Check out Global Voices' special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.
Researchers from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria predicted that COVID-19 cases in the country would rise to around 312 by Friday, April 3, 2020, and noted a “steady increase in daily reported cases” since March, 19.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 862,000 people worldwide (editorial note: this number was released on March 31, before the original publication. As of April 3, the number of infected people exceeded one million). As of April 1, Nigeria confirmed 139 cases of COVID-19, with two deaths and nine recoveries.
However, beyond the figures related to COVID-19, structural inequalities in Nigerian society are going to seriously derail the fight against COVID-19.
Social distancing and self-isolation are for the privileged
On March 29, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhar i ordered a two-week confinement to reduce the spread of the virus in the capital Abuja, the megacity Lagos, and the neighboring state of Ogun – all epicenters of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
However, while social distancing and self-isolation have been proven effective in the West, it is absolutely essential to contextualize what this represents for a developing country like Nigeria.
Many Nigerians cannot afford the privilege of self-isolation.
In a common family living in a ramshackle dwelling of the type “face to face”, that is certainly impossible. Many families lack sufficient sleeping areas and have shared bathrooms, toilets and kitchens. In these types of living conditions, confinement and restriction of movement may not produce the desired effect.
The nature and organization of housing in any society is a reflection of the socioeconomic realities in that society, say Lee Ogunshakin and Olatokunbo Osasona, experts in urban development.
Therefore, it is not surprising that, according to the World Bank, many Nigerians live on almost two US dollars a day. That means that of Nigeria's estimated population of 200 million, 69% live below the poverty line.
Many Nigerians depend on daily wages to survive. Predictably, research by SBM Intelligence reveals that the price of staple foods like garri, rice, and tomato has skyrocketed across the country. With the economic realities of confinement, how are these people going to feed their families?
Political scientist Chris Akor, who lives in Alabama, United States, told Global Voices via email that the confinement is “practically an obstruction against the poor”:
How will a man with his wife and say, five children, who live in a one bedroom apartment and who survive on the man's daily earnings of 3,000 nairas (about $ 8 USD), survive for two weeks when the man is unable to go out and earns nothing? The poor are being effectively sacrificed to save the elite and middle class. It will not work. The result is that very soon, there'll be cases of burglaries, arsons, and riots in urban centers where lockdowns persist.
How will a man with his wife and, say, five children, who live in a one-bedroom dwelling and survive on the man's daily earnings of 3,000 naira (about eight US dollars), manage to survive for two weeks when the man does not can you go out and have no profit? Indeed, the poor are being sacrificed to save the elite and the middle class. It will not work. The result is that very soon there will be cases of robberies, arson and disorder in urban centers where confinement persists.
Keith Richards pointed to something similar on Twitter:
So I keep getting tweets that LAGOS is locked down & gov’t is doing a good job. I keep saying all these video’s are middle class areas – these are the real stories! https://t.co/jvr7hTmx5B
– Keith Richards (@ Outsiderinside1) April 1, 2020
SOMEONE IN THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD AT LEAST LISTEN TO CITIZENS LIKE THESE WHO CRY FOR HELP.
I keep receiving tweets that LAGOS is blocked and that the government is doing a good job. I keep saying that all of these videos are from middle class areas – these are the real stories!
The economic palliatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria by COVID-19 were designated to exclude this class of citizens. The rigorous conditions for obtaining family loans are far from the reach of the average person.
However, it is laudable that the Lagos State Government has recently launched an aid package for indigent citizens. The intervention will target 200,000 families to supply them with basic food rations that should last for a period of 14 days:
Lagos State Government has started delivering the promised # Covid19 Emergency Food Response Packages to Vulnerable Families across different LGAs in the State.
These pictures are from EPE and IBEJU LEKKI LGAs. pic.twitter.com/rRXB5lJXd5
– Daddy Fareed (@iam_ademuyiwa) March 31, 2020
The Lagos State Government began delivering the promised emergency food response packages by COVID-19 to vulnerable families, through the various Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state.
These photos are from EPE and IBEJU LEKKI LGAs.
