A combination of the current economic, social indices and forecast for Nigeria make an outbreak a dangerous proposition. Recent ratings indicate that 86.9 million Nigerians representing nearly 50% of its estimated 180 million population now live in extreme poverty, with a country ranking of 152 of 157, in the World Bank’s 2018 Human Capital Index.
To put the situation on context, Poverty rates in the Southern zones are around 12% compared to about 87% in the northern part of the country. However, Northern Nigeria accounts for close to 90% of all the poor people in the nation. Access to essential services such as electricity, water and sanitation are only available to about 24% of households. This inequality presents certain drawbacks in the impact of donor interventions when one considers the changes to the lives of the people and their local economies. Overlaying all these inequalities, the potential effect of a spread of the Corona Virus to the Northern region could be catastrophic.
In recent times, we’ve already started to see the spread of this virus in the Northern region as present reports reveal worrisome numbers. Especially in Kano, where there has been a sharp rise in deaths. However, investigations are still ongoing to determine if it is related to the coronavirus outbreak as there are conversations around citing that other health conditions might be the cause of the rise in deaths.
While the Nigerian Government agreeably acted fast in her outbreak response, the globally accepted lockdowns and other social distancing measures could pose significant challenges for the population of this region. Adopting these measures without adequate and tailored structures to support the socio-economic realities, could potentially create a substantial downward ripple effect in terms of income, nutrition, socio-economic, security, culture, and other aspects of daily lives. A significant concern with the mitigating measures and efforts is around how the pandemic will affect the region’s already fragile food systems, especially in densely packed rural areas and urban cities. There are already some signs of unrest and price hikes for staples in the southern region which is in its third week of lockdown. Transposing this on to the already restive Northern region with its food security challenges calls for caution in adopting pre-set global models.
Additional concerns exist with the impact of the pandemic on the population, whose work and livelihood are primarily dependent on the informal sector – many menial traders, smallholder farmers or street vendors. Through her poverty indices and weak frontline support mechanisms, how well and for how long can the Northern region afford to self -isolate?
In response to potential impacts of the COVID-19 outbreaks, many private sector leaders, High Networth Individuals, International donor institutions and Government agencies have set up various economic crisis assistance committees. They are launching funds, and task forces to support COVID-19 response interventions targeting the most vulnerable in society.
In terms of access to these palliatives and the efficacy of said interventions, the impact remains to be seen. However, how can we re-imagine our approach and examine what structures and partnerships can be created and leveraged to accelerate and best support these interventions for tangible outcomes with sustainable impact?
Partnerships will be a critical success factor for all intervention programs. The responsibility, however, lies with governments, donors and partners to design models that take account of the culture, the peculiarities and the informal nature of the Northern region. Priority should be given to creating inclusive models that cover the diverse social systems of the North. This effort is critical to channelling these significant investments to the recipients through the available frontline support.
This crisis provides a crucial juncture for reforms and innovations in current models for development and impact work. For any approach to be successful in this region, we must implement models organically tailored to their fragile systems taking into consideration the peculiarities and cultural norms of the North. While there may be little to no available predictive models for the Northern region setting, the fact remains that an outbreak of COVID-19 in any proportion in Northern Nigeria could be disastrous.
Onyanta Faith Banjo
Executive Assistant to the Chairman