The COVID-19 virus, which is reported to have started at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China, is presently ravaging the world with health systems struggling to cope. The pandemic’s effects also include an increase in reported incidences of violence, conflict and discrimination, and a negative impact on economies worldwide due to the restrictive measures adopted by various entities to mitigate its spread. John Hopkins University reports that more than 25 million persons have been infected with the virus, with over 800,000 deaths reported globally. Nigeria presently has almost 55,000 cases – with over 1000 deaths – according to data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Families and communities are faced with an increase in tensions and conflict, as they are all suffering losses: either in terms of human lives or livelihoods. Also, incidents of suicide have been reported, either by people who have contracted the virus, or those who could not bear the sudden and unintended consequences of this pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a drastic economic decline which threatens livelihoods, leading to starvation, human rights violations, conflict and loss of lives in Nigeria and in other parts of the world. The National Bureau of Statistics reports that the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank by 6.1% in the second quarter of 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Also, Bloomberg reports that oil production fell to 1.81 million barrels a day between March and June 2020 compared to 2.07 million barrels in previous months and representing the lowest production rate since the first quarter of 2017.
This trend paints a bleak picture of the continued implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 16, which is to ensure peaceful societies, accountable institutions and justice for all. It is important to note that measures taken to curb the spread of the virus – which include lockdowns and social/physical distancing – have led to the loss of millions of jobs. According to the International Labour Organization, (ILO) over 195 million jobs globally could be lost due to the pandemic. This trend in itself is conflict as there is a reported increase in the number of cyber crimes and fraud, armed robbery, gang rape, burglary and kidnapping. The incidences of domestic violence have also increased drastically in Nigeria.
The novelty of and unfamiliarity with the virus – as well as a lack of strategic communication, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic – prevented a quick and adequate response from being rolled out worldwide, which has resulted in the spread of misinformation – and therefore mistrust – across many communities. This has resulted in an increase of conflict and loss of lives in Nigeria.
A survey conducted by the Centre for Sustainable Development and Education in Africa (CSDEA),which inquired about the people’s perceptions of the pandemic, indicated that most Nigerians either do not believe in the existence of COVID-19, whilst some communities speculate it was manufactured in China or that it is a disease specifically for the rich. Again, in urban areas where some citizens have firsthand experience, there is discrimination against those who have COVID-19, even when authorities certify them to have recovered from the disease. This trend has grave implications for the implementation of SDG 16 in Nigeria overall.
The thus far not too successful attempts by the governments and other relevant stakeholders to raise awareness among citizens about the necessity to prevent the virus from spreading may result in another lockdown. As stated earlier, previous restrictions and quarantines have resulted in increased poverty, loss of livelihoods, human rights violations, crime and violence.
These are all indices that go against the principles of “peaceful societies, accountable institutions, and justice for all”, that are embedded in SDG 16.
For Nigeria to avoid another lockdown, and to ensure the implementation of SDG 16, all citizens must come together and support each other in abiding by the COVID-19 guidelines of the NCDC.
These recommend the practice of social/physical distancing, the wearing of facemasks, and getting tested, as well as undergoing timely and NCDC-supervised treatment for all those who test positive.
This collective effort will help prevent another round of lockdown, and can help reduce misinformation, tensions and conflict in the country and strengthen the resilience of communities. This will prepare us to deal with both the current circumstances as well as a post-COVID-19 world. In doing so, we can aim to localise the values of SDG16 – peaceful, just and inclusive societies – on our path towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria by 2030.
–Ekpon is of the Centre for Sustainable Development Goals and Education in Africa (CSDEA) and wrote in from Abuja