The coronavirus pandemic has affected Nigerians of all ages and economic status. It has infected and killed elites such as former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and former Oyo state governor, Abiola Ajimobi. But to a greater extent, it has devastated the lives and livelihoods of everyday Nigerians. The global pandemic was unexpected, that is undeniable. But the Nigerian government’s response has only served to exacerbate the spread and economic strains of this health crisis.
The country’s first Coronavirus case was recorded in late February. More than a week later the second case was recorded in Ogun state. But it would take the Federal Government till the 18th of March to review it’s international travel policy and put bans on high case countries such as the United States, UK, South Korea, etc.
From there it was a confused parchment of restrictions that did not add up to a coherent policy. For instance, the Lagos State government banned religious gatherings of over 50 worshipers and then followed up by closing down schools. But markets and factories continued to operate without enforcement of safety guidelines. This sort of incoherent response to the pandemic was replicated by different state governments all over the country and interstate travel continued to go on between high-risk states and states that had not recorded even a single case of the virus.
Denial And Conspiracy Theories
The responses were also marred by anti-intellectualism and denial among sections of Nigeria’s governing class who disregarded public health guidelines and insisted that the pandemic was not real or was not that serious.
Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu on a video that surfaced on the 22nd of March, said Abians were not in danger of the Coronavirus because “Abia is the only state that is mentioned in the Bible. We have been promised by God that none of these diseases will get to us.”
Today more than 385 people have tested positive to the coronavirus in Abia state including Governor Ikpeazu himself.
The uncoordinated response from both State and Federal government officials created doubts about the genuineness of the response. It also spurred conspiracy theories about whether the danger of the pandemic exists in the country.
On the 29th of March, the FG took more proactive action and put Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun states on lockdown. Various state governments imposed lockdowns but failed to execute them in a way beneficial to and workable for, ordinary Nigerians. There were no palliative measures. There was no classification in most states of which professions constituted essential workers. The Nigerian economy being predominantly informal, most workers got their income daily through informal economic activities. Given the country’s high poverty rate, many Nigerians did not have any savings on which to fall back on.
Did they really expect that people in this situation would comply with the lockdown without the provision of palliative measures? Without relief such as food, freezes on rent and electricity tariffs, and stimulus packages, that was a nonstarter. The result was a lockdown compliance rate that wasn’t high enough to nip the rise of the infection rate in the country. And a spike in violent crimes like robberies and gang activity
Decades of endemic corruption also did a great disservice to the country’s COVID-19 response. The healthcare system remains severely underdeveloped due to neglect and defunding by successive state and federal administrations. It has also suffered from massive embezzlement of allocated funds by senior officials, bringing it the brink of crisis. In early June, the National Assembly cut funding for local and primary healthcare services by over 40%.
There is also the problem of corruption from road safety and security personnel. As many states sealed their borders and imposed new guidelines for transportation workers, the restrictions did not yield tangible results. This is because enforcement was almost non-existent. The government personnel supposed to enforce these regulations decided to extort transport workers instead.
Borders remained accessible for those who were willing to pay the bribes. This completely defeated the entire point of even closing down interstate travel. The only thing that was achieved was a systematic reduction in the standard of living of ordinary Nigerians and an exacerbation of wealth inequality as the economic implications of this pandemic overwhelmingly hurt ordinary working people.
Phased Easing of Lockdown Amid Rising Cases
Normally countries that phase out lockdown restrictions are countries that have brought the coronavirus spread under control. Or at least have declining case numbers and mass testing abilities to monitor against a resurgence of cases.
But at the time the Federal government made the announcement, cases were on the rise. The number of confirmed Coronavirus cases has more than doubled since then. More than 15500 new infections were recorded in June alone according to data from the Nigerian Center For Disease Control (NCDC).
Nigeria is the third-worst hit African country after South Africa and Egypt respectively. The pandemic has killed 645 Nigerians already. And as the Nigerian government continues to relax it’s lockdown restrictions without any strategy on curbing spread, it is unclear when the country will be free of this pandemic.