Martha Ogochukwu has a degree in Political Science and was a beneficiary of the Learn Africa scholarship programme in 2018-19, thanks to which she studied a Master’s degree in Political Science at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB). She lives in Wukari Taraba State, where she is a Graduate Teaching Assistan at the Federal University of Wukari and hopes to be upgraded to an Assistant Lecturer when she gets her Master’s certificate from the UAB.
Nigerians do not trust that the authorities are competently and transparently handling the situation
It’s only been a couple of months since the discovery of the deadly Covid-19 global pandemic; but, sadly, the disruptive effects occasioned by this unprecedented crisis is taking an insufferable toll on every aspect of human existence. As elsewhere in the world, Nigeria is not insulated from the scourge and its accompanying severe realities.
Nigeria recorded its index case in the country’s commercial hub and most populated city, Lagos, on February 27, 2020. It was an imported case from Italy. Since then, we have seen what started as a slow rise in the number of affected cases to a wildfire escalation in such a short timeframe. As of May 26, Nigeria has reported a total of 8344 confirmed cases, out of which 2385 have recovered and 249 died – Nigeria is fourth on the list of high risk countries in Africa.
This is scary, I know, but let’s get down to what the government is doing to tackle the situation head-on.
Nigeria’s efforts in flattening the Covid-19 curve
- A presidential task force was set up with extraordinary powers to lead the fight against Covid-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) receives support to boost its operations. In like manner, upon reporting an index case in a state, the state governors receive funds from the central government to aid them in slowing down the spread of the virus in their various states.
- The Nigerian government implemented an initial two-week full lockdown on March 30 in three major cities – Abuja (the Federal Capital Territory), Lagos and Ogun – and shortly after this, state governments followed suit with different versions of lockdown in their respective states. These restrictions are, however, gradually being eased down in phases to cushion the austere effects the closure was bringing to our economy. In these major cities, people (who do not work from home) can now go about their daily hustles from 6am to 8pm only, after which an overnight curfew is enforced.
- Meanwhile, social distancing rules remain paramount and face masks are mandatory. Essential vendors and institutions are mandated to provide water, soaps and hand sanitizers to customers/clients at entrances. Where I reside, with all confirmed 15 cases reported to have recovered, we now have Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to live our normal lives, including going to worship centres. Importantly, however, schools and many public institutions are still shut down.
- To ensure lockdown orders are strictly adhered to, our law enforcements have been deployed to the streets. There are also mobile courts in different states across the country that prosecute offenders and fine them on the spot.
- The government has placed a ban on all international flights to further prevent the importation of cases. The extension of flight bans continues as events unfold. However, Nigerians think this directive came pretty late as we had recorded many imported cases prior to the ban.
- Covid-19 tests are being carried out everyday which reveal an exponential rise in the number of new confirmed cases by the hour. So far, we have about 46, 803 tested samples. Clearly, this is a very tiny percentage compared to our over 200 million population.
- Enlightenment programs have been embarked on to educate the masses on the dangers of the virus and the need to observe safety rules, although the robustness of these programs are highly questionable given the level of ignorance of the harm the virus can cause among people.
Nigerians believe the Covid-19 reports are false statistics and an opportunity to embezzle public funds
That being said, Nigerians do not trust that the authorities are competently and transparently handling the situation. For many of us, we are used to looking to ourselves rather than the government for our own safety. Suffice to say that we have a history of distrust and lack of confidence in our political system; so, it is not surprising that Nigerians believe the Covid-19 reports are false statistics and an opportunity to embezzle public funds. For example, people question why our politicians who tested positive publicly announce their status (and recover within a few days) while the identities of the over 8000 reported positive cases are being concealed. For this reason, many Nigerians do not care for social distancing and other safety measures.
Millions are hungry
Similarly, Nigeria has accumulated many funds in donations from well-meaning Nigerians and other international donors. Yet, we do not see much of that being put to good use to fight off Covid-19. Millions are hungry and we hear our government constantly making claims of sharing palliatives to poor and vulnerable Nigerians; but we see how untrue this is, judging from the fact that they do not even have a social register with which to determine the sharing formula. Personally, I do not know of anyone who benefited from the social intervention plans. Also, we do not have many testing and isolation centres; testing kits and other medical equipment are in short supply.
While the government’s efforts in fighting Covid-19 are limited, we have news making the rounds about the possible reopening of schools in June. We are especially concerned about this because we learn traditionally – classroom learning – at best and cannot afford to “endanger” public health. But at the moment, how does the new Coronavirus disease affect us as a people?
Some impacts of Covid-19 on Nigeria and Nigerians so far
- Hunger seems to be the most prevalent effect of the pandemic in Nigeria, even more than the pandemic itself. Most Nigerians depend largely on daily income to survive, but since the lockdown, people could no longer go out to fend for themselves and their family. Worse, there is no hope that the government will feed them. There are scanty cases of food packs being distributed by state governments to the “poor”, but even these palliatives are crumbs because the officials keep the best to themselves. To be fair, some charitable individuals and organizations bail people out from time to time. For some that are not lucky enough to be beneficiaries, they defy lockdown restrictions just to be able to eat and are either being assaulted by law enforcements or punished in other ways. Also, armed robbery and banditry have been on the rise as a result, and the poor masses are still the victims. The economy is gradually unwinding, but with foreign – and even domestic – borders still closed, business is still not as usual, and so hunger continues to ravage the masses.
- The rate of unemployment has skyrocketed from about 16% prior to the pandemic to an overwhelming 33.9% overnight. Many Nigerians have lost their jobs and many more are facing unfriendly pay cuts from their employers. In the private sector, most workers – particularly private school teachers – have been abandoned since the shutdown in March with no pay at all or even food packs. Yet, the prices of goods and services have continued to triple exponentially, regardless.
- There is inequality in education. While many public schools are shut down, an elite class of private schools have since commenced e-learning. They are able to do this because they have the facilities and resources, and the parents of these students are equally capable and sophisticated enough to flow with the turn of events. They can afford stable internet and constant electricity, but to the majority of the masses, this is a luxury. And just in case this is even possible, many teachers, students and their parents/guardians are not computer-oriented and so it will take several months before they are familiar with the technology.
- Orphans and Internally Displaced Persons are not left out in this crisis. In the wake of Covid-19 cases in some parts of Northern Nigeria, hundreds of orphans who live on the streets have been shipped back to their states of origin but it is not what it seems, because their supposed states ship them back, claiming they cannot confirm their identities. How sad that these innocent children are being tossed about that way for over 24 hours in transit and probably without food or water.
- To state the obvious, potable water, stable electricity and internet connection continue to be a luxury for many of us. In my area of residence, we experience more blackouts than we get light as well as poor access to network service.
This is the sad reality we are grappling with at the moment. Although with some slight variations, I believe that the effects of Covid-19 in Nigeria are following a similar trend to elsewhere in the world. While the epidemic exposes the flaws in our system, it avails us an opportunity to put our humanity, creativity and finesse to the test. If our government cares about the masses, this is the time to prove it by bridging these loopholes. We await to see how things unfold in the coming weeks. Hopefully, the globe defeats this monster and our lives are back to normal again.