3 Nigerian States are on lockdown amid suspicions of under-testing

With a population of over 200 million, Nigeria had only screened 846 people by March 26. In comparison, South Africa, which confirmed its first case a week after Nigeria, had tested a total of 20,471 people by the same time

April 01, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Nigeria COVID lockdown
(Photo: The Nation)

Three States in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria went on lockdown on Monday, March 30. This was after a second fatality due to COVID-19 was reported in the country.

The total number of cases as of April 1 was 139, eight of which were reported on March 30 yesterday. These included three in the State of Osun, three in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which has the capital city, Abuja, one in the State of Lagos and one in the neighboring  Ogun State. The lockdown has been imposed on the latter three States.

Lagos, the commercial hub of the country, is the epicenter of the disease.

With over 20 million residents, Lagos is the most populous city on the African continent. The first case of COVID-19 in Nigeria was reported from Lagos on February 27 after an Italian citizen who had returned to the city for work from Milan was tested positive.  

The first death due to COVID-19 in Nigeria was reported from Abuja on March 23, when 67-year-old Suleiman Achimugu, former managing director of the state-owned Nigeria’s Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, succumbed to the disease. He had returned from the UK.

The Federal Capital territory (FCT), which includes Abuja, also went on lockdown on the night of March 30. Ogun is the third State on lockdown as it lies only 45 kilometers from Lagos.

Except for health workers and other personnel providing services essential to contain the pandemic, “[a]ll citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other States should be postponed,” president Muhammad Buhari said in his national address on Sunday.

“All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period,” with the exception of hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores. Nevertheless, fear of essential commodities running out sparked panic buying in the Lagos supermarkets on Monday as the residents braced to prepare for the lockdown.

However, millions of daily wage earners living in the slums in and around the city lack adequate access to water and toilets, which are generally shared among the community. They also lack the resources to stockpile essential supplies for the lockdown which may extend beyond two weeks.

Even though the president had announced an advance payment of USD 13 for the poorest of the poor, many fear that this ambiguous category leaves out millions, especially the self-employed who may not be able to acquire daily necessities without pay for two weeks.

“We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases,” Buhari had claimed in his address.

However, it is widely believed that the number of cases confirmed in Nigeria is far below the real figure due to extremely low levels of testing. With a population of over 200 million, Nigeria had screened only 846 people by March 26. As many as 65 (over 7.6%) of them tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, from March 27 onwards, the daily updates by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have not mentioned the total number of people screened. 

In comparison, South Africa, which confirmed its first case a week after Nigeria on March 5, had tested a total of 20,471 people by March 26, despite a population of 58.8 million – about 30% of Nigeria’s. 927 or 4.5% of those tested were found to be infected.

While South Africa has been identified as the pandemic’s epicenter within the continent, it is important to note that Nigeria has grossly under-tested in comparison, despite having over thrice South Africa’s population and registering its first case a week earlier.    

Reuters had reported on March 25 that the army is “preparing to forcibly transfer the sick to hospital.” Based on a memo from the army headquarters that Reuters claimed to have accessed, Nigeria’s army is also leasing equipment for “possible mass burial”.