Why social distancing is a challenge in Nigeria

With only about 0.2 percent of Nigerians who can work from home, social distancing is a challenge not everyone can afford. A significant portion of the population has lost their jobs due to business shutdowns and mandated lockdown orders.

Social distancing is difficult to implement for a population that mostly live in crowded houses. In Nigeria, 56 per cent of the population live in “face-me-I-face-you” type of houses where they share common kitchen, bathrooms and toilets. For about 23 per cent of them, their only access to water is communal tap. It is simply unrealistic to ask these people not to leave their homes.

Social Distancing
Social Distancing

What about those who rely on street vending for their daily livelihood? Governments and security agencies could try to enforce lockdowns but the reality is different. About 83 per cent of the workforce work in the informal sector with no work insurance or enforceable contracts. What will compensate for the loss or lack of daily income? According to a UN study, for the first time in 35 years, the number of people falling into extreme poverty (less than $2 a day) could increase exponentially in Africa.

So far, those drastic measures taken by states and the federal government appear to be holding well with low death rates, even if the numbers are understated. Africa has the youngest population in the world. Young people appear to be doing better with the virus. The survival rate among young population is significantly higher.

There are unconfirmed reports that polio vaccine and overexposure to malaria and malaria treatment may help boost herd immunity. Most Africans eat organic foods which can also help boost immunity though there might be doubts if they are taken in the right quantum or contain a balanced amount of the right nutrients. By and large, Nigeria is likely going to beat the virus at a much lower cost than most countries in the developed world.

Some of the pre-conditions needed to survive a pandemic are non-existent in Nigeria. Therefore rebuilding efforts should focus on addressing them. Primary health care starts with personal hygiene. Personal and community hygiene is largely dependent on access to clean drinkable water and modern sewage facility. Water resourcing has always been part of the budgetary cycles but with not that much success. Health care systems have to be completely rebuilt. They are not just grossly inadequate but outdated and in poor conditions. Allocation to health and education sectors should be a minimum of 5 per cent of GDP each. 2 doctors to 100,000 people is unacceptable. Efforts should be made to bring it closer to the world’s average which currently stands at 15 to 100,000 people.

The economic outlook is grim with the fall in oil prices and the collapse of businesses. Quantitative easing even at the risk of higher inflation is unavoidable. I will add my voice to that of Bola Tinubus’ call for a grand ambitious plan to aid SMEs to rebuild their businesses. A stimulus package of a minimum of 3 trillion Naira is desirable. Who cares where you get the money from?

Federal and state governments should speed up the digitalisation process so more people can be integrated into payments and money transfer grid and move gradually into the formal sector. The time is ripe for large scale apprenticeship programme to integrate a greater number of street vendors into the tax net and economic system. We just cannot continue in our old crude ways. No one lives the crude rudimentary life anymore apart from Africa, Latin America and some part of Asia.

Nigeria’s effort at diversification of the economy has slowed the past 5 years. There is hardly a clear industrialisation strategy that the people can rally behind. The idea of just focusing on keeping the government engine running while the rest of the country suffers has to change. We have no other country to call our own.

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