One of the protective measures instituted by government and other relevant health authorities against COVID-19 is physical distancing also known as social distancing.
However, investigations by Daily Trust over several months have shown that this key safety measure to curb the spread of the virus is fast disappearing from markets across the country.
Findings revealed that traders and their customers have continued to violate physical distancing measures in their shops and open market spaces. Many of them do not also use face masks or wash their hands.
While there was poor compliance during the first few months of the pandemic, the situation has grown worse in the last three months even with warnings of a possible second wave of the pandemic in the country.
Sadly, there is now a spike in COVID-19 infection. No fewer than 675 new cases were recorded on Thursday, Dec. 10
Compliance low in FCT markets
In several markets across the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), buyers and sellers flout the physical distancing protocol.
When our reporter visited the Utako Market in April, people pushed against each other to either hurry up for their purchase or to meet up with time before the market closed. As at then, the market opens from 8am to 3pm instead of the 7am to 6pm pre-COVID-19 era. The FCT administration allowed markets to operate only on Wednesdays and Saturdays for people to restock then.
However, a recent visit to the market showed that the situation is now worse. Both traders and customers flout the protocol even with a lengthy opening time.
Some people cough or recline on others without batting an eyelid.
“Where is the social distancing they are talking about here? Can you people just take it easy?” A woman who was avoiding being pushed in a crowd lamented.
Our reporter observed that both shoppers, barrow boys and hawkers were all moving at the same time in a bid to buy, sell or offer services.
A shopper, Mrs Omolola Jacob, said, “it is becoming scary coming to the market”.
At the Nyanya Market, the crowd is always huge during both its daily and every Wednesday market. Chukwudi Okey, a cloth seller, said, “I tell my customers to queue briefly when they come to my shop so that I can attend to one person at a time. But that is not the case in the open market, the space is not there for people to practice physical distancing.”
In Kuje market, our reporters observed that over 20 people may be seen crowded at a particular table while buying things. The fish sellers, vegetables sellers, those selling baking materials and local drink ingredients always attract large gathering of people patronizing them, yet they are not mindful of observing physical distancing.
At the Abaji main market which holds every five days, it was observed that sellers and buyers converge to sell their produce to their customers wearing face masks but without any practice of physical distancing.
The Kwali main market, which holds every four days, was overcrowded by traders and buyers without recourse to social distancing. Similar situation was found at the Gwagwalada main market where traders and their customers rub shoulders for transactions on foodstuffs and other essential commodities.
Felix Alfred, a resident of Gwagwalada, said the non-adherence to the social distancing protocol was due to lack of adequate sensitization by the government.
“I am wearing face mask because I know the importance but the major problem is the lack of social distancing among people and I think government needs to sensitize residents,” he said.
Mrs. Grace Nwachukwu said many residents and traders need to be sensitized about social distancing, adding that the noncompliance could aid the spread of the coronavirus disease.
“The government still needs to sensitize residents on social distancing because many don’t know the dangers of overcrowding in a time like this,” she said.
Flouting rules observed in Lagos
Physical distancing, use of face masks and other safety protocols against the spread of COVID-19 are being defied in some of the markets visited in Lagos. While scores of people comply on the use of face mask, most violated physical distancing.
At markets in Oyingbo, Iyana-Ipaja, and Yaba, our reporters observed that most traders and buyers did not observe physical distancing.
In Kano, our correspondents observed that people carried on without recourse to social distancing in markets and other public places.
At the Sokoto Central Market, majority of the traders neither used face masks nor observed physical distancing.
Densely populated sections, such as textile, grains, electronics and GSM village, all have a large turnout of people, many of whom were not observing the COVID-19 preventive measures.
Some traders at the markets used handkerchiefs and other pieces of cloth to cover their noses and mouths mindless of the cleanliness.
In Kaduna, many residents were not bothered about keeping physical distance at neighbourhood markets.
A visit to Chawai in Tudun Wada area of the state which has three neighbourhood markets, revealed that traders and customers were seen crowded while pricing commodities.
One of the traders, Salisu Mohammed, does not believe in physical distancing. “I am not bothered about that right now; I will not mind if my shop is full of customers so that I can make sales and have something to take home to my family because it has not been easy.”
There was no compliance at all to the use of face masks and physical distancing after the Katsina government relaxed its 33 days lockdown.
A shop owner in Lafia, Abdulaziz Hamidu, said that many people are not observing the physical distancing rule because they do not believe in it.
A customer in Hamidu’s shop, Muhammad Yangida, said he observes social distance because he has read that it is one of the measures taken to avoid contacting the virus in public places.
In Mararaba town of the state, the physical distancing preventive measure is not being practiced in the markets. Haruna Musa, a trader, said: “The roads are narrow in the market and it is difficult to keep to social distancing but I insist that all my customers wear face masks.”
