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COVID-19 and the Nigerian State: A Sociopolitical Analysis

Damilola T. Agbalajobi

The COVID-19 pandemic has unsettled political, economic and social structures across the world. Although each country has its unique set of COVID challenges, some preliminary analyses have singled out African countries regarding the impacts of the pandemic, citing the level of structural violence within them, and their structural vulnerabilities on the micro, meso and macro levels of the international sociocultural system. We argue in this essay that the pandemic provides Nigeria with an imperative to restructure state-society relations and provide opportunities for citizens to enjoy the dividend of democracy. Based on a large phone survey conducted during the lockdown period in Lagos, we conduct a sociopolitical analysis to examine the structural vulnerabilities exposed during the of COVID-19 pandemic. We also evaluate the extent to which residents of Lagos State could make claims and enjoy the dividend of democracy as well as make claims on the government. This is imperative given that COVID-19 pandemic has led many governments to make emergency legislation to implement lockdown regulations which, in most cases, undermines democracy and change how political leaders make decisions.


We contribute to the emerging literature on the sociopolitical impact of COVID-19 by focusing on Lagos State, Nigeria. Our choice of Lagos was informed by the fact that the state is the epicenter of COVID-19 in Nigeria. It is also central to the country’s response to health emergencies as it houses the country’s major international entry port, is the most populous state, and is the economic capital. The study was a telephone-based survey with two thousand respondents drawn from one thousand households across local government and local council development areas of Lagos State. The study coincided with the inception of the second wave of COVID-19 in Nigeria. Fieldwork commenced from 5th of November 2020 and ended on 18th of March 2021. A total of nine thousand, six hundred and eighty-six (9,686) telephone contacts were made. Effective household interviews were evenly distributed between male and female respondents, across 57 Local Government Area/Local Development Council (LGA/LCDAs) of Lagos State.


In response to COVID-19, Nigeria’s government policies affected citizens’ ways of life and the civil liberties of individuals and communities. For example, freedom of association has been restricted by the Federal and Local governments, with restrictions on the number of people that can assemble. This approach is not so different from the responses in most other countries, as social distancing, where people stay some meters apart from each other, has become the norm. Freedom of movement has also been severely curtailed with interstate travel restrictions, and curfews within the states, thus abridging the fundamental and constitutional rights of citizens. In addition, all schools and gatherings were banned, and the citizenry ordered to confine to their abodes (Obiakor & Adeniran, 2020; Oxford Analytica, 2020). The drastic decisions, such as total lockdown and restriction on movement, further complicated the challenges of meeting the populace’s welfare needs across national boundaries. This has been especially challenging in Lagos State, where the population density is the highest in the country (Osabuohien et al., 2020; World Population Review, 2020).


COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in systems all over the world, and Nigeria is no exception. It revealed the deep-seated inequalities, and the disproportionate impact it has on the urban poor. The pandemic has affected the way we relate, revealing the way cities are organised and how Nigerian cities are not planned. COVID 19 also revealed how ineffective the pandemic protocols were in unplanned cities and has exposed cities bedevilled with a lack of necessary infrastructures. COVID-19 impacted Nigeria’s health response, its social inclusivity, and its governance structure by challenging the fundamentals of democracy as it is currently practised.


In terms of health systems, COVID-19 exposed the dilapidated state of Nigeria’s health care system and forcefully revealed the need to learn the lessons and maximise the experience of COVID-19 to ensure our health sector does not remain the same. Similarly, COVID-19 has made people appreciate the need to stay in hygienic cities, more evidently as most public buildings now have water outlets, hand sanitisers, and soaps to ensure people maintain the protocol to avoid the spread of the virus. These were the initial steps taken by the government even though we eventually learned that the major way COVID spreads is via air/ droplets not via unclean surface.


On social inclusivity, COVID-19 exposed the reality of the level of poverty in Nigerian cities, both urban and rural. Providing for the vulnerable and have-nots has been particularly difficult because of the unplanned nature of Nigerian cities, and the unavailability of structures or vital data such as population figures and household figures to effectively reach them. Good governance would include the provision for and meeting of the welfare needs of the citizens, but in Nigeria, no welfare system could be relied upon when COVID struck. To make matters worse, the government enforced lockdown of activities without adequate palliatives. Although there was the news of some pockets of palliatives such as food supplies, there were also widespread allegations of diversion of such palliative materials by some agents working for the government (Ufua et al, 2021; Agbedo, et al. 2020; Eranga, 2020).


In regards to the governance structure, the pandemic exposed the weakness of Nigeria’s state. The availability of baseline information/data to enable the nation to plan, and strategize against the pandemic is non-existent. In Nigeria and her communities, there is no social security, and there are no centralised medical or dental records. Going by the prevalent use of affidavits, more people are likely not to have their births adequately registered. The Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) System, though built on viable statutory and institutional platforms, has some major weakness. The weakness among others are inadequate financing and deployment of registration facilities, unfriendly sociocultural norms, weak national data infrastructure, systemic corruption, poverty and undeveloped civic culture (Makinde et al., 2020; Maduekwe, Banjo & Sangodapo, 2017; Garenee et al., 2016). These difficulties make it almost impossible for the government to advise or support the populace rightly to contain the pandemic.


