INNOCENT UNAJI: COVID-19: NIGERIA’S STRUGGLE TO CONTROL THE PANDEMIC by Angela Odah
On Thursday 27 February 2020, Nigeria announced its first case of COVID-19, when a foreigner who flew into the country was tested positive for the virus. This led to the activation of the national emergency coronavirus operation center. The Federal Government established a Presidential Task Force (PTF) for the control of the virus. This is the apex political authority. National efforts in the response to the pandemic is coordinated by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health.
Since the first case was confirmed in February, infection rates have
increased, spreading to almost all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).1 This has forced the various government at the state level to introduce diverse measures to control the spread of the virus.
NIGERIA’S RESPONSE STRATEGY
The country’s COVID-19 response plan is anchored on 10 pillars which include the establishment of isolation centers across the federation, scaling up surveillance, testing, contact tracing, case management of critically sick COVID-19 patients, airport closure for international and local flights, land border closure, closure of places of worship, sporting and entertainment centers and the suspension of other crowd pulling events such as burial and wedding ceremonies. Other pillars of the plan include risk communication and coordination and resource mobilization.2
Measures adopted by various state governments to contain the spread of the virus include the following:
(a) Enactment of legal frameworks giving legal backing to lockdowns and
civil rights restrictions;
(b) Closure of educational institutions from kindergarten to tertiary institutions across the country;
(c) Stay at home directives, including suspension of public and private
economic activities; (d) Social distancing;
(e) Closure of states/national borders including inter- state travel bans, except for essential services;
(f) Economic stimulus packages and essential palliatives;
(g) Contact-tracing and other disease preventive actions-such as fumigation, quarantine and self-isolation;3
Categories of work classified as essential services were identified and
announced and their workers were excepted from restrictions of movement. Funds were released to the various health agencies to prepare to battle the spread of the virus in the country. This included ten (10) billion naira support the Federal Government gave to the Lagos state government, which has remained the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.
PRESIDENTIAL BROADCASTS ON MEASURES TO CONTAIN THE VIRUS
After the initial measures to prevent and control the virus, President Muhammadu Buhari on March 29,2020 made his first nationwide broadcast. He announced a 14-day lockdown in the first instance for Lagos state, neighboring Ogun state and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). According to the President, the lockdown was imposed to enforce social distancing. He also said in the broadcast that “The most vulnerable in our society” would receive conditional cash transfer (CCT) of N20,000 for the next two months. Other palliatives he announced included food ration to vulnerable households and payment of daily allowances to Health care workers.
The 2nd presidential broadcast took place on Monday 13 April 2020. In it, President Buhari extended the lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states and Abuja, for another 14 days.
Kano state which was experiencing unexplained increase in death rate, was included in the 14 days lockdown, with the President promising that a Federal Government team would proceed to Kano, to help the state government fight against the epidemic in the state. The President further stated that over 7000 health workers had been trained for the management of COVID-19. The President also announced an increase in the palliatives and directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. President Buhari also directed that key ministries – Industry, Trade and Investment, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education ministers jointly work to develop a comprehensive policy for a Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19.
The ministers are to be supported by the Presidential Economic Council and Economic Sustainability Committee in executing this mandate.
EFFORTS OF FINDING HOME GROWN REMEDY FOR TREATMENT OF COVID-19
Early in May 2020,the Federal Government through the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health,Mashi Abdullahi asked the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to access the formulation of a phyto-medicine based cough mixture/syrup for the management of COVID-19 patients. The inter agency memo said the ingredients that made up the formulation are medicinal plants that are
widely used as food materials and medicines in the country. According to the memo, they include Allium sativum (garlic),Allium cepa (onions), zingiber officinale (ginger), piper guineense (West African black pepper) and Adansonia digitata (baobab fruits).
The Permanent Secretary went on to state in the memo that “these
medicinal plants have documented scientific evidence of long use for the management of cough and other respiratory mucolytic,antitussive,expectorant,soothing,demulcent,anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects”. As at the time of this write-up, NAFDAC is yet to announce the outcome of its assessment tests.
PERSONAL PROTECTION EQUIPMENT AND INFECTION OF HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Though the President’s second address6, stated that over 7000 healthcare workers had been trained on infection prevention and control, while deploying NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation, the incidence of provision of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers remained problematic and inadequately resolved. This had led to the resultant infection of scores of healthcare workers in the course of the management of the pandemic across the country.
