The Lockdown - Food Scarcity and Social Unrest Looming


Friday, May 01, 2020 / 01:20 PM / FDC / Header Image Credit: Newswatch Nigeria


The World Food Programme Global hotspot report (2020) highlighted Nigeria as one of the 18 African countries that is food insecure and at a high risk of sliding into further crisis post covid-19.The economy is already at a boiling point due to lower oil proceeds, plunging external reserves, a weak currency, poor health care facilities, high unemployment and inequality levels. Nigeria is currently the poverty capital of the world, with over 50% of its population (200 million) living below a dollar every day. Meanwhile, economic growth is projected to shrink to 3.40% by 2020.

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The outbreak of Covid-19 in Nigeria has aggravated the dismal situation of the country and in response, the federal government, just like other countries ordered a complete lockdown in states that had recorded cases of the virus. The lockdown, which lasted for 4 weeks, has now been eased in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states with interstate movement still restricted. Even though, the situation in the country still points to a mild to moderate outbreak of the virus, the impact of this nationwide directive has been significant to the average Nigerian. Nigeria currently has 1,728 confirmed cases of the virus, which is 4.51% of the infected cases in Africa (38,351).


Impact of the lockdown

  • Spike in Food Prices: As people began stocking up for the lockdown period, prices of domestic commodities jumped by over 50% making it even more difficult for people to purchase a decent meal for a day, let alone 4 weeks. For example, a bag of garri (50kg) previously sold for N8,500 is now sold for N12,000.

  • Food scarcity: With major markets closed and movement restricted, transportation of food to states like Lagos has been reduced drastically. Popular staples like yam, garri, plantain that are brought in from the north, south- east and south-west have now become scarce. Meanwhile, traders now trek to central markets to purchase staples for re-sale in their local areas.

  • Income cut: Individuals who make daily wages have had to bear with a 3-week disruption in their means of livelihood and these are mainly players in the informal sector like traders and taxi drivers. These people have low-income levels, no savings, or pensions that provide a social safety net, and over 70% are poor. The informal sector makes up about 80% of Nigeria's active working force8 and in Lagos alone, about 65% of the state's population work in this sector.

  • Social unrest: This is the ripple effect of hunger and no money. Survival instincts are setting stage in local communities and the probability of the states on lockdown to deal with this unrest alongside covid -19 is almost inevitable. In Lagos and Ogun, places like Agege, Iyana-ipaja, Ogba, Oke-Ira, Ayobo and Mowe are experiencing what is called "survival induced robbery" and both young and old have taken to the streets as vigilantes to protect their own.

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Who else is involved?


South Africa

In South Africa, the lockdown has resulted in civil unrest because of hunger and high crime rate. About 9.6 million children who are dependent on school feeding schemes cannot feed adequately as schools are closed. Meanwhile, thousands of other citizens that rely on community nutrition centres are forfeiting meals, which on a normal day, is their only source of feeding.



As the covid-19 pandemic looms, Zimbabwe is facing the high risk of an economic catastrophe. Social unrest is on the rise as the country remains food insecure and politically unstable. WFP says that the country is now a hunger hotspot, as it is overheating with the worst food insecurity in recent times. Food inflation spiked to over 700% in 2019 and currently, over five million people are in hunger crisis.


Are the palliatives enough?

The Federal and state governments are undoubtedly set on the right path with abrupt palliatives and directives to tackle the problems of food scarcity and poverty during this period. With some of these which include


  • Conditional cash transfers of N20,000 to households in Abuja.

  • Financial support to the urban poor - who are regarded as citizens who have N5,000 and below in their bank accounts and people who top N100 or less on their phones. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development mentioned that these people will be identified using the national social register, BVN numbers and phone credit history.

  • The emergency food markets set up in several local government areas in Lagos state


The question of whether they are enough highly depends on the reach, implementation effectiveness and sustainability through this covid-19 times. If the current measures are enough, it is expected to reach the target audience (financially vulnerable in all 36 states) equally and fairly. Transportation and distribution of food items to individuals and households and conditional transfers should be made at the right time and to the right people. Finally, these measures should be sustained throughout the designated period, to avoid food scarcity, social unrest, health scare and the covid-19 crisis deepening.


Going Forward

Every action begets a reaction, therefore with either of these steps taken by the federal and state governments, here are the likely outcomes.


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