The COVID-19 Disbelief Amongst the Nigerian Citizenry

It has been nearly six months since the first case of Coronavirus was reported in Nigeria, and many Nigerians are still in doubt of its existence. “COVID no dey Naija. It is just a scam by the government to be able to source for funds from international organisations and businesses in Nigeria. When they get the funds, they just share it amongst themselves.” This is what a customer tells his mechanic when he comes to pick up his car, a few weeks (in July) after the lockdown was lifted. He asks his mechanic, Do you know anyone personally who has been infected with COVID19?” The mechanic’s response is “No!” This  he uses to further elaborate his point that COVID-19 is not in Nigeria, but may be in Western countries. Fake news and mistrust in the government has lead a lot of Nigerians to think that the pandemic is a hoax and that the figures being reported are exaggerated.

In a BBC Africa documentary released on Wednesday, 8 July 2020, titled “Fighting COVID-19 in a place where people don’t believe it exists”, you see many Nigerians fully convinced that the coronavirus is non-existent in Nigeria. One of the citizenry mentions in the video that “if coronavirus [was] present in this area where I stay, 30 people should have died before I become convinced that it exists.” But it begs to question, why don’t many Nigerians believe that this virus exists in Nigeria?

Fake News and Mistrust in the Government

Fake news and mistrust in the government is one of the reasons many Nigerians do not believe in the existence of coronavirus. Over the years, the gap in trust and accountability between citizens and the government has constantly been on the increase. Many times, the government has failed to bridge this divide. Interestingly, this failure can be seen across the world, particularly in the US where there is not only distrust, but a focus on personal rights to with a disregard for community rights and communal protection. Australia also seems to be struggling with this disbelief.

Nigeria is capable of responding to disease outbreaks, as was seen when in 2014, we successfully contained the deadly Ebola virus outbreak, and the country’s current score on the Epidemic Preparedness Index (38.9 per cent) is higher than the African and global averages.

Unfortunately, our leaders were not effective in managing the trust of the citizens when the first case of the coronavirus hit the country due to a debilitatingly slow response and communication lapses. President Muhammadu Buhari made few appearances and delivered his first speech on Nigeria’s response more than one month after the country’s first recorded case.

With more than half of the country’s population living in extreme poverty and many who survive on daily income, the lockdown put in place earlier this year to slow the spread of the pandemic greatly adversely affected these people. Many donations were given by businesses and individuals to support government’s effort to respond to the pandemic as well as to alleviate the suffering of citizens during the pandemic. In an article titled ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and the Goodwill of Nigerians’, CSR-in-Action’s Chief Executive, Bekeme Masade-Olowola, urged transparency and efficiency in the management and administration of COVID-19 donations by asking the government to provide a publicly available and accessible platform that would enable citizens easily track COVID-19 donations and disbursement and to establish a team of trusted and capable people to manage all such. However, little is known about the exact amount the government received and the #20,000 Condition Cash Transfer to poor households across the country despite many calls for disclosure. Many Nigerians have wondered what it means to be poor and vulnerable, as has been touted by the government, and why the areas where the disbursements would be taking place have never been disclosed.

It Only Affects the Elite

When the coronavirus first appeared in Nigeria, it was from people who had been abroad, and those with whom they interacted upon their return. Consequently, the list of people publicly known to have contracted or died from the coronavirus include a list of some of the prominent personalities in the country, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, politicians, heads of government agencies, former ambassadors and their aides or relatives. These are the kinds of people who normally jet off to the UK, Germany, or the US at the slightest sign of a headache because Nigeria’s state and federal hospitals are poorly funded, run-down, and lack adequate equipment.

These factors have led many Nigerians to think, if per chance the virus does exist in Nigeria, it is only affecting the elite amongst us. Some say, “This is your punishment for not investing in your country’s health system.” The 2020 government budget allocates only about 4.5% of spending for health, less than the 15% target the African Union had set for governments in 2001.

Immunity

In a poll conducted by NOIPolls Limited – a country-specific polling service – in April 2020, revealed that nearly three in ten Nigerians believe they have some form of immunity to the coronavirus. The poll was conducted in the first week of April 2020 when Nigeria had 174 confirmed cases. The results of the survey obtained from Nigerian adults (above 18) in the six geopolitical zones of the country were released on Tuesday, 14 April, 2020.

A total of 28 per cent of adults polled said they are immune to the coronavirus without providing any scientific evidence to back their claims.

Majority (42 per cent) of them held this belief mainly because they believe in God, followed by some others (35 per cent) who believe they are immune because they observe proper hygiene which prevents them from contracting the disease. Yet another group (11 per cent) said “being Black and African” makes you immune, while others still believe the country’s hot weather neutralises the severity of the disease.

These narratives are similar to those shared on social media in mid-February when no case had arrived sub-Saharan Africa while Europe and South-east Asia were seeing daily spikes in the number of infections.

Despite numerous fact-checks stating otherwise and the steady daily rise in cases in Nigeria, the narrative is still being circulated widely, especially on the grounds that high alerts of cases have not started appearing in Africa compared to Europe and America – the hotbeds of the virus.

While clearly, these narratives have given many citizens reason to believe that the coronavirus isn’t in Nigeria, the reality could not be farther from the truth! The virus very much exists in Nigeria. Within the medical world, there is belief that the numbers being reported are not a true reflection of what actually exists as testing remains an issue in Nigeria as a result of inadequate testing across states and a denial of its existence by some state governors.

Although the number of cases keeps rising – it sat at about 44,433 cases at the time of writing this article – the government is left with very little choice but to lift the lockdown and travel ban as it has put a lot of hardship on Nigerians with rising prices coming at a time of decreasing incomes. Also, having largely ignored the needs of Nigeria’s citizens for decades, the leaders of the country face an uphill battle in building trust with the population. Earning this trust is not only crucial for the struggle against the coronavirus but also for Nigeria’s long-term progress and system of political governance.

References

BBC News, Coronavirus: Why some Nigerians are gloating about Covid-19, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52372737

BBC Africa, Fighting Covid-19 in a place where people don’t believe it exists, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX3Bb8_m-iY

Chatam House, Nigeria’s Political Leaders Need to Win Trust to Tackle COVID-19, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/nigeria-s-political-leaders-need-win-trust-tackle-covid-19

Premium Times, Three in Ten Nigerians Believe They’re Immune to Coronavirus – Poll, https://allafrica.com/stories/202004170279.html



1 Comment

Leave a Reply