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Coronavirus poses a threat to Nigeria beyond health – Chatham House panel

22 July 2020

Chatham House hosted a webinar in collaboration with the UK parliament’s the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the implications of coronavirus for Nigeria on Tuesday 21 May. The discussion was chaired by Labour MP for Edmonton and APPG Chair, Kate Osamor, with a panel of experts that included, Leena Koni Hoffmann, Associate Fellow, Africa Programme, Chatham House, Idayat Hassan, Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, West Africa and Bulama Bukarti, Analyst, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

British MP Kate Osamor

A recording of the even is available below.

Idayat Hassan, who is based in Abuja, started off saying that the pandemic has revealed the weakness of the Nigerian state. She argued that many Nigerians didn’t realise how dilapidated the healthcare situation was before the pandemic. It has also shown that “leadership matters”. In her view, the virus is “widening insecurity and perpetuating it” in Nigeria.

Idayat Hassan

According to Hassan, many Nigerians viewed the pandemic as an opportunity for public officials to siphon resources, while others were “underestimating the risk”. She raised concerns that human rights violations were being committed by the security agencies in the guise of enforcing lockdown. As a result, 29 people had been killed by Nigerian security, while journalists and opposition parties have been targeted.

Hassan believed that coronavirus was widening distrust of the authorities among Nigerians because of what she called “inequitable sharing of palliatives” and extortion by the police of those not wearing face masks. She feared that the poor response to the pandemic by government may lead to more corruption and abuse of office. The economic crisis from the pandemic also had the potential to cause a “governance crisis”. The informal economy has been adversely affected by lockdown and the “already fragile governance system” is going to be stretched. She expected “kleptocrats” to exploit the economic crisis arising from the pandemic to “steal more”.

Leena Hoffman was equally pessimistic. Quoting the World Bank, she noted that Nigeria was heading towards its worst recession in 30 years. Cost of living was rising, especially the price of food, rent, and transportation, with Nigeria’s vulnerabilities such as over reliance on oil revenue being revealed even more. Before the pandemic, the country had 7.1m people at risk of extreme food insecurity. Things are likely to get worse. A combination of the economic consequences of the pandemic and frustration with the government response spells grave consequences for social order.

Leena Hoffman

Hoffman said many Nigerians are falling back on remittances from Nigerians in the Diaspora with 50% of Nigerians living in households receiving remittances. However, incomes are being curtailed globally due to the pandemic, so remittances from the Diaspora could decline.

Bulama Bukarti spoke about the security situation “deteriorating by the day”. He lamented that “Nigeria has never been this insecure”. Between April and June this year 2,700 had been killed by violence across 32 states. There were 5,000 violent deaths across the country in the past six months. “Nobody is secure in the country”, Bukarti regretted.

Bulama Bukarti

He went on to detail the “incapacity of the police force”, due to being “underfunded and untrained”. Most parts of the country were in a state of emergency with the military deployed. He argued that this depressing picture was being “pushed under the radar” by government focus on COVID-19. These conditions are a potent mix in the north with the “vicious cycle” of “poverty, radicalisation and violence”.

Bukarti warned that Boko Haram could affect the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines if and when they become ready for general use. According to the United Nations, nine local government areas in the northeast are “inaccessible”. He stressed that “inaccessible” was a euphemism for being “controlled by Boko Haram”. The situation posed a threat because, if the virus is not controlled in those “inaccessible areas”, no part of the world would be safe from transmission.

He also painted a grim picture of violent crime in Nigeria, with kidnappers using “healthcare regalia” to abduct victims. This has the side effect of increasing distrust in healthcare workers. There were also increased attacks in Southern Kaduna, in north-central Nigeria, which Bukarti believed were from Ansaru, a Boko Haram offshoot. He rounded up with the depressing thought that: “Nothing is cheaper today than human blood in Nigeria”.

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