Markets in Owerri, the Imo State capital, are still thriving despite the lockdown announced by the state government to contain the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic. From the famous Ekeonunwa, otherwise called Ekeukwu market, to Relief Market, Ihiagwa, Nkworji, down to Ihiagwa and Amakohia night market, it is business as usual, as both buyers and sellers appear to be oblivious of the realities on ground.
Although the state has not recorded any COVID-19 case, Governor Hope Uzodimma had, on March 28, 2020, ordered a complete lockdown of the state as part of measures to prevent the state from recording any case of the dreaded disease.
He ordered that all markets be closed indefinitely and prohibited all forms of marriage ceremonies.
On April 18, the governor imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the state after signing an Executive Order 001. The curfew, which involved closing all borders into the state from 6pm to 6am, would be indefinite.
However, residents appear to go about their normal businesses unhindered.
Checks carried out by our correspondent indicated that although security agents were deployed to various points to enforce the order, residents still manoeuvre their ways to do their normal businesses.
While most markets thrive, public transportation still operates, although at a minimal level.
Our correspondent, who visited most of the markets on Thursday and Friday last week, observed that they were bubbling with activities, especially the food markets at Ekeonunwa, Nkworji, Amakohia night market and Cluster marker, along Nekede Road.
Even the abattoir along Mbaise road has been operating unhindered as cows are slaughtered for sale every day.
In an effort to enforce the lockdown, the state government had ordered the closure of the markets, but most of the traders relocated to makeshift shades along the road.
Mrs Elizabeth Ohiri, who deals on foodstuff at the Ekeonunwa market, told our correspondent that she had no option than to go out every day to search for daily bread. According to her, with six children and a husband who has not been paid his salary, she has to find ways to survive.
She said, “Government told us to stay at home without providing for us what to eat. We eat by the day. That means we cannot eat until we go out.”
Asked if she had been tutored about the ravaging coronavirus, Mrs, Ohiri said, “We heard that there is a disease called coronavirus, and that it is not in Imo State. So, if it is not in Imo State, why are they asking us not to go out?” She asked.
Ohiri was also angry that she was yet to get the palliative announced by both the state and federal governments.
“They said they were giving us money and food, but we are yet to get any. I cannot fold my hands and allow my children to die of hunger. Hunger is real, but we have not seen the virus. So, which one are we to believe, hunger or virus?
“This thing is affecting everybody. Even the policeman or soldier on the road needs food to survive and do their work. They also have families and they need to take care of them. So sometimes, they allow us to go on compassionate grounds,” she added
The Imo State Government has expressed worry over the impunity with which residents flout its restriction orders.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy Declan Emelumba said Governor Uzodimma was worried that people still move about while motorists ply their trade despite the restriction and curfew imposed on the state. He warned that tougher measures would be taken against those who flout the orders.
Emelumba said, “The government has taken note at the rate at which people flout the restriction order and curfew imposed on the state to contain the spread of coronavirus. We should understand that these measures are not deliberate to punish anybody. It is out of necessity and part of government’s proactive measure to ensure that this pandemic does not affect the state. So far, we have been lucky, but with the prediction by experts that no state may escape the pandemic, we are making sure that Imo will be an exception.
“Henceforth, government will not hesitate to invoke the relevant laws as announced by the governor.’’
Our correspondent gathered that people flout the laws with impunity because they can compromise security agencies on their way.
Motorists who spoke to our correspondent said they had been operating since the lockdown because they usually bought their ways through numerous checkpoints.
While condemning the attitude of Imo residents, the police public relations officer, Imo State command, Orlando Ikeokwu, said his office had been inundated with complaints of extortion by security officers deployed to enforce the lockdown order and curfew. He added that the command had taken measures to apprehend those involved.
He pleaded with residents to obey government’s orders by staying at home.
“Please don’t give money to any policeman. Stay at home. If you do that, no officer will come to your house to ask for money. It is for your interest and that of your family,’’ Ikeokwu said.