Between Social Distancing and Hunger – A Conundrum For Daily Wage Earners


If social distancing was all we required to be rid of the virus, then we would be in trouble.

As the Project Ark Team weaved through the small crowd of expectant beneficiaries at Ikota Community, you had to wonder if we all lived under the jurisdiction that ordered a lockdown.

For these daily wage earners, the fear of starvation is a much clearer and present danger than the danger of catching a virus or not obeying the lockdown or social distancing rules.

Now, it’s easy to push this aside as their problem, as long as you stay out in your own home. But the points of contact are so varied and unpredictable that one person’s ill health is everybody’s problem.

You may also be tempted to get angry at them for invariably elongating the lifespan of the virus within our shores. But how much of a choice is available to people when their daily survival is dependent on a less than a dollar earning for that day?

For the 65% of Lagosians living under these conditions, the order to stay at home translates to a sentence to suffering that many have understandably refused to accept. The effort of the government to alleviate the anticipated suffering has encountered the bottlenecks of inadequacy of the supplies and complaints of imbalance in the distribution process.

As the team sorted and distributed the relief items on the first day, the angst and fear of scarcity was so palpable in the community. The whole scenario begged the question of how such abject poverty was surviving nestled in the midst of the apparent luxury of that area. And this community is just one of the dozens that exist between Victoria Island and Sangotedo on the Lekki-Epe axis of the State.

The obvious availability of seemingly untouchable wealth further strengthens the effect scarcity has on the psyche of those in the community. On the first day there, rowdiness became the instant response for some of our beneficiaries whose reality of scarcity informed them wrongly that the food would not get to them. Some just wanted to make a grab for the love-bags being shared.

These scenarios captured go beyond feeding and staying safe during a Statewide lockdown or curbing a viral spread. It is a reflection of our economic and social set-up, and feeds the roots of many problems we currently face. The deep roots of a scarcity mentality, for example, is what feeds the greed of public officials once they step into power. But that’s another branch of the conversation.

For this line of thought, the immediate need to solve the scarcity problem across board is obvious. We speak a lot about a change in orientation and encourage people to think long term. But people need to have the basic things they need to survive or they would resort to the basest way of getting it – violence, manipulation, and rowdiness.

These aren’t new concepts or realities. We’ve had scholars and concerned Nigerians bring this to our consciousness many times. But it has become necessary to go beyond the conversations and palliative measures. We need a sustainable system that institutes real change.

This is the time for a strong and effective local governance structure. It is the time for political reformers and social innovators to begin designing and implementing plans for real growth in small communities across the country.

Even as organizations and the government step to the task of ensuring no one goes hungry during this COVID-19 shutdown, we have to see beyond the immediate future. Implementing sustainable solutions is a pursuit we must be conscious of as we follow our passion to ensure no one goes hungry.

Project ARK has opened this doorway. Our second and third day on the distribution duty were much better as we implemented lessons learned from the first day. This experience is giving us a view of what’s possible when the welfare of the people is at the heart of our policies and strategies. It is also showing us what’s possible when the members of the communities become invested in the overall good of their homes.

As we document and share these lessons over the next few weeks, it is our desire to see the methods adopted by more people across the country. Collaboration and generosity of heart are keys we believe to be important to the building of strong communities and a strong nation.


You can support the Project Ark initiative by donating food items or cash, or volunteering your service or time.  

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