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Nigeria’s north: Coronavirus in the world’s poverty capital

Sada Malumfashi
By Sada Malumfashi

Writer, Freelance Journalist, Media and Strategic Communications Consultant

Posted on Thursday, 26 March 2020 11:05, updated on Monday, 6 April 2020 19:26

Executive Governor of Kaduna State Nasir El-Rufai speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kaduna, Nigeria
Executive Governor of Kaduna State Nasir El-Rufai REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

With dwindling oil prices, medical doctors embarking on strike, banditry, an unending insurgency, millions of out-of-school children roaming the streets and a possible outbreak of the coronavirus, Northern Nigeria, is preparing for a devastating pandemic.

In Kaduna, six state governors from the north-west part of the country met amidst sirens and heavy traffic to announce the closure of all schools in their states for one month.

A suspected case of coronavirus had been reported in Katsina, one of the states bordering Kaduna city of about one million that was once the capital of the British Northern Nigerian protectorate.

READ MORE: WHO’s Tedros: ‘Don’t abandon the poorest to coronavirus’

It’s currently a major trade center and transportation hub that connects the northern part of Nigeria to the south,

Preventing COVID-19 in the North

Chairman of the forum and Katsina state Governor, Aminu Masari, a former speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, said the decision to take action became crucial to prevent the spread of coronavirus across the northwest.

The Kaduna State Government also announced the indefinite postponement of the 2020 edition of the Kaduna Investment Summit that has attracted key industry players in the last 4 years such as Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man and was supposed to have Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame present for this year’s edition.

READ MORE: Nigeria needs managed depreciation to limit coronavirus, oil double whammy

Kaduna has also started to fumigate markets, in a bid to keep the virus at bay. All shops that sell non-essential items must close, by order of the Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai.

To date, there has been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Northern Nigeria.

But the North accounts for almost 90 per cent of all the poor people in Nigeria. Only 24 percent of households have access to basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation. Compounded with that is the fact that about ten million children remain out of school and roam the streets begging as part of an Almajiri system of religious education.

An outbreak in the region will be catastrophic.

So far Nigeria’s purported preparedness to contain the virus is done through citing its successful response to the Ebola outbreak five years ago; a success focused on the strength of Lagos.

In reality, Nigeria experiences high inequality along geographic lines, with poverty and poor economic indices mostly concentrated in the North and in rural areas. Poverty rates in the southern zones are around 12 per cent compared to about 87 percent in the northern part of the country.

Poverty in a Time of Corona

With the global drop in crude oil prices President Muhammadu Buhari who also doubles as the senior Minister of Petroleum Resources has approved the reduction of pump price for Nigerians from $0.40 to $0.35 per liter.

The Federal Government had projected a record budget of about 10.6 trillion Naira in 2020, but with the decline in crude oil price, Nigeria’s finance minister, Zainab Ahmed announced a cut in the size of the budget.

READ MORE: Nigeria’s ambitious port plans to link north to south

The ability of the country to meet its 2.64 trillion Naira oil revenue target has been curtailed by about 40 per cent. This deficit is currently putting Nigeria’s economy in a potential slump with oil being the country’s biggest export that essentially funds the budget.

Having set the budget with a benchmark oil price of 57 dollars per barrel, and the current oil price being around 23 dollars per barrel, Africa’s largest economy is unable to fund the country’s budget due to the current pandemic.

This could unleash unexpected economic consequences, even more so in poverty stricken northern Nigeria. In response to possible consequences, the Kaduna State Government has set up an economic crisis committee to implement stringent measures and depress recurrent costs in anticipation of a steep decline of revenues from sales of petroleum.

It will remain to be seen however if other northern states can reduce dependence on oil revenues from the Federal Government and if further belt tightening measures can be imposed.

READ MORE: Lessons from Ebola help Olam respond to coronavirus

No medical doctors with the arrival of COVID-19

Some 200 kilometers from Kaduna, in the Federal Capital of Nigeria, is the Association of Resident Doctors. They announced their decision to embark on an indefinite strike, a few hours after the third case of coronavirus was announced in the country.

The doctors embarked on the strike because they had not been paid their salaries for over two months while working on a hazard allowance of less than 20 dollars. The federal government controls all three systems of health care delivery in the country.

And as the Director General of the World Health Organisation addressed African countries to prepare for the worst, coronavirus began to spread across the continent. To date, no deal has been met by the striking doctors and the government.

Before the current travel restriction on 13 countries and after the third confirmed case of COVID-19, Nigeria had initially insisted on self-quarantine for travellers from high-risk countries. But such measures were not fully supported by some foreign policy analysts like Gimba Kakanda.

“Our best decision is preventing this virus from infiltrating the continent. That’s the only practical strategy before us. We shouldn’t even imagine a curative strategy because we do not have the health system capable of catering for our population if it comes to mass infection,” tweeted Kakanda.

Bottom line:  With a full blown pandemic in the country, and the current poverty indices, the bulk of the country’s almost 200 million people cannot afford to self-isolate, as they depend on day-to-day work and menial trades for food.  And with a weak health sector in the country, it’s no suprise that experts worry about increasing cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

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