Coronavirus is an affront to our national identity, and our pride. It hits at the heart of our Nigerianness. A global pandemic in Nigeria, makes us acknowledge our weaknesses.
We have been used to surviving, despite all historical and present challenges, making do, coping. This particularly Nigerian resilience and creativity has a name in many of our languages, and fuels our ability to continue in spite of challenges. My father says “man no die, man no rotten” – even barely surviving, we are still alive.
The first death in Nigeria from coronavirus seems to have started the discussion and increased awareness and urgency that the pandemic is really here and that we may experience similarly high infection and mortality rates as we have seen in other countries if we do not act individually and collectively.
We don’t want to believe that coronavirus can kill us. We are Nigerian after all. However, we have the largest population of people living in extreme poverty in the world, with nearly half the population classified as under 2 USD per day (c22,000 NGN per month). Put differently, one out of six of the global population living in extreme poverty live in Nigeria. The virus and the associated economic challenges are going to affect those in extreme poverty the hardest.
We have a large urban population with 20 cities across the countries that have over 500,000 people. In Lagos there are more than 100 slum areas, of which approximately 40 are recognised by the Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency. In these locations, there is insecurity of tenure as government interventions, floods, fires, and other shocks can quickly change living conditions. According to work Dalberg conducted in 2017, there are over 165,000 households in Lagos that do not have access to any kind of sanitation solution. Further, water access is costly – whether provided by the government or via borehole.
People are making do – they are managing their day-to-day activities between home and work, and raising children – without access to sanitation solutions. However, the immediate impacts of coronavirus are likely to have a more significant impact on communities that cannot practice “social distancing”, particularly due to the number of people living in close proximity.
Most Nigerians live in rural areas, where agriculture dominates. There is limited mechanisation or irrigation so day-to-day work is labour-intensive and dependent on the increasingly variable rains. Population density is lower, but access to markets and transportation is limited. People are making do – they are managing their day-to-day activities between selling produce, running businesses, and farming – without enough income, and in many cases fully dependent on their harvest for food. If farmers cannot farm and agricultural markets are closed, food security will be affected – and we already have millions of people who are food insecure.
Until a few weeks ago the global pandemic seemed very far away for Africans and Nigerians, in particular. Across the socioeconomic spectrum, there have been doubts that coronavirus will affect day-to-day lives or livelihoods. As news arrived, fake news followed. In the fake news we saw the hopefulness that we would be spared, the attempts to make do – that we could drink hot water, that coronavirus was not going to survive warm temperatures.
It was easier to believe this fake news than to believe that up to 8 million people could die of coronavirus in Nigeria if it follows the same pattern as other countries, and assuming we don’t take urgent measures to reduce contagion and reduce mortality, and more people could die if these measures don’t balance the socioeconomic impacts. As it seems many countries globally have done too little too late. We can learn from them, and we can do better, continuing to take decisive action and collective responsibility.
What must we do, individually?
- Stop shaking hands, snapping, or holding hands. Stop hugging. Keep a distance to people, 1-2m is advisable
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap water or else use hand sanitizer if water is not available.
- Stop touching your face, eyes, mouth, nose.
- Keep everything clean. Do our small part to keep our workplaces and homes clean. Use sapele water, other disinfectants.
- Stay at home if you can. Do not go to market except once per week. Work from home if this is an option.
- Stop spreading fake news.
- Reach out to your community and your elders to make sure they are taking measures to reduce exposure (please limit contacts, so instead reach out by phone)
- Take breaks from social media
The state and federal ministries of health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) are working to deploy testing capacity, isolation units, and other equipment. As a country, we are entering uncertain territory – and will require public, private, and social sector leadership to turn the economic tide that is coming. As we have seen in other countries, significant community spread suggests that lockdowns and border closures will no longer be effective – and we do not yet have enough testing capacity to know where we stand. Significant investments and interventions will be needed, some have arrived and more will come in the coming months.
What must our leaders do?
- Without a significant social safety net, practicing social distancing will be especially difficult as people need to earn an income. We should
- Upscale testing capacity significantly
- Deploy water and sanitation solutions in high density areas that lack reliable solutions – hand washing stations and toilets, with involvement from communities on how to manage them sustainably
- Develop relief funds that reduce the economic impact of any measures that restrict movement, using existing channels and digital financial services where possible
We have to agree that the global pandemic is not coming – it is here. And now is the time to act.