During this year’s International Nurses Week, the President of the National
Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM),(an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress) Comrade Abdratiu Adeniji at a press conference said data from the NANNM COVID-19 situation room revealed that “almost
1000 nurses and midwives have been exposed to Coronavirus out of which
about 250 are currently on isolation and about 85 out of 600 have tested
He continued that “over 2000 Nigerian healthcare professionals, especially nurses and doctors have tested positive to COVID-19, while about 15 healthcare professionals have lost their lives”.7
The President of the union attributed the rising cases of coronavirus infection among nurses and midwives to the lack of adequate knowledge on how to use personal protective equipment while attending to infected patients. He also said the nation’s healthcare system had been overstretched and on the verge of being overwhelmed.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) prescription is 40 nurses per 100,000 population, but Nigeria is operating 5-6 nurses to 100,000 population”. the Nurses Association President added.8
On May 17,2020, the Daily Trust Newspapers reported that 24 health workers had been infected with COVID-19 in Bauchi state, while they were discharging their professional duties at different hospitals across the state.
The paper quoted the Executive Chairman of the Bauchi State Primary
Healthcare Development Agency Dr. Rilwani Mohammed, who also chairs the surveillance and contact tracing response committee on COVID-19 as announcing the figures.9 Previously, the Premium Times, had also reported that the Jigawa State Government had announced that two of its health care workers were infected at the Federal Medical Centre and the Specialist hospital both in the state. This was disclosed by the state commissioner for health and chairman of the COVID-19 Task Force in the state, Mr Abba Zakari.10
The general complaints by doctors and other health care workers are that
the PPE are inadequate in many of the isolation centers across the country, while the allowances paid per month are sometimes as poor as just N5,000
LEGAL FRAMEWORK TO ENFORCE LOCKDOWN AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS
The legal framework used by the Federal Government and the State governments to effect the control measures we have earlier highlighted include the quarantine coronavirus (COVID-19) and other Infectious Diseases Regulations and Executive Orders. They take their legitimacy from section 8 of the quarantine act CAP Q2 Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. The lockdown emergency response measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the country are made up of measures that were
largely borrowed from the countries of the developed North where lockdown of parts or the entire country had been applied. This is essentially about stopping all non-essential movements, ban on public gatherings and requirement for people to stay at home. The measures have been recommended by health experts as strategy to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Some have cynically christened these measures adopted by Nigeria and other developing African countries as “Cut and Paste”. This is because of the feeling that giving the environment and circumstances in most of our cities, some of the measures, such as social distancing, regular washing of hands and stay at home orders are measures that will be very difficult to observe. With respect to the stay at home directive, it was observed that in an economy where between 65-70% of the workforce operate in the informal sector and depend on almost going out daily to earn a living and putting
food on the family’s table, asking them to stay at home for an extended period without providing a source of livelihood was patently problematic. Similarly, in crowded townships where many people share one room apartments and where water provision is hard to come by, preaching that people should maintain social distance and wash hands regularly is a good policy on paper, but difficult to implement practically due to the above mentioned constraints.
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON NIGERIA
As earlier indicated, during his April 13,2020 address to the nation, President Buhari directed a number of his cabinet ministers to work as a committee to come up with an economic blueprint in the light of the effect of the pandemic on the economy. This is because the virtual shut down of the global economy has also direct impact on the Nigerian economy.
According to the Director General Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, the global economic recession which has been precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has devastating effect on the Nigerian economy. This is as a result of the structure of the Nigerian economy which depends on Oil for 90% of the export earnings, even though it accounts for about 50% of government revenue. The plunge of oil prices to below $20 per barrel which was triggered by weakening oil demand from China and other major economics and worsened by the OPEC Price war, between Saudi Arabia and Russia, has combined to throw the fiscal situation into a very risky one for the country.
Mr. Akabueze projected that oil revenues as at the first week of May 2020 declined by nearly 90% due to:Oil production: 2020 average production now projected at 1.7 million
barrels per day (mbpd) vs the 2020 budget of 2.8 mbpdOil prices: 2020 average oil prices projected at $20 per barrel vs the 2020 budget benchmark of $55 per barrel.
He further projected a decline in estimated Net oil and Gas revenue available for the Federation Account Allocation Committee by 80% from N 5.47 trillion to N1.12 trillion. Similarly, other projections from Customs Revenue VAT revenue and Federal Inland Revenue Services as well as from other sources were drastically reviewed down wards. For the 2020 budget alone, the Director General is projecting a budget deficit from N2.175 trillion to N 5.36 trillion.
Even though since this presentation in the first week of May, the price of crude oil in the international market has begun to rise and this will continue as major economies in the developed world resumes economic activities to some degree in the coming weeks. The impact of Nigeria’s heavy dependence on a mono commodity will be most severely felt in the coming months. Nigeria recently was able to obtain $3.4 billion draw down facility from the IMF in order to address the financial shortfall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has therefore further compounded Nigeria’s debt crisis and the attendant problems on the economy which is now having to mortgage more resources to service these mounting debts, instead of using these resources to build concrete infrastructure for the nation’s industrial development.
