Politics, tribalism, religion and corruption marring Nigeria’s response to COVID-19

THE NEWSGHOST, NIGERIA – Efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria is being sabotaged by some of the country’s historic social problems. These include religion, politics, tribalism and corruption.

In Lagos where the index case of the virus in Nigeria was recorded a few months ago, the government had responded quickly with a lockdown order. To cushion the effect of the lockdown on residents, it also offered to make relief provisions available. This good effort and intention by the government quickly turned bad when residents cried out against the manner in which the relief provisions were being distributed. Most of the residents claimed that relief provisions which included food stuffs and money were only being distributed to a selected and favoured few.

My experience of how these relief provisions were distributed in my neighbourhood in Yaba solidified this claim even further. I noticed that these provisions were been distributed through some sort of political hierarchy and affiliation which blatantly lacked transparency and order. Some observers in the neighbourhood lamented that some people returned several times to receive relief provisions pretending that they had received nothing before.

The federal government (FG) of Nigeria has also recently gone under scrutiny for misappropriation of funds meant for responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country. While the FG claims it has distributed over N5 billion to people captured in its National Social Register (NSR), many Nigerians say this is a false claim and that most of the money must have been embezzled. When the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, the agency responsible for the distribution of the money, was asked to provide evidence for the money it had distributed so far, it could not. Before this, photos had circulated on social media showing relief funds being distributed in cash to beneficiaries in the northern part of the country. And some quarters believe that the FG had only distributed relief funds in that part of the country, stirring up some hints of tribalism on the part of the federal government.

Among government corruption, dirty politics and religion, it is difficult to say which one is sabotaging the fight against the virus more. Lately, there have been several instances of religious leaders planting all sorts of conspiracy theories in the hearts of their congregation. One Shaykh Sani Yahaya Jingir, an Islamic scholar based in Jos, was recently in the news for telling his congregation that ‘there is no corona!’. He claims that the coronavirus pandemic is nothing but another western plot to disrupt the practice of Islam. Many religious leaders had flouted lockdown orders and held congregational worship activities too.

If these social problems are not addressed urgently, Nigeria’s response to the coronavirus could be marred beyond salvage. And this will be a huge disaster for Africa and the world at large.

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