Globally, in terms of mental health evidence has shown that women are more likely to report anxiety than men in low and middle income countries. While both genders suffer greater job losses during the COVID-19 lockdown, women who faced economic hardship were more likely to report anxiety and being negatively affected than their male counterparts (Hossain, 2021; Surucu, Ertan, Baglarbasi & Masalakci, 2021). Amajority of Nigerians experience psychological distress, with women likely to exhibit severe depression more than men owing to isolation and/or lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic (Olaseni, Akinsola, Agberotimi, & Oguntayo, 2020). Given the unprecedented closure of schools and lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, women’s work outside the home dropped and their productivity declined, which disrupted the advancement of women in leadership roles (Plaunova, Heller, Babb & Heffernan, 2021). Evidence of negative implications of COVID-19 on women’s mobility and transport in the peripheries of three African cities (Abuja, Cape Town and Tunis) has proven that women bear much of this burden (Porter, et al, 2021). In a bid to aid the understanding of the gendered effects of COVID-19, the report by the National Income Dynamics Study- Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) in South Africa, stated that women in South Africa were particularly hard hit. Relative to men, they were much more likely to lose their jobs during the initial strict lockdown phase, and their recovery was slower as the economy started to reopen (Casale & Posel, 2020). In addition to uneven effects in the labour market, inequalities in the time spent on childcare and in the income support for unemployed or furloughed workers persist, as women experienced carrying out more of the responsibilities (Casale & Shepherd, 2021).

In comparison to the studies on the gendered effects of COVID-19 across the world with specific references to implications, such as, mental health, economic, psychological, social, mobility and transport, etc., we lack sufficient studies on gendered experiences of COVID-19 in Lagos State, Nigeria. Lim, Park, Tessler, Choi, Jung and Kao (2020) showed that although a substantial share of Korean men and women anticipate a reduction in the gendered division of paid work and household work after COVID-19, Korean women are not as optimistic as their male counterparts about this potential reduction. In particular, younger women are most skeptical about the prospect that paid work and household work will be less divided by gender beyond the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, Zamberlan, Gioachin and Gritti (2021) analysed the impact of changes in paid working hours on gender inequality, specifically time devoted to housework and childcare. The study found that both men and women who lost paid hours increased the time devoted to domestic chores, but gender inequality strikes back, especially after breadwinner women lose paid hours. Casale and Shepherd (2021) examined the gendered effects of the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing lockdown in South Africa. Using the earlier waves of the National Income Dynamics Study- Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDSCRAM), the study found that women in South Africa were particularly hard hit. Hill and Kohler (2020) analyzed the effects of South Africa’s national lockdown on gender wage inequality. Relying on the first two waves of NIDS-CRAM data, the study presents results for the conditional and unconditional gender wage gap at the mean, revealing that women earned approximately 29% less than men per hour in February 2020, which expanded to approximately 43% less in June 2020. Monthly figures are more severe, with the gender wage gap estimated at approximately 30% in February 2020 and 51.6% in June 2020.


Given that the political and social environment of every society is being shaped by the economic environment, we begin our analysis by looking at the economic impacts of COVID-19 in Lagos State by looking at how employment status changed during and after the lockdown; the burden of chores which impacts on social activities, and the response of government to the needs of the people of Lagos in relation to health care and palliatives.


In terms of the economic effects, 73% of the respondents to our phone survey were working before the pandemic, with 44% self-employed and the majority earning less than $100 a month. This is consistent with the data collected by the World Bank (2022), that prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 around 4 in 10 Nigerians were living in poverty. Despite this and the decision to lockdown, 93% of the respondent reported not receiving any support from the government during the period. With many Nigerians living just above the poverty line in 2018/19 (World Bank, 2022), the pandemic shock left them vulnerable to falling into poverty when shocks. Despite the fact that Lagos state has the lowest poverty rate of 4.5% (World Bank, 2022), 43% of our respondent reported that they had difficulties in buying essential food items.


Evidence from our survey shows that more women reported that the burden of work increased (see figure one). The results showed that there was a significant association between the burden of chores and the gender of the respondents:

Interestingly, only 18% of our respondents reported they took ill during the period and the majority sought advice from a health provider and got the medications they needed. Our analysis showed that there was no significant association between employment status and whether they had received money or other benefits from the government (chi-sq. = 2.428; p = 0.488). On the other hand, there was a significant association between their employment status and whether they thought the lockdown was an effective strategy to handle the COVID-19 situation (chi-sq.=63.657; p = 0.001). Those who kept their job had a less favorable perception of the lockdown compared to others who either changed jobs or were let go from their work.


It is evident from our study that the majority of our respondents couldn’t access help from government, hence they could not enjoy the dividend of democracy. In addition, people had to abide by the regulations made by government despite the impacts it had on their sociopolitical wellbeing.

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