THE ALMAJIRI SYSTEM AND COVID 19
An online publication, 1st news reported the Governor of Kaduna State, (one of the 19 Northern State Governors) on May 6,2020, as saying that “The Northern Governors Forum took a collective decision at a meeting we had about 2 weeks ago that we will end the almajiri system completely; part of the steps we took was to return them to their states of origin. We also decided that each state government will take delivery of these almajiri and return them to their parents and ensure that they go to school”12
According to Taiwo Hassan Adebayo of Premium Times, “the almajiri system is the over a century old practice of poor rural parents who send
their children to live with mallams in pursuit of Islamic knowledge, which the children now receive under violent and torrid conditions”.13 Characterizing the almajiri system further, the Guardian Newspaper in April 2020 quoted the Kano State Commissioner for Education, Muhammed Sanusi-Kiru,thus: “No adequate conveniences, shelter and other hygiene facilities. Three thousand children live in a small apartment without proper care, hygiene and necessary needs”.
In a statement issued July 2019, quoted by the Premium Times, UNICEF
said eight million of Nigeria’s 10 million out-of-school children were in the 10 Northern states of Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba and the FCT. The UN body further estimated that in the North West and North East, 35 percent and 29 percent of Muslim children respectively receive Quranic education which does not include basic skills such as literacy and numeracy, therefore government “considers children attending such schools to be officially out of school”.
The above provides the context under which the Northern Governors Forum controversially took its decision to expel almajiris to their states of origin
over Corona virus. Mr. Muhammed Sanusi-Kiru, the Education Commissioner of Kano state stated that the action of the Northern Governors Forum was “to safeguard public health and stem the spread of the pandemic”, according to the Guardian.
In his May 6,2020 media interview, Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state was reported as saying that the almajiri system has been dismantled in the state with the repatriation of over 30,000 of these street children to other states. As if to justify the decision to expel these unfortunate and abandoned children and teens, the affected states in the North used every available opportunity to showcase the number of returning or expelled Almajiris that has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Governor El-Rufai in the media interview earlier referred to, stated that of a recent batch of 169 almajiri of Kaduna state origin brought in from Kano,65 of them tested positive for Coronavirus. For him, because the Kano situation was overwhelming, if the Almajiri were not brought back, they would have simply died in Kano, as no one would have wanted to look after them and test them.
The Premium Times of 9 May 2020 also reported that in Jigawa state,24 more almajiris repatriated from neighboring Kano state tested positive for COVID-19, bringing to 40 of the 148 so far tested, from a total of 607 sample collected. It was reported that over 1000 almajiris were being quarantined at an NYSC orientation center near the state capital, Dutse.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), an Abuja based CSO on May 13,2020, in a statement sharply decried the failure of government in managing the welfare of the almajiri children. The CISLAC said that the “unnecessary repatriation of almajiris from one state to another is in total contravention of the Child Rights Act (2003)”, It condemned the decision of the Northern Governors Forum in their teleconference of 21st April 2020, to repatriate these vulnerable children, rather than finding ways of providing social safety-nets as well as healthcare for them. The CSO called for the development of a “pragmatic strategy to get the almajiris back to school”, and the “provision of temporary shelters that are gender responsive” for the children during the pandemic and ensure that all tests and treatment for coronavirus are done under humane conditions. The statement was signed by Auwal Ibrahim Musa, the Executive Director of the group.
OTHER CHALLENGES OF FIGHTING COVID-19 HUMAN RIGHT VIOLATIONS
In striving to ensure the success of its lockdown and restrictions measures, some state governments and law enforcement agencies have gone overboard in trampling on the rights of its citizens, when these measures in their various forms came into being, about 30 Nigerians have lost their lives to the brutality of combined team of police, army and other security agencies in the country. The Acting National Convener of CSO Alliance on
How The Poor will Survive COVID-19, Barrister Femi Falana,Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),said recently at the Webinar conference held by the Oyo state branch of the Alliance, that his group will provide free legal services to the relatives of all those 30 or more who were killed during the enforcement of the lockdown, as the action amounted to a violation of their fundamental right to life, guaranteed by both the Nigerian constitution and the UN charter. 18
The News agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the security task force in
Jos Plateau state killed a 300 level student of University of Jos, allegedly
over violations in lockdown restrictions, on May 12,2020. This was confirmed by the media officer of the task force, Ibrahim Shittu, who admitted the incident adding that the personnel involved in the act had been arrested and detained. Grace Pam the Zonal Coordinator, North Central office of the National Human Rights Commission, disclosed that the 20-year-old student, Rinji Bala, was tortured and gruesomely killed, saying that this is inhuman and a gross violation of his right to life as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended and other international instruments that Nigeria is a signatory to.19
There were also several reports of state governments taking actions that border on trampling on rights of citizens. For example, the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike ordered the demolition of 2 hotels in Port Harcourt the state capital, on allegation that they breached the lockdown rules of the state government. The same Governor at one stretch ordered the auctioning of over 200 vehicles for breaking stay at home restrictions. Others, like his Kano state counterpart, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje personally intercepted several vehicles on lockdown violation and got the state mobile court to impose heavy fines on them.
