How coronavirus is affecting Nigeria

15 May 2020

Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza wears a face mask to give a coronavirus hygiene kit to a refugee family in Nigeria

Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza wears a face mask to give a coronavirus hygiene kit to a refugee family in Nigeria.

200 million people live in Nigeria, making it Africa’s largest country by population. Although some groups are wealthy, over 80 million people live in poverty.

A series of conflicts, including violence in the north-east of the country by Boko Haram – a Nigerian militant Islamist group - and a crisis in neighbouring Cameroon, also mean that many families fleeing conflict find themselves as refugees in Nigeria.

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Now, Nigeria faces the challenge of coronavirus against a background of severe inequality. Kelechi Emeh, CAFOD’s country representative for Nigeria, tells us how local experts are responding.

What was the situation in Nigeria before coronavirus hit?

Homeless Nigerian and refugee families need practical help with food, water, sanitation, and healthcare just in order to survive.

Conflicts in and outside of Nigeria have also worn down our already fragile services, such as healthcare within the country. We are now seeing an increase of malnutrition in children, and a health system at serious risk of becoming overwhelmed.

How has the government responded to coronavirus?

The government introduced a lockdown in three major states - Abuja (the nation’s capital), Lagos and Ogun states - for 28 days. Most other state governments also introduced a form of movement restriction within their states.

A lot of people depend on daily pay and there were outcries from every quarter that the lockdown is resulting in another emergency crisis, the hunger crisis.

How has CAFOD responded to coronavirus in Nigeria?

We are working with faith leaders to raise awareness about the pandemic and how to prevent it. Following a recent meeting with leaders from all faiths, priests and imams told us how that they now understand that protecting worshippers from coronavirus is their duty and responsibilty.

"Thank you for saving us from ignorance of the deadly coronavirus.” 

Imam Yahaya Mohammed

Most of the communities we work with also do not have access to running water, so we are providing handwashing facilities to help maintain the hygiene practices needed to prevent coronavirus.

We are providing food aid to the most vulnerable to help them cope as well.

What challenges are you facing in surviving lockdown and fighting coronavirus?

A large number of people survive on daily income and have to hustle to get food on the table, which is impossible during a lockdown.

With the pandemic, a lot of employers are also laying off their staff or making salary cuts of as much as 80%. When one employed person is sacked or cannot work it affects, at a minimum, 10 other people who depend on that person for support - ranging from immediate family to extended family members and friends.

We are also managing the risk that domestic violence against women will get worse during the lockdown.

Finally, we struggle with unreliable internet connection, which can make our own work difficult. However, we accept the challenges in good faith as it is better to be alive rather than risk your health!

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A Nigerian community group safely learns about coronvirus

Women in Kogi state, Nigeria, learn about how to prevent coronavirus from faith leaders, while socially distancing form other participants.

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