COVID-19 has become more infectious compared to SARS or MERS-CoV, with the ‘case fatality rate’ in Nigeria around 3 percent – although this risk varies by geography and can change over time. It has also shown to be less deadly than SARS (10%) or MERS-CoV (34 percent), with thousands experiencing very mild symptoms or none at all, and have been spreading the virus unaware that they were even infected.
The government of Nigeria enforced an initial 2-week lockdown on March 30, 2020, for three of the 36 states (Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja). And on April 13 it extended it another 2 weeks. Shortly after the order was announced by the President there was citizen uproar due to a myriad of concerns.
The guidelines, which required citizens to shelter in place and practice social distancing when movement is necessary, promoted measures that allowed state and local governments to restrict movement, gatherings, and curfews. There was a ban on interstate travels except vehicles carrying agricultural produce, petroleum products, manufactured goods, and those delivering essential services. There was also a ban on gatherings of more than 20 people outside of the workplace.
This had many unintended consequences on the citizens, with many explaining that “Nigerians can either choose to die from hunger or die from COVID-19”. Citizens disobeyed the lockdown order in the hope of making sales, providing services, or even for relaxation. Social distress and discontent also arose, prompting the government to order a “phased and gradual easing,” replacing the lockdown with an overnight curfew. But the relaxation also triggered deep concerns in some quarters, given how easily the virus spread, and the poor state of the Nigerian health system.
For many Nigerians, the prospect of staying at home could lead to another problem: hunger. The initial lockdown, which lasted about five weeks, caused Nigeria’s GDP to suffer a 34.1 percent loss, amounting to USD 16 billion, with two-thirds of the losses recorded in the services sector. Prices of food items in regional markets increased substantially, leading to hoarding by traders, negatively impacted income flow, food and nutrition due to reduced economic activity levels among low-income urban households. But it does not appear that the COVID-19 storm is fully over.
This month, one in every six persons (16 percent) tested for Coronavirus tested positive, indicating how fast it continues to spread. With the surge in Covid-19 cases, the possibility of another national lockdown is slowly emerging – depending on how bad the situation becomes. But at this point, it can be explained as a consequence of a high percentage of citizens refusing to take COVID-19 precautions such as face masks, hand washing, and social distancing.
So, we asked our panellists and experts:
Do you agree that another strict lockdown measure is needed to counter the growing cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria?
Only 22.2 percent agree that a strict lockdown measure can be a solution to curbing the spread of COVID-19. 46.6 percent of Nigerians ‘Disagree’ while 22.4 percent say ‘Maybe’.
In developing a useful health guide during the HIV epidemic, public health officials consistently emphasised: “Know your epidemic, know your response, and act on its politics”. As apparent during the initial lockdowns, no measures will be successful without understanding the people and their necessity. According to social conditions that only local people can know, infectious disease outbreaks unfold differently in different communities.
No control measures can be imposed without the consent of the people affected. Only when local people are fully involved in planning and implementing epidemic control measures can they work. But Nigerians, including financial experts, are concerned that the fragile economy may not withstand another lockdown.
“For Nigeria? Capital No! I do not see the point,” says a panellist in Abuja.
“No, it’s not. We need to understand that COVID-19 is here to stay, so locking down the country at will won’t do much. Rather, [the government should] seek permanent measures to curb the spread of the virus,” says a panellist (an entrepreneur) in Ado Ekiti.
“Absolutely not necessary,” says another panellist. Suppression as a strategy has not been effective in the country, something new needs to happen. I have no idea what it is though”.
“There should not be [another] lockdown except for schools,” says a panellist, a student in Illara Mokin, Ondo.
“I’ll say that maybe we even took it too seriously in February when the whole thing started. By now, if I step out to go to work, church, or even the market, it is obvious that Nigerians have moved on. If the data is right that we are now dealing with more cases, you better know that Oregun (Ikeja) is totally full. Nigeria should actually begin to focus on making the vaccines available for those who need it, and people should continue to wear the masks and wash their hands,” says another located in Lagos.
During the first phase of lockdown in March 2020, the federal government promised Nigerians some palliative measures, including the disbursement of funds and the distribution of food items to those most affected. But only a small proportion of the population received any support, leading to allegations that the process is being politicised. During the #EndSARS protest, these materials – bags of rice, noodles and sugar – turned up as looting took place across the country, giving rise to calls of corruption and government incompetence. Can Nigerians trust the government on lockdown guidelines and restructuring again?
“We have not even fully analysed how much the pandemic affected our food supply chain across West Africa. The food price shock in Nigeria is shocking enough, but we are not isolated,” says an expert. “Last December, Ghana’s food inflation was about 14.1 percent. Food prices were in deflation before COVID-19, and now above 2 percent in a natural low inflation environment, even though West African Franc appreciated 9.5 percent last year against USD). No country willingly wants to encourage any form of lockdown right now. It is all about crisis management with minimal fuss”.
“Let us be serious – this is a poor country, and the government will not provide the much-needed help because it cannot provide it. Suppose the government wants something like the #EndSARS protest to happen again. In that case, all it needs to do is to call for another national lockdown,” he stated.
if we die, we die. Leave us alone!
“I saw a report recently that said ‘Nigerians have let their guards down – it very much feels like it. Anyone who can display any form of practical judgement understands that some things are necessary, no matter the risks,” an expert explained. People are getting infected and dying, but people are also suffering from hunger, anger, and distrust. The government already explained that there is no plan for a lockdown. But even if it changes its mind, the wide response will be “if we die, we die. Leave us alone!”
For the study, panellists who agree feel that everything has to be done to mitigate the circumstances: “I believe it’s necessary, but the government should (also) be any ready to cater to each household’s needs if they want to impose a second national lockdown”.
This week, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the state’s oxygen need for managing COVID-19 patients had risen from 420 litres to 2,100 litres daily between December and mid-January. Indicating that the increase amounted to a 500 percent rise, the current trend reflects that it could snowball to 4,500 litres daily before January 31. The increase in positive cases now necessitates more concentrated oxygen for the moderate to severe cases at isolation centres.
“the government will not die from COVID-19, but people will.
Emphasising the importance of trust, an expert explained that “the government will not die from COVID-19, but people will. If we ask them to do the right thing – supposedly, then we need to let people know what we are fighting for them. Then we can now discuss the duration of such a lockdown, what will the government will be doing to create a permanent solution, and the process of getting the required help.
At this point, the most important thing is that life returns to normal”.
Insights on What The Streets Are Saying are drawn from data collected through in-depth interviews and surveys with our 500-member consumer panel spread across the country, including 100 culture insiders, who are all leading thinkers and doers across media and marketing.