AN APPRAISAL OF THE CHALLENGES OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON URBAN YOUTHS IN NIGERIA
Aminu Zubairu Surajo
Department of Social Development, School of Rural Technology and Entrepreneurship Development, Kano State Polytechnic
The novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 has infected more than eleven million people worldwide[i]. Possibly for the first time in several decades, the world is witnessing a type of disease that affects many people regardless of their class, gender or race[ii]. Numerous countries across the world are experiencing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 pandemic (Wertheim-Heck, 2020). The people of Nigeria are not exempt they are facing the same challenges. This is a huge concern and a dangerous situation for the country and government because the pandemic is already triggering both social and economic crises and this compounds the already high unemployment, poverty and delinquency rate among urban youths in the country.
The impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on urban youths
The latest World of Work and the International Labour Organization (ILO) report on COVID-19 predicts that the equivalent of 22 million full-time jobs will be lost in Africa in the second quarter of the year 2020 alone. Furthermore, 26.4% of young labourers in Africa are working in an endangered and vulnerable sector, and only 17.8% of youths received conditional cash transfer programme and unemployment insurance as part of social protection. These statistics do not only comprise youths, but adolescents from the age of 15-34 years-old that make up close to half of the continent’s working-age population[iii]. Therefore, with the COVID-19 outbreak the opportunity for jobs for these youths are hardly available.
Furthermore, the nature of this recession is relatively different from the financial crisis of 2008 regarding aggregate demand and supply, and so our responses also need to be different. From the demand-side perspective, the Coronavirus crisis decreases private consumption, and neither the Nigerian government nor SMEs have the market infrastructure (such as e-commerce markets or internet connectivity) to assist in alleviating this shock. From the supply side, the Coronavirus crisis affects workers in terms of employment and access to work, and the virus mitigation measures lead to a slowdown of economic activity[iv].
The upsurge in poverty because of COVID-19 is expected to exceed the rise in the rates of poverty in the aftermath of the 2009 global financial crisis. Based on the 2009 experience, without targeted policy intervention, it is likely that youths will again be disproportionately affected by a global recession in this pandemic, with a higher percentage of youths entirely dependent upon their parents, making no financial contributions to their household economies. This condition slows their chances of opportunity during the recovery. In light of the threat to the livelihoods of many urban youths, it is crucial that measures to ease the financial impacts on households are comprehensive and sufficient to bridge the gap resulting from loss of earnings[v].
Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on youth education systems all over the world, with far-reaching social consequences. Nigeria is not an exception. According to UNESCO[vi], so far 191 countries have implemented nationwide school closures, resulting in over 91 percent of enrolled students, or 1.5 billion people, not being able to go to school. Many youths face disruptions to their education of uncertain duration, with varying levels of alternative delivery methods. These disruptions negatively impact learning, access to nutrition, and consequently, graduation rates. School closures have a particularly adverse effect on poorer students, students without stable internet access at home, and children relying on help from their schools in meeting their nutritional and health needs. The situation is especially acute for girls and young women who are disproportionately excluded from education[vii].
Social policy response to COVID-19 pandemic on urban youths
Social protection measures such as emergency food support, cash transfer payments, unemployment support etc., are being expanded in some jurisdictions on a temporary basis. If such measures are to “leave no one behind,” it is crucial that they take into account the particular concerns and needs of youths, especially those who are not included in family-based disbursements or employment-based social protection systems, such as those with informal jobs. The policies implemented during a crisis do not only safeguard the livelihoods and financial security of youths in the short term, but also serve as the basis for building resilient social safety nets that reduce the vulnerability of youths in the long term[viii].
