Nigeria: Lagos prepares for life in a coronavirus lockdown

By Oluwatosin Adeshokan
Posted on Friday, 27 March 2020 13:42

A man wearing a face mask sits in a traditional canoe at the Makoko community in Lagos
The citizens of Lagos, including those in Makoko, are under lockdown. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

What is life like in a Lagos preparing for lockdown?

Nigeria’s electricity problems are now very apparent to Wuraola Abulatan.

Today, Wednesday the 25th of March is her second day working from home and just like yesterday, there is still no electricity.

“I will have to stock up on fuel at home which is very dangerous for me.” Abulatan explains. On Tuesday, after working for a while without electricity, the battery on her laptop was exhausted and she had to walk into her office to get work done.

For Abulatan, most of her preparation has, in fact, been mental.

Because of a general uncertainty about a touted shutdown of Lagos, Abulatan and her other colleagues at work did not know if they would work from home and how to prepare.

Now, she has to stock up on food and other essentials and prepare for the coronavirus pandemic to pass.

READ MORE: Nigerian private sector needs to stay home

But, Abulatan, who works in financial services for a Lagos startup that pushes for financial inclusion has really essential work. “In this time, mobile money services are very important and on Friday, I will need to go to work because we will need to make videos and other materials for our merchants on how they can keep themselves and their clients safe.”

Abulatan is one of over 21 million people in Lagos currently expected to be under a form of isolation.

The government of Lagos announced Tuesday 24 March that there would be some form of restriction of movement.

  • According to the governor of Lagos, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu, all markets and stores trading in non-essential commodities are to be shut down for seven days from Thursday, 26th of March.

This comes after the governor announced a reduction in the number of people able to publicly gather, from 50 to 20.

Sanwo-Olu also announced that he had already instructed the Chief Judge of the State, Justice Kazeem Alogba, to close all High and Magistrate courts across the State from Thursday to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Lagos.

An Italian man that was confirmed as the country’s first coronavirus case had arrived into Lagos from Milan and traveled to the nearby Ogun state where he was for almost two full days before being isolated.

According to the government of Lagos, the Italian man had arrived Lagos on the 24th of February on a Turkish Airlines flight.

Since then, Nigeria has recorded 65 cases and one death, at the time of this publication.

While the country has reported very low numbers, it is mostly because Nigeria has tested less than 200 people as of the 22nd of March in comparison, the UK had tested over 78,000 people. There are also fears that the country is underreporting its infection numbers.

The virus will sharpen inequality

But, experts fear that a city like Lagos and even Nigeria will be unable to sustain a lockdown without serious economic and security.

According to the UN, the 80% of Nigerians that earn an income are active in the informal sector or in “vulnerable employment”. These types of employment generally lack social security and do not guarantee any kinds of rights.

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

“There will be an uptick in crimes in Nigeria and particularly the spaces that are under any forms of lockdown because the Nigerian economy isn’t made for things like remote work,” Caleb Olorunmaiye, a policy analyst explains. “We are expecting an uptick in domestic violence with people that will find themselves locked in with their abusers when they would normally be away from home.”

This is a fear that Abulatan also shares.

For her, the lockdown will only widen the income inequality gap and make less privileged people move into crime because they need to eat. “Solutions like social distancing and self isolation in Nigeria are [for] privileged people [that] not everybody has,” Abulatan explains.

Informal sector ignored

While the oil industry is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, the majority of Nigerians are in the informal sector.

The Lagos state government is looking to limit the spread of the virus in the country through actions that will invariably limit trade.

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

But trade is a large part of the economy in the state and may lead to a lot of sectors going out of business and retrenching employees.

At the moment, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers is mulling a move to have their staff at home. Something that will potentially keep Nigerians immobile and in the dark.

“Nigeria is going to face several problems now and moving forward. What this pandemic is doing is exposing faults in several countries. With Nigeria, we are seeing the extent to which education and healthcare have been underfunded. Knowledge based economies have been able to make test kits and aggressively test their citizens through homegrown innovation. Here, it is different,” says Adedayo Bakare, an economist and investment researcher at Afrinvest.

Financial systems tested

At the moment, the country is in a lot of debt and can not borrow at this time.

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

But according to Bakare, the country can reach out to donor agencies and multilateral finance institutions like the IMF and the World Bank for funding to deal with this pandemic. “I will say never waste a crisis. The leadership of the country will need to change long term thinking for healthcare and education.”

Too little, too late?

But Emeka Okyekachi, a trader in the Yaba area of Lagos, does not think things will change in Nigeria.

Onyekachi, who faces uncertainty over the future of his business, is scared as he does not understand when things will get better. “I have rent and other bills to pay very soon, but the government that is locking down the government does not say they will help us out,” saysOnyekachi .

READ MORE: Nigerian Central Bank’s economic package is “too tiny to matter”

For him, the government could have done a lot earlier on, but did nothing, and is now saddled with a problem affecting the whole country. Nigeria’s central bank, for example, announced a stimulus package that experts argued was too small to matter.

For Onyekachi, the package means absolutely nothing. “There has been no year when business got better for me. Now, to stock my house up with food, prices are going up and getting expensive.” he explains.

For Abulatan, there is a general fear of how the country and the economy will be when the pandemic passes. “What happens to the jobs that would have been lost? What plans does this government have for people after this passes?”


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