However, other less draconian measures were also taken. In one of the instances of punishment for violation of lockdown measures, two Imams in Kano state found guilty of holding congregational prayers during lockdown were ordered by the Mobile court, to sweep the District head’s residence for a week as well as pay a fine of N10,000.
In a statement by the spokesman of the Kano state ministry of Justice, Baba
Jibo-Ibrahim, he said to ensure that the order of the mobile court was carried out, local officials were stationed at the District head’s residence to supervise the sweeping.
PRESSURE TO OPEN WORSHIP HOUSES
As the Muslim fasting period was coming to an end, a number of the states in the North, namely Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Zamfara, Adamawa and Borno bowed to pressure of the Islamic religious clerics and lifted the ban on religious gatherings. This was despite the appeal from the chairman of the presidential task force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who is also the secretary to the government of the Federation. Cross River state and Ebonyi state also joined in opening places of worship despite the federal
government frowning on this policy, reports the Nation newspaper of May
Even the respected senior Catholic clergy, Cardinal John Oniyekan joined in mounting pressure for the resumption of worship places. In a press statement he issued on 14th May 2020 in Abuja, he concluded thus:
“It should be clear by now that COVID-19 is not just a medical issue.
It doesn’t seem to me wise for government to be relying on medical experts alone. We have seen the economic and social fallouts, especially of the lockdown measures.
I plead that the religious dimension be given more serious attention, especially as religion impacts every aspect of the life of most Nigerians.
It is unwise and even unscientific, to deny or neglect the impact of faith and prayers in the healing process, especially in the case of this virus for which no sure scientific solution has yet been found” 22
PRESSURE MOUNTS FOR REOPENING OF ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES
As at May 29,2020, total number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria stood at: Confirmed cases- 9,302
Discharged cases- 2,697
Despite the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, pressure has continued to mount, as we have seen in the rest of the world for opening of economic and other social activities. While in the developed countries of Europe, North America and Asia, emphasis has been placed on testing of a large segment of the populace, Nigeria is among the countries that hasn’t done well in the area of testing. Even in the African continent, it is lagging far behind South Africa, Ghana and Egypt having tested under 50,000 of its 200 million citizens since the virus was uncovered on February 27 on our shores. It’s projected target of testing up to 2 million people in a few months is similarly not impressive given the population of this country. Therefore, the increasing number of cases that the country is recording as a result of
increased testing may not be a good yardstick to argue against the reopening of economic activities.
In the coming weeks, the country will struggle with measures it needs to adopt, for it to feel safe enough to open the gates of our schools, entertainment centers and other facets of our economic and national life. As it has done with measures aimed at containing and controlling the pandemic, Nigerian authorities will follow closely the experiences from the global North in seeking to reopen its society to social interaction amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the new normal of wearing masks in public spaces and social distancing.
- Only Cross River state is yet to declare an index case
- See Africa News. Coronavirus – Nigeria: UN,Nigerian Government launch COVID-19 basket fund to harmonize investments.
- Space for Change Policy Paper 011,COVID-19-Human Rights and civil space in Nigeria March 2020;Ikeja, Lagos State
- Paragraph 55 and 56 of president Muhammadu Buhari’s Address on the extension of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown at the State House Abuja, Monday 13th April 2020.
- See premium times online publication of May 8,2020.
- See paragraph 14 of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2nd Address ibid.
- Punch newspaper Lagos May 16, 2020- online edition.
- Punch newspaper ibid
- Daily Trust Newspapers. Abuja, 17 may,2020.
- Premium Times on-line publication, May 9,2020
- Citizens Dialogue session of FGN fiscal policy decisions in response to oil price wars and the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria.
- 1st News, Online newspaper; Lagos; May 6,2020
- Premium Times. Online newspaper publication, May 16 2020
- The Guardian newspapers, Lagos 23 April,2020 online publication.
- Guardian (online) 23 April 2020
- www.premiumtimes.com 9 may 2020
- CISLAC decries failure of system/government in management of the welfare of Almajiri children by Auwal Ibrahim Musa Abuja, May 13,2020.
- Femi Falana, keynote speaker on webinar conference on “how worker can survive COVID-19, Ibadan 19th May 2020
- Premium Times. Online newspaper publication, May 16 2020
- Premium Times. Online newspaper publication, May 8,2020
- The Nation Newspaper, Lagos 15 May,2020.
- A case for the resumption of controlled worship gathering in churches
and mosques” a statement by John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja. 14 May 2020