Expanding access to health care has been a critical aspect of the COVID-19 response. In situations where health care coverage is linked to employment, youths experience barriers to access as they are disproportionately unemployed, work in the informal sector, or are among the working poor. Services targeting the needs of young women and girls have been, in some cases, disrupted or have had their resources diverted[ix]. As the virus can affect and be transmitted by everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic also underscores the extent to which universal health coverage is of paramount societal interest. To ensure effective access to health care for all youths during this time, long-recognized structural barriers, such as those posed by language or by facilities that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities, must now be dismantled. The COVID-19 pandemic makes clear the extent to which such barriers not only negatively affect the health of those who are excluded from health care, but also imperil the public health response required to interrupt the transmission of the virus[x].
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis and mitigation measures also have implications for mental health. Many youths with mental health conditions are experiencing a deterioration of their health status. Prolonged social isolation and stress are expected to increase the incidences of youths with mental health conditions. Mental health therefore should be integrated as part of the broader health response[xi].
In Nigeria, austerity measures implemented by many states have left public services directed toward youths underfunded and weakened the national responses to effectively address COVID-19 pandemic; for example, entrepreneurial training, employment generation, and poverty alleviation. This should serve as a lesson in terms of the policy response to the pandemic. COVID-19 will likely stretch expenditures of governments and the corresponding deep recession will dramatically shrink fiscal revenues.
Solutions to the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic on urban youths
The Nigerian government is committed to finding a lasting solution to the problem. Both state and federal governments took drastic measures in order to control the pandemic. Isolation centres were established in all the states of the federation, so as to assist the victims. Therefore, members of the general public should abide by the rules and regulations imposed by the government, such as lock downs, interstate travel restrictions, social distancing, wearing of masks outdoors, washing hands regularly etc., all with the aim of protecting the citizens.
Based on the above measures, it is hoped that the social intervention and palliatives provided by the government and private individuals reach each and every poor household. The pandemic and economic recession may further fuel stigma and discrimination against certain groups of youths, which in turn would further exclude them from maintaining their livelihoods. These disparate impacts should inform the comprehensive policy response to this crisis. All these programmes are targeted toward reducing the effect of COVID-19 pandemic
Unemployment, poverty and other critical experiences among youths during the COVID-19 pandemic are huge challenges that require players across the development sector in the country to innovate and adjust our current systems of support. This enables us to provide a job-rich recovery, in order to improve economic resilience and reduce the impact of the pandemic and its economic fallout on youths.
[i] WHO, (2020) Global Surveillance for human infection with coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Interim Guidance? Whyte, W., 1980. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Project for Public Spaces, New York, NY.
[ii] Loftstrom, M., Martin, B., (2020). COVID-19 and Crime in Major California Cities. Public Policy Institute of California.
[iii] International Labour Organization, (2018). World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018, International Labour Organization.
[iv] Null, S., Smith, H., (2020). COVID-19 Could Affect Cities for Years. Here Are 4 Ways They’re Coping Now. The City Fix: World Resource Institute (WRI).
[v] Sandford, A., (2020). Coronavirus: Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90 countries call for confinement. Euronews.
[vi] United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2020
[vii] Corbera, E., Anguelovski, I., Honey-Rosés, J., Ruiz-Mallén, I., (2020). Academia in the Time of COVID-19: Developing an Ethics of Care. Planning Theory & Practice. doi:10.1080/14649357.2020.1757891
[viii] Lederer, E.M., (2020). Crime Rates Fall Around the World as the Coronavirus Keeps People Inside. TIME. Lehman, J., 2019. A brief explanation of the Overton Window [WWW Document]. https://www.mackinac.org/OvertonWindow.
[ix] WHO, (2020) Global Surveillance for human infection with coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Interim Guidance? Whyte, W., 1980. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Project for Public Spaces, New York, NY.
[x] WHO 2020, as above
[xi] Lee, V.J. (2020). Interrupting Transmission of COVID-19: Lessons from Containment Efforts in Singapore. J Travel Med., 27 (3): taaa039. doi:10.1093/jtm/taaa039
No 15 – This blog article is written under the auspices of the British Academy supported Critical Thinking and Writing Workshop for Urban Studies Researchers in Nigeria.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.