Tracking the numbers: Coronavirus in Africa today.


In Lagos, Nigeria, the lockdown clocks 3 weeks today. Before the official commencement, many organisations and individuals had started taking social distancing measures, shutting down non-essential operations and gatherings. Lagos is not the only Nigerian state attempting to flatten the curve; Abuja, the nation’s capital and Ogun state, Lagos’ closest neighbour are also observing complete shutdowns and have already closed their borders. A few other regional governors around the country have unilaterally ordered the closure of their state borders too. The governors insist that enforcing strict and effective measures is crucial to containing the spread of the virus.

Nigeria, with a population of about 200 million people, has reported 665 cases of COVID-19 and there are fears that the worst is yet to come. Apart from the dire state of the healthcare system, 69 million Nigerians have no access to clean water. This invariably leads to water-borne diseases like cholera, which continue to break out as regular epidemics in seasons.

Even though the government took a decision to ban all international flights into and out of the country, the incoordination decision came rather late, as many returnees who may have been affected had settled into different communities, exposing the virus to other Nigerians.

Social distancing seems like an unrealistic and arduous task for many Nigerians. Most of the population live in tightly-packed slums and neighbourhoods where communal living, shared toilets and spaces are a common practice. These people are daily earners who live from hand to mouth or are part of the informal sector which makes up 80% of the country’s workforce.

Without a stimulus package or palliatives targeted at the largely-poor population, it’s impossible to ask people to stay at home and avoid interactions for weeks, running into months.

Nigerian politicians and lawmakers are also not doing any better. Following the death of President Buhari’s Chief of Staff Abba Kyari, controversially the most powerful political figure in PMB’s government, hundreds of state officials were seen at Gudu Cemetery, Abuja on April 18 to pay their last respect as the remains of the elder statesman was buried.

Abba Kyari tested positive to Coronavirus on March 23 after returning from a Germany trip. Although the presidency have been tight-lipped and discreet about the COS’s health status, insider reports reveal that he was flown with an Air ambulance to Wellington Hospital, St. John’s Wood, London where he died and was cremated in adherence to the global burying guidelines of COVID-19 victims. This expose is at odds with the Federal Government’s statement that Abba Kyari was receiving treatment in First Cardiology Consultants, a private hospital in Lagos. Remember, the Federal Government restrained private health institutions in the country from a admitting or managing COVID-19 cases in Nigeria.

This struggle to survive has prompted violence and unrest in many areas spearheaded by hoodlums and gang members in border communities between Lagos and Ogun states. Since then, there have been clashes and rise in tension in other parts of the state and the nation at large. Distressed residents both young and old, have formed vigilante groups to protect their communities. They keep vigils every night burning tyres, setting roadblocks and arming themselves with machetes, bottles and other sharp objects.

In Nigeria, 665 cases, 22 deaths and 188 recoveries have been recorded. Nigeria’s policy is one of targeted testing. This involves identifying those who are most likely to be infected, those who have just come back from other countries and those they have been in contact with. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) stated earlier in the month that the present testing volume is 500 tests per day and hoped to increase this capacity to 1000 or more tests per day in the coming weeks. Thus far, slightly over 5000 tests have been carried out.

According to the latest figures published by Johns Hopkins University, 2,480,709 cases have been detected worldwide, with 170,399 deaths and 652,982 people now recovered.

The overall intervention on health in Nigeria has been recurrently unimpressive and in a constant free-fall. Usually below 5% of total federal government’s budget (far below the WHO’s recommended 15%) is allocated for the sector. Nigeria’s 2020 health budget is a paltry N427 billion, equivalent of $1.18 billion, in a country of 200 million people. 

The Federal Government lacks the financial firepower of wealthier nations that have launched robust stimulus packages to pay wages and keep their economies afloat. The economic assistance that the government has announced in response to the virus has exposed inadequacies in Nigeria’s social protection systems and risks excluding the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people. 

The price of crude oil, which contributes over 90% of Nigeria’s externally-generated revenue, is tumbling like never before in the last 20 years. It went below $20 per barrel from above $60 just before the pandemic. On Monday, the US’ WTI was trading at $-37.45 per barrel according to prices displayed on Bloomberg energy terminal. What this means is that there is no longer storage to store excess produce because people aren’t buying, and traders will have to pay customers for patronising them. It is also a warning for the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), where Nigeria’s baskets falls under, of how bad the demand problem has gotten. Nigeria’s crude oil is benchmarked against the Brent crude.

At present, the price of a barrel of Brent crude is $25. Although traders in the market said Nigeria’s Bonny Light was sold for between $13 and $15 recently, the price is not yet in negative territory. The crude oil price collapse in the price of oil has gutted state revenues for the continent’s biggest oil producer and officials are cutting back the budget.

Richard Ogundiya

Journalist & Techpreneur. Africa, communications and data.

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