfara, 130,764; Jigawa, 99,044; Kano, 84,148; and Plateau, 78,430.

The family was hoping on providence for breakfast. These days, eating twice a day is a luxury for the family sheltered in a makeshift wooden structure.

“Even when my husband’s friend brought food for us, we ate two meals per day. We ate one late morning and took another meal in the evening. I heard that government promised to give vulnerable people like us N20, 000 each but I have not received anything.

“Apart from our CDA (Community Development Association) chairman who gave us some foodstuffs, we did not get any palliatives from government. As long as the government insists people should not go anywhere and we did not get anything from them, it is like they want to kill us,” she added.

Her husband, John, relived the same sad tale. Pale and worried, the hunger his stout posture concealed was exposed by his forlorn looks.

He said, “I have a small shop at Iddo (a neighbouring community) but I can’t go to shop since the lockdown started. Feeding is a problem. It’s my friend who gave us some staples. We are just managing whatever we get. We have not received any cash from government; not even food.

“If government wants us to stay home for now, they should provide what to eat for us. Government promised to give poor people N20,000 but I did not receive anything.”

The couple’s plight reflects the grim reality thousands of poor people in Lagos with a population of about 22 million have been battling since rising cases of COVID-19 forced the nation’s commercial hub into lockdown.

Their neighbour, Ayoka Ajide, said to be in her 70s, has grown frail as a result of sickness worsened by hunger and inability to get prescribed drugs. She leaned on the shoulder of a youth to come out of her hut that Tuesday noon. Her gloomy voice was evident of someone in dire need of rescue from the grip of poverty.

“I am from Oke-Onigbin in Kwara State. I started living in this place some months ago when I fell sick,” she croaked, taking a long pause to muster some strength.

“My children live in Lagos and they are petty traders. They give me some money which I use to survive. They have been trying their best but since the lockdown started, they could not do their business again. I have been eating whatever comes my way for three weeks now.

“I rely on little food I get from my neighbours; I have not received any food item from the Lagos State Government let alone N20,000 cash from the Federal Government. I am appealing to them to assist me. I am sick and need to get drugs,” she appealed.

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