Responding to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: How communities are bridging emerging governance gaps in Lagos
Lecturer and PhD candidate in Urban Planning at the University of Lagos and a member of Pro-poor development and Sustainable cities and African urbanization dynamics research clusters
The global community is battling to contain the spread of COVID-19, an infectious disease that has made almost a million people sick and claimed thousands of lives. Countries are experiencing unprecedented changes in their health, economic, and governance systems because of this virus. In Nigeria, the virus has spread to over twenty states within weeks. State and local governments across the country are scrambling to curtail local transmission, especially in Lagos the epicenter of the virus
Lagos confirmed her first case of COVID-19 on February 27th, 2020 and has recorded over 200 cases and 6 deaths as at April 15. This is relatively low compared to other global cities, but is likely to increase significantly due to the fragile public health system, large informal settlements and overcrowded communities, and livelihoods of most residents based on a daily wage. Since February, regulations such as the Lagos state Infectious Diseases (Emergency Prevention) Regulations 2020 and the Federal Quarantine Act, Q2 LFN 2004 have been activated. A lockdown was announced and other containment mechanisms including physical distancing, epidemiological investigation, close contact management, and treatment have been implemented rapidly. Expectedly, socio-economic measures have also been adopted to assist those adversely affected by the virus.
The medical and socio-economic interventions by the Lagos state government have not been without some challenges.
Medical: in spite of the spiraling number of infections, there is only one hospital for infectious diseases in Lagos. A few more are being set up around the city, with private sector support while 30 testing centres were recently commissioned up across the twenty local government areas. This is inadequate for a city with a population of 21 million.
Lockdown order: even though a lockdown is in effect to reduce the spread of the virus, this has been grossly flouted by many residents in the guise of exercise and/or seeking a livelihood. An unintended consequence has also been the various security breaches, especially in border towns. The local governments and police have been somewhat slow in responding to these unfortunate incidents.
Palliatives: The federal government and various corporate bodies have supported the Lagos state government with funds and other donations since the pandemic began. The Federal Legislature passed an Emergency Economic Stimulus bill to provide tax relief and economic support to large businesses. Similarly, the Central bank announced targeted credit scheme to support COVID affected businesses and households. micro, small and medium enterprises and affected households. The criteria for accessing the CBN loan is out of the reach of most small businesses and urban poor households who are employed in the informal economic sector. The Lagos state government has however instituted a series of palliative strategies targeting the elderly, indigent, people living with disabilities and the youth. For example, the Emergency food response was fraught with irregularities, complaints of poor quality and even violence when irate youth hijacked supplies in some areas.
Citizens bridging the gap
in light of the gaps being experienced in the government’s response to the corona pandemic in Lagos, some citizen led initiatives have emerged
Medical: Lifebank, a health tech logistic startup, launched a drive-through mobile mass testing centre, which has seen to the increase in COVID tests being done. Various individuals developed health messaging posters in various Nigerian languages to bring the advocacy closer to local communities, while an app was recently launched by the Lagos State University (LASU) to help achieve targeted testing and also decongest the official help lines for COVID-19.
Lockdown order: Citizens agency and collaboration is being highlighted in response to the security breach especially. Neighborhood vigilante groups have been organized by residents. Furthermore, informal workers have also set up makeshift markets to increase access to local food supplies. For instance, The Mile 12 international market has launched an app and a mobile food market through which essential perishable commodities are sold to residents directly in all the 20 local government areas of Lagos.
Palliatives: Faith based and other civil society organizations have set up food distribution channels as well as soup kitchens in various parts of the city, including informal settlement. Also, some citizens are using social media panels to support indigent citizens with cash gifts.
What this tells us is that the capacity to respond effectively to a health hazard such as COVID19, and even other urbanization challenges is enhanced when partnerships between government and her citizens are activated, and technology is leveraged appropriately. Both private sector partners and local residents have supported the Lagos state government in light of the yawning local governance gap. There is need for strengthening the role and capacity of local government systems; as well as pursue more meaningful collaborations between government and communities. Creating deeper partnerships with communities can assist in reducing urban services divide, building more inclusive and equitable cities that will be resilient to future crisis.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development University of Lagos, Nigeria.