NIGERIAN CITIES AND COVID-19: KEY LESSONS AND RESEARCH IMPERATIVES
Dr. J. Akinyele Oluyitan
Department of History and International Studies, Ajayi Crowther University
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is not the first pandemic in Nigeria (and other parts of the world). There has been Spanish flu (1918-19), Lassa fever (1969), AIDS (1986) and Ebola (2014). However, the coronavirus pandemic, which started in the country on February 27, 2020, when the first index case was discovered, appears to be unique in terms of its spread (highly contagious), morbidity and mortality. The index case was an Italian who flew into the country. The pandemic has brought about a lot of changes, which have implications on the socio-economic and political life of the people of Nigeria. Educational institutions, factories, places of worship and entertainment centres among others were closed down. In fact, there was a total lockdown of two states and the Federal Capital Territory (Lagos, Ogun and Abuja) for some weeks, while partial lockdown was observed in some of the remaining states.
Accordingly, the Nigerian authorities, in agreement with the advice of WHO, directed that people should observe the following: hand washing, social distancing, staying at home and the wearing of face masks. In addition, Isolation Centres were opened and people were urged to be more hygienic. However, the numbers of people testing positive are on the increase rather than reducing. Their numbers as at 16th July was 595 while mortality statistics stood at 769.
Unarguably, hand and personal hygiene is practical and appropriate. However, for the measure to yield expected results, the government will need to provide water, especially in communities where availability of potable water is a dire challenge.
Social distancing is another response given prominence by the authorities. However, observation of this measure by the majority of Nigerians is in doubt. Nigerian cities are haphazard and unplanned. There are slums all over the cities. Therefore, it becomes difficult if not impossible for people at Beere, Oja ’ba, Foko, Oje, Kudeti, and other indigenous and even non-indigenous areas in Ibadan, for instance, to observe social distancing. This picture is similar in other Nigerian and African cities; markets as well as motor parks are rowdy without any arrangement for social distancing. Besides, how feasible is it for passengers on bikes (Okada), tricycles (Keke Marwa), and buses to comply with this measure? Other steps taken by the Nigerian authorities in particular and global governments generally, included lockdown and bans on interstate and international travels. In the case of Nigeria, however, interstate travelling was sabotaged by the Nigeria Police and other security agencies that kept collecting bribes from commuters disobeying the lockdown order of the Federal and State Governments.
These responses by the Nigerian authorities to the coronavirus pandemic have not been adequate, thorough and effective. Before the pandemic, the health system was weak and fragile. Indeed, medical doctors in some states, especially Lagos State, recently went on strike over issues such as unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance and a dearth of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE). These are matters that are taken for granted in some places, but which are very germane to the welfare of the frontline medical doctors. Besides, cities in Nigeria were not planned; basic amenities that could enhance personal and public hygiene are few and far between. Sanitation is poor and deficient. Open defecation is rife and canals are overfilled with refuse and other rubbish.
The crisis has highlighted Nigeria’s leadership failure, lack of preparedness and insufficiency of our healthcare system to address the current health challenge ravaging the world in the light of COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, it has exposed the structural weaknesses of Nigeria and reinforced the need to embark on developing the health sector. On the other hand, there is hope that the health sector will finally receive the required attention given the fact that avenues for medical tourism during the crisis are blocked totally.
Radical alternatives that may arise from coronavirus pandemic include demand on the part of the people for a responsible and responsive leadership concerned with the wellbeing of the citizenry; emphasis on personal and public hygiene, legislations that discourage social and religious gatherings; and the need for government to facilitate the development of the health sector by ensuring an enabling environment for the public and private sectors.
Further, it is important to note from all this that the pandemic has exposed the unpreparedness of the world in the area of health and medical challenge, especially in view of the fact that the advanced societies such as the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and China, where it all started, could not easily find solutions to the pandemic as it continues to spread and the number of people contracting the virus increaseson a daily basis. There is, therefore, the need for research to be quickly carried out to develop a vaccine or drug that could prevent or treat the pandemic virus. In this instance, Nigerian scientists in particular and researchers in general are called to task.
No 13 – 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.