By Mercy Christopher, Project Officer, Social Action.
The outbreak of the novel COVID-19 has heralded unprecedented frictions in almost all aspects of life. The pandemic, however, seems more ominous in Africa despite the lower cases recorded in the continent thus far. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has projected a devastating health impact of the Corona Virus with confirmed cases projected to rise to 10 million and at least 300,000 deaths within the next 3-6 months(BBC, 2020). The socio-economic impact will also be devastating for a continent with a majority of its population still trapped in poverty and with economies already threatened by recession (CNN, Bethlehem Feleke, 2020). Nigeria has seen a continuous rise in the number of confirmed cases and recorded deaths and the economy is also suffering a blow from the pandemic. The implication of all these on the health, security and well being of Nigerians is still unknown but considering the pre-existing fragilities of Nigeria in terms of poverty, health infrastructure, security and governance, the impact could be catastrophic.
Confirmed cumulative cases of Corona Virus in Nigeria
The Nigerian government have put in place measures to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic in the country through the Presidential Task Force on COVID19, the NCDC, state governments and other relevant agencies. The nation’s approach to tackling the pandemic is focused on two themes – the protection of lives and the preservation of livelihoods of workers and business owners (BussinessDay Anthony Nlebem, 2020). This has centralised the effort of the government on medical and economic response.
It is quite evident that the virus challenges health systems. The robust health systems of developed countries are already overwhelmed by the virus. For a country like Nigeria, where the impact of the virus is on all fronts, the threat goes beyond health. This makes civil society organisations crucial and indispensable. Unfortunately, the government have paid little attention to the dynamic role of CSO’s in solving these needs. However, civil society engagement could help in achieving public expectations in COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Promoting transparency and accountability of public funds
Civil Society Organisations have been at the frontlines of transparency and accountability advocacy in Nigeria. With the influx of funds from the government, private sector and the international community, there is an urgent need to promote transparency in the collection and disbursement of these funds. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, understanding from past experiences that national emergencies instigate corrupt practices, have cautioned against corrupt practices in the management of funds during the COVID19 pandemic (PRNigeria Rasheed at A. Okoduwa, 2020). This concern is not out of place. The administration of the Social Investment Programs by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development have raised questions on the credibility of the program, and the ministry is yet to publish details on the distribution of food and conditional cash transfer despite repeated calls. Some questions need to be asked to ensure transparency and accountability, and it is the duty of CSO’s to get those answers and ensure accountability of all public resources directed at the pandemic.
Members of the Rivers State Covid-19 Palliative Committee strategising on the distribution methodology
Gaining public trust
The most crucial aspect of curbing the spread of the Corona Virus is public cooperation. The non-pharmaceutical measures for prevention such as social distancing and quarantine have proven to be effective but also create social tensions, and the simple reason is that the Nigerian people distrust the government. A good number of Nigerians believe that COVID19 is a hoax to siphon public funds, therefore, the CSO’s bridge the gap between the government and the people, and can better relate the intentions of the government in a way that gains the trust of the people. Sadly, the government tend to view CSO’s as the people on the opposite side of the camp. CSOs were not included in the set up of the Presidential Task Force on COVID19, and none of the committees set out to respond to the pandemic recognises the importance of CSO’s in winning this fight. This only widens public distrust and makes the battle against the virus more lethal. The Nigerian government must leverage on the CSO framework spread across the country to ensure that its messages are received and well understood even in the most marginalised and isolated communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic affects members of each community differently. Daily wage earners have lost their sources of income due to the lockdown, and the poor are starving. In addition to the different prongs of the problem posed by the pandemic, some face compounded challenges ranging from banditry, domestic violence, hunger and poor health. It is imperative to include these classes of persons in response strategies and develop local responses that address the plight of the vulnerable while still curbing the spread of the virus. CSO’s have the mechanisms, capacity and strategy to engage community members and develop a response that captures vulnerable communities. This will contribute immensely to flattening the curve of the impact of the contagion and also maintaining social order.
The raging controversy regarding the distribution of palliatives and the modalities can be addressed with the involvement of CSO’s in the distribution. A lot of CSO’s involved in humanitarian work is nonpartisan and already have a comprehensive list of the beneficiaries of their aid in different communities as well as an organised model of distribution. They can also reach many hard-to-reach areas and populations and have the trust of the public. Involving CSOs will ensure a wider reach of the government social program and better accountability of funds disbursed to that effect.
The most vulnerable- the elderly also queuing up for food items from donors