In Ogun State, many residents have snubbed threats by the government and defied coronavirus safety measures, especially at the markets and banks.
At the Kuto and Lafenwa markets in Abeokuta, there was still high disregard to safety measures by the customers and traders.
While there was some compliance to the mandatory use of face masks among residents, there was little or no adherence to physical distancing.
Reports from major markets in Sagamu, Sango-Ota and other parts of the state equally reflected low compliance to safety measures.
Ololade Abel, a customer, wondered how adherence to physical distancing could be realized in tightly-packed market places like Kuto, Lafenwa, among others.
With his face mask fixed on his face, he said “Yes, I agree that we must maintain physical distancing, but how is that possible in a big market like this?” he queried.
In Bauchi’s Wunti Market, Aminu Salisu said the composition of the building of the market has contributed to the problem as there are minimal spaces on the walkway for the crowd.
A trader at the Muda Lawal market, Mamman Mai Kaji, said most people in Bauchi still don’t believe the reality of COVID-19.
“I only wear the facemask when I enter commercial vehicles or tricycles but not in the market because it affects my breathing as I have asthma.”
The story of defiance to the safety measures was the same in Benue State.
At the Wurukum market in Makurdi, traders and buyers failed to observe the protocol meant to keep them safe from contracting the disease.
Our correspondents observed the same situations in markets in Minna, Niger State.
At the Kure market, both traders and customers are seen flouting the use of facemask and physical distancing. Isah Aliyu wasn’t wearing a face mask but attended to 10 customers in his crammed shop. Only four customers had face masks on.
Hajia Maryam Ibrahim, one of Aliyu’s customers, said many people, just like her, sometimes forget to take the precautionary measures.
At the popular Gwari market, the case is not different. Even though some sections of the market have soap and water for customers to wash their hands, distancing and face mask use were grossly violated.
Lawyers set preventive measures for markets
Lawyers have advised that the rule on social distancing in markets can be realised by accommodating the management of the markets.
“The government and the markets managements have to put heads together to regulate the number of customers who enter the market at a time if possible,” said Hamid Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
For Obioma Ezenwobodo Esq, the rule on social distancing in the markets can be enforced in assimilating the various market unions into the government taskforce on prevention of COVID-19.
“By these, they can synergize in educating the markets men and women, enforce compliance and liaise with the government where necessary,” he said.
Ali Zubairu Esq explained that one of the means of checking violations of social distance is the mandatory use of face mask, which has now been gazetted by the federal government.
“Now that it has been gazetted, the law is to take over and it’s a question of enforcement. We would like to see more enforcement with fines or committing to community service,” he said.
What authorities are doing across states
The Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy said it has embarked on advocacy on the worrisome trend.
An Assistant Director in the Ministry and advocacy team leader, Mr. Bode Lawal who spoke during the exercise, tagged ‘Mask-Up-Lagos’, said the advocacy was geared towards encouraging residents to support the efforts of the state government to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Chairman of the Sokoto State Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr Ali Inname, said: “We are going to distribute the face masks, then follow up with enforcement. The state is targeting the distribution of two million face masks but we will begin with 200,000 units.
On physical distancing, he described it as a challenging issue in Africa, Nigeria and particularly in Sokoto. “It is challenging, that is why we encourage the use of a face masks.”
On his part, the chairman Katsina State Enlightenment Committee on COVID-19, and Commissioner of Information, Abdulkarim Sirika, said although people are being sensitized, the flouting will make his committee to work with relevant security agents for enforcement, saying that people should learn to take responsibility of their health and those of others.
In Ogun State, the State Commissioner of Police, Kenneth Ebrimson, stormed major streets to enforce compliance to the safety measures.
“I am not satisfied with the level of compliance. That’s why I am on the road myself to ensure high degree of compliance and those found wanting have been taken to the mobile courts,” he said.
Responding, Chairman of the State COVID-19 Committee and Deputy Governor, Engr. Benson Abounu, said his team was sensitising the people, and regularly checking on the markets to ensure the food commodity traders (allowed to open) kept to social distancing even in the manner of spacing their ware.
Chairman of Bauchi State Taskforce Committee on COVID-19 and Deputy Governor, Senator Baba Tela, could not be reached, but a member of the committee said the state governor has signed COVID-19 Order which stipulated that those who violated the order of wearing face mask shall be fined N5000 while it’s working to provide 900,000 face masks.
The chairman of taskforce on COVID-19 in the state and Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, said his committee initially tried to enforce the use of face mask and physical distancing by deploying security agents to man major markets to ensure compliance. However, he said the compliance level of wearing facemask dropped only recently while physical distancing had remained a challenge from the onset.