Barely 24 hours after Nigeria recorded its first case of Coronavirus, scarcity of sanitisers, face masks and other protective apparel has hit major cities in Nigeria, including Lagos and Abuja.
PREMIUM TIMES survey also showed that prices of the protective and basic safety apparel has since skyrocketed, amid rising demand.
On Friday, many Nigerians took to their social media handles to recount their experiences, with frustrating accounts of the difficulties encountered in getting basic safety materials.
Julius Bokoru, a Facebook user, took to his page to recount how it was difficult for him to get a face mask in Abuja, the federal capital city, on Friday.
“Drove virtually round Abuja this morning in search of face masks and hand sanitizer,” he wrote. “All sold out within a few hours. Na Abuja o, no be Lagos sef.”
Amid the frustration, Kate Ege, another Facebook user, sought recommendations on how she could get the materials in bulk on Friday in Lagos.
She posted: “Where can I buy hand sanitiser in bulk? Location: Lagos. It’s needed urgently…”
On Twitter, many Nigerians lamented the scarcity of the various safety materials in Lagos and Abuja. Others made jokes and hilarious memes of the attendant frustration experienced by those seeking the products.
Ladon, a Twitter user, wrote: “I trust my Lagos hustler as from tomorrow you will start seeing hand sanitiser for sale in Lagos traffic #CoronaVirusUpdates.”
When Journalists visited Addax Shopping Mall in Agidingbi area of Ikeja on Friday night, store attendants told our reporter that there had been a rise in the demand for the safety apparel.
“We have sold almost all the units of sanitisers and face masks we have in this mall,” said an attendant who didn’t want her name in print. “The demand has been quite high and we may run out of stock before the weekend.”
In numerous other small kiosks in Ikeja and environs, our reporter found that the safety materials were not available. A retailer told PREMIUM TIMES that the price has skyrocketed.
“There are some sanitisers that sold for about N2,500 or less in the past but we sold some for as high as N4,000 this morning before we ran out of stock,” an attendant who sought anonymity, told PREMIUM TIMES at a store in Allen Avenue.
She also suggested that the big malls may be hoarding the safety materials in a bid to exploit desperate consumers.
Nigeria recorded its first case of coronavirus after an Italian national tested positive to the virus, the Federal Ministry of Health said on Thursday.
“The case is an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on the 25th of February from Milan, Italy for a brief business visit. He fell ill on the 26th February and was transferred to Lagos State Biosecurity Facilities for isolation and testing,” the Lagos State Ministry of Health also said in a statement.
“#COVID2019 infection was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital @LUTHofficial, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control @NCDCgov.
“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital (Mainland Hospital) in Yaba, Lagos.”
It is the third reported case of Coronavirus in Africa after Egypt and Algeria; the suspect in the former, a foreigner, later tested negative to the virus. In Algeria, an Italian who arrived Algiers on February 17 tested positive.
Last Thursday, the deputy senate leader, Ajayi Borrowfice, lamented Nigeria’s poor preventive measures towards COVID-19.
Earlier, the World Health Organisation, in preparation for an eventual importation of the disease had listed 13 Africa countries (Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Sudan, Angola, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Tunisia) as having the highest ‘importation risk’.
These countries, according to the WHO, are the top priority for preparedness measures due to their direct links or a high volume of travel to China.
Consumer protection agency fumes
Meanwhile, against the background of the frustration experienced by Nigerians seeking basic safety apparel, the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on Friday railed against undue exploitation of consumers by retailers of the safety products.
“It has come to the attention of the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) that certain suppliers and retailers are taking undue advantage of citizens and engaging in unconscionable trade practices with respect to basic safety and protective apparel such as face masks and latex gloves, as well as personal hygiene products like sanitisers and anti-bacterial wipes, because these products are relevant and necessary in preventing infection or spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus),” a statement signed by Babatunde Irukera, FCCPC chair, said.
“This unusual and inordinate practice of unreasonably increasing the price of these products in an indiscriminate manner, on account of the national public health concern (Coronavirus) violates both moral codes and extant law.
“Abusing citizens’ sensitivity, apprehension, anxiety and vulnerability, especially during emergencies that could adversely affect national security is a violation of law.”
The FCCPC noted specifically that Section 17(s) of the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) prohibits “obnoxious trade practices”, or the “unscrupulous exploitation of consumers”.
The Commission said its surveillance efforts have revealed that some otherwise reputable pharmacies and department stores are engaging in price gouging and manipulating supplies in a manner that distorts the market, or temporarily restricts availability in order to unreasonably/unfairly increase prices.
“Any conspiracy, combination, agreement or arrangement to unduly limit or manipulate supply, in order to unreasonably enhance price or otherwise restrain competition is a criminal offence under S.108(1)(b) and (c), FCCPA,” the commission said.
“Any exercise or exploitation of undue pressure in selling or the sale of goods or services, or price manipulation between displayed, and selling price are also serious violations of the FCCPA under Sections 115(3) and 124(1). Taking advantage of the possibility of infection by a dangerous communicable disease to control supply, or unilaterally increase prices is predatory as it preys on the desperation of citizens.
“Considering the circumstances and the vital national interest/security this illegal conduct undermines, the Commission intends to strongly enforce the full letter of the law, including the fullest extent of penalties associated with this conduct.”