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Vol 61 No 7

Published 2nd April 2020


Nigeria

Lagos takes the lead

After speculation about his health and whether he was even in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari gave a belated televised address on 29 March announcing a lockdown of Abuja, Lagos and its neighbouring Ogun and Osun states. He promised direct payments to the poorest Nigerians, stopped from earning a living by the restrictions, as well as financial relief for small and medium-size companies.

Lauded for its handling of the 2014 Ebola crisis, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), led by Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, is working hard on contact-tracing and setting up coronavirus testing labs around the country.

With over 150 confirmed cases by 1 April, many worry that Nigeria could follow, even surpass, the spread of the virus in Africa's other big economies, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. Already, it has cut through the country's political class with the President's Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, Kaduna State governor Nasir el Rufai, and Bauchi governor Bala Mohammed all testing positive.

In Lagos, Africa's most populous city, state commissioner for health Dr Akin Abayomi has set up a special operations centre for digital tracking and monitoring of cases.

During the lockdown, state government vehicles are disinfecting markets and streets.

Beyond Lagos, Ogun and Osun states and Abuja there are concerns about local capacity to control the outbreak with reports from the respected digital news site Premium Times that the country had only 350 intensive care beds for its 200 million people. Most of them are in private hospitals.

Many banks and big companies are partnering with NCDC to develop mass quarantine shelters. Billionaires such as Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu and Folorunsho Alakija are contributing funds for testing kits, ventilators and building more ICUs. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who ran against Buhari in the 2019 elections, donated 50 million naira (US$128,000) and suggested that an abandoned cancer centre in Abuja be converted to an isolation camp. Commissioned in 2009 by former first lady Turai Yar'adua, the fully furnished facility was never used and the land around was converted into a cowpea farm.

Many worry about the damage wrought by the four-state lockdown, which accounts for over 60% of the national economy, and the ban on inter-state travel.



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