Lagos, the largest city in Africa, has an estimated population of 21 million, 8.5% (1.7 million people) of that population lives in poverty. In 2006, there were 19,667 homes documented in the state of Lagos.
From the beginning, the intervention that the Government made for indigent people in Lagos because of COVID-19 is like a drop of water in the ocean.
Working from home is also expensive for the Nigerian middle class. Each house is a municipal council that provides private electricity, security, water, and internet access.
This means that during confinement, many middle-class Nigerian households will spend more money on fuel for their electricity generators. Without power, they also cannot pump water from wells.
Internet access in Nigeria is slow and expensive.
However, internet data is cheaper in Nigeria than in other African countries. Stears Business, a digital portal for business news analysis, says a gigabyte of data costs close to “$ 2.78, compared to $ 2.33 in Rwanda, $ 3.63 in Ghana and $ 5.99 in Gabon.” Quartz Africa argues that internet speed on the African continent still falls short compared to the “world minimum standard”.
Consequently, working from home is not very easy on these sides.
Hypocritical Nigerian political leadership
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the putrid weakness of Nigeria's political class
Nigeria's elites live in two separate realities: privately, they live above the law; in public they just say the right thing for the camera.
Three Nigerian authorities – Abba Kyari, Seyi Makinde and Garba Shehu – are powerful illustrations of this double face among the Nigerian ruling class.
On March 24, Abba Kyari, President Buhari's chief of staff, tested positive for coronavirus after a trip to Germany and Egypt, reports the BBC.
Abba Kyari at Siemens Office Germany, March 7th. This picture was received that day from a friend in celebration of another milestone towards improvement of power supply in Nigeria.
He was not on holiday or medical visit. This was service to the nation. pic.twitter.com/35tO7qdbuL
– LMAN ✨ (@scullzs) March 24, 2020
Abba Kyari at the Siemens office in Germany on March 7. That day, this photo was received from a friend celebrating a milestone to improve energy supply in Nigeria.
He was not on vacation or on a medical visit. This was a service for the nation.
What was puzzling was that three days earlier, on March 21, Kyari publicly scolded 25 lawmakers for violating the COVID-19 screening protocol at the airport upon returning from the UK. Rather than self-isolate, lawmakers continued to mingle with their colleagues.
Kyari apparently did not follow his own advice.
Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo state, also had that attitude of being above the law when he presented a political rally in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria, on March 18, against measures of social distancing.
Makinde later apologized for that “lack of judgment.”
Similarly, on March 21, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu challenge government ban on large gatherings. Shehu was the guest speaker at an activity organized by his “old boys” association in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
In Nigeria, the law is aimed at the poor and disadvantaged, while those in power break the law at will.
The measures by COVID-19 will not change this mentality.
As if this were not enough, amid poverty and the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerian House of Representatives lawmakers received a shipment of 400 newly purchased Toyota Camry 2020 model cars:
In other news, the @HouseNGR have started taking delivery of the Toyota Camry 2020 model cars acquired for members as official cars.
Car luxury amidst # COVID19 pandemic & multi-dimensional poverty !!! https: //t.co/wEWNjwwZTg#AskQuestions#TakeResponsibility#OnePerson pic.twitter.com/yzYpqkGbaq
– EiE Nigeria (@EiENigeria) March 27, 2020
In other news, the House of Representatives began receiving shipments of Toyota Camry 2020 model cars purchased for members as official cars.
Luxury cars in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and multidimensional poverty!
On February 18, lawmakers rejected local brands. The new cars cost about 5 billion naira (about $ 13 million), according to the Vanguard newspaper.
Nigeria's ruling class exhibits an agonizing discord with the rest of society that is terribly inhumane — faced with extreme poverty, politicians are more interested in buying luxury cars at the expense of taxpayers.
Expecting the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable to be less important to them is asking for the impossible.
These problems are likely to cause a disaster of any competent intervention that the Nigerian Center for Disease Control is implementing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Thus, beyond the flowery promises made by politicians, many Nigerians are in a difficult situation during this COVID-19 season, and are at the mercy of both the pandemic and financial insecurity.