By Dr. Abiola Ruth Adimula
Nigeria like the whole world is fighting the Coronavirus (COVID-19). With more than a million cases of COVID-19 recorded in more than 150 countries, the disease has spread globally, at an exponential rate in less than 5months. Given the increasing number of cases, countries are being confronted by several challenges, particularly the limited availability of test and treatment centres to accommodate and effectively treat confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has reported that this inadequate access to prompt and effective care in healthcare settings could hinder the ability of countries to halt the spread of the disease. On the 12th of April 2020, 5 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Nigeria. To date, 323 cases have been confirmed, 85 cases have been discharged and 10 deaths have been recorded in Nigeria. The 5 new cases are reported from three states- Lagos (2), Kwara (2) and Katsina (1).
We ought to realize that given the dearth of medical infrastructure in Nigeria, a full-blown pandemic would pose a rather dangerous threat. Since the mechanism of the disease’s transmission is clear – primarily through close contact with carriers of the causal virus, or through tactile contact with virus-riddled surfaces. Prevention has been the primary mode of containment through enforcement of social distancing and self-isolation within affected and at-risk populations, to minimize contact between the infected and uninfected.
In Nigeria, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 2 million Nigerians have been displaced from Boko Haram insurgency hotspots in Northeast Nigeria since 2009. Herders/Farmers conflict has displaced many, especially in North Central states, while flooding events has caused displacement to thousands of people across the country.
IDP camps are characterized for the most part by overcrowded populations amidst severe infrastructure deficits. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) populations in Nigeria are dominated by poorly educated, rural, farm-folk, who are hardly able to achieve meaningful livelihoods in their new, mostly urban settlements.
They are for this reason typically impoverished and dependent on humanitarian aid for even their sustenance; and have very limited access to healthcare or Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) amenities as well. For these reasons, IDPs in Nigeria are in very significant jeopardy.
Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) reported that in the past, these terrible living conditions have rendered IDP camps a cesspool for dangerous medical crises – in 2017 for example, there were more than 4,800 cases of Cholera and 61 deaths, in an outbreak across IDP Camps in Nigeria.
This background therefore makes the looming COVID-19 pandemic a serious threat which causes grave concern and high-level of risk among Nigeria’s IDPs in case of any outbreak and further to that, how much risk they might pose to the larger population as IDP camps may become repository populations for the virus, and vehicles for its proliferation. This is why it is important for the government through the relevant Federal Ministry and Agency to engage in some proactive steps to prevent COVID-19 infection in IDP Camps as it can spread like wild fire to Nigerians.
Since social distancing is a means of curtailing the infection and spread of COVID-19, the IDP camps across the country can be decongested by allocating some IDPs to school buildings which are presently not in use, as all school premises are empty- pupils and students are under the stay-at-home order. This can temporarily sort the problem of overcrowding in IDP camps that can fuel the COVID-19 infection.
In addition to whatever health services in IDP camps, the government should provide improved hygiene of clean water, soap, sanitiser, washing areas in large numbers to ensure that IDPs keep good hygiene in this critical period. Also, provision of food items to the IDPs is key in this period. Supply of palliative materials should be regular and consistent to ensure good upkeep that will prevent brewing of other conflicts in the camps. Most of the IDPs are not engaged in any job, some who are engaged mostly are into paid daily jobs. Hunger, idleness, restriction to move around and the present lockdown can instigate violence and fuel insecurity and health challenges to Nigerian’s population.
I believe that palliative interventions and support from global bodies, captains of industries and the government should go extensively into supporting the IDPs to keep them away from COVID-19 infection and in turn, keep Nigeria safe.
Re-integration of IDPs
There is a need for the government to build a road map of reintegration of the IDPs by preventing protracted displacement. Reintegration is the phase of coordinated exit from the camp and reintegration into the society as self-sustaining individuals through strengthening of IDP responses, to facilitate the protection of their rights while allowing a systematic exit of IDPs instead of creating an IDP conundrum.
End Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria Boko Haram insurgency has displaced over two million persons in Northeast Nigeria and created proliferated IDP camps around the country, including government recognized, private, faith-based camps, among others. With the level of victory achieved against Boko Haram insurgency by the Nigerian Army and Chadian Army, it is clear that with political will, more than ever before, this is the right time to strike the last straw to break the Carmel’s back, to overrun and clear the remnants of Boko Haram insurgents from ravaging the country.
De-Escalation of Conflict across Nigeria.
There is a need for the government to identify issues that brew conflict in different parts of the country and work towards curtailing escalation of such issues into violent conflicts. In Nigeria, since 1999, violent conflicts manifesting in militancy, boko haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and herder/farmer conflicts have killed thousands and displaced millions of people. COVID-19 has presented a situation of rethink and a better way of governance to reduce violent conflicts.
- Build a prevention system for violence. The NCDC should be staffed with professionals and funded, to serve as a model. The government should also create and fund violence-prevention systems, providing adequate policies and task force/equipment to curb violence in Nigeria.
- Respond quickly when an outbreak occurs. When tensions rise or violence erupts, institutions and political leaders should adopt proactive, constructive, sustained and apolitical responses.
- Build responses with communities and the public. Leaders should use coordinated outreach at the roots of conflict to peaceably mediate disputes and resolve conflicts. The government and its agencies should work from the base of the society – wards, local government, state and federal levels, enlisting community leaders, traditional rulers and religious leaders to help disseminate accurate information, counterinformation and mobilize responses.
- Political leaders, elites, middle class as well as the poor should join hands, stay around to resolve conflicts, rather than seeking cover overseas while others suffer the effects of violence back home.
- Invest in health facilities in the country by building world class hospitals in state capitals, with state of the art equipment to address various types of ailments. This will save costs to Nigerians seeking treatment abroad, reduce mortality rate as intervention can come handy and improve revenue generation for the government, especially if high standards are maintained to serve other African countries.
Dr. Abiola Ruth Adimula is a Lawyer and Peace Scholar with research biases in Law, Gender, IDPs and Refugee studies.
She is a Senior Lecturer at The Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin, Ilorin and the President, Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows Alumni Association, Nigeria.