A Special Report on the Coronavirus Pandemic in Nigeria
There is a popular proverb in Nigeria that goes thus: “the bigger the head, the bigger the headache.” A similar idiomatic expression in Nigeria’s unique “broken English”parlance is: “big man, big problem”.
With a land mass of 923,769 km2 and a population of over 206 million people, Nigeria is not only a “big man”, she has a “big head”. In fact Nigeria prides herself as the “giant of Africa “.
Why the big population status of Nigeria has not manifested in the number of cases of Coronavirus infections, is what has raised the brows of the population, as well as medical and mathematical experts.
It is believed that the figures of infection, so far declared in Nigeria, do not align with the population of the country, especially when the abysmally poor state of health infrastructures, even as acknowledged by public officials, is considered.
The deadly coronavirus of “unknown cause” and yet-to-be-discovered cure, emanated from China’s Wuhan, and, like an end of the year gift, was first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December, 2019. The outbreak, which was declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January, 2020 has, as at April 21, infected 2,501,156 people all over the world, out of which 659,732 people have recovered, while 171, 810 have died.
Nigeria is the seventh most populated country in the world after China, India, USA, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil. A comparative analysis of the coronavirus pandemic of the ten most populous countries in the world leaves Nigeria out as the “odd-figure country”, and one may be tempted to wonder about the “miracle” that’s only working in Nigeria.
China with a population of 1, 439,323,776 people, the highest in the world, recorded 82,758 infections, 77,123 recoveries, and 4,632 deaths. For India, 18,935 cases were confirmed, 3,260 recoveries and 603 deaths in a population of 1,380,040,000 . USA has a population of 331,002,651. It has, as at April 21, 2020, recorded 799,515
confirmed cases of coronavirus, out of which 73,373 recovered and 48,897 died. Indonesia has a population of 273,523,615 with 7,135 confirmed cases, 840 recoveries and 616 deaths.
While Pakistan has 220,892,340 population, with 9,316 confirmed cases, 2067 recoveries and 193 deaths; Brazil, has 40,814 confirmed cases, 22,991 recoveries and 2,588 deaths out of its 212,559,417 people.
Surprisingly, Nigeria with 206,139,589 population has, as at April 22, 2020, an unbelievably low figure of 665 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 188 recoveries and 22 deaths.
Among the 10 most populous countries in the world, Nigeria, which is placed seventh, has the lowest confirmed cases, consequently, the lowest number of deaths and the second lowest number of recoveries.
Other countries from the group of ten most populated countries, even with lower population than Nigeria, still have higher confirmed cases of infection, and deaths than Nigeria. Bangladesh has a population of 164,689,283, and has confirmed cases of 3382, and 110 deaths while 87 people have so far recovered. Russia witnessed 62,763 confirmed cases out of its 145, 934, 462 population with 3,873 recoveries and 456 deaths. Mexico is the tenth most populous nation in the world. Even with population lower than Nigeria, the country still has higher figures than Nigeria. Mexico has 8,772 confirmed cases, 2627 recoveries and 712 deaths.
What then could be the magic or factors behind Nigeria’s low figure of the pandemic?
Or could it be a case of a man hiding his injured hand under the cloth and away, from the physician? Is it a case of “the more you look, the less you see”? Questions and more questions.
Nigeria has the highest population in Africa. However, on the table of ten most populous countries on the continent, Nigeria has the fifth lowest death rates behind Algeria (385), Egypt (224), South Africa (58) and Democratic Republic of Congo (26).
The “giant of Africa” also has the fourth highest recovery figure of 188, behind Algeria (1,099), South Africa (1,055), and Egypt (701). The confirmed cases of coronavirus across the ten countries with highest population show that Nigeria, the most populated, has the fourth highest figure of 665 (as at April 20, 2020), following South Africa (3,300), Egypt (3,022) and Algeria (2,718).
It is note worthy that all the ten most populated nations in Africa, apart from Egypt and Algeria, recorded their first index cases in March 2020 while Nigeria’s index case was on February 27, 2020 from a foreigner who entered the country from Italy.
Coming nearer home, the Nigerian figures are still susceptible to inaccuracy, when compared to her neighbouring countries with lower population.
Cameroon with a population of 25,220,000 has 1,017 confirmed cases, 305 recoveries and 45 deaths. Niger Republic with 22,440,000 population has 648 confirmed cases, 117 recoveries and 20 deaths.
All the four countries surrounding Nigeria; Cameroon, Niger Republic, Benin Republic and Chad; had their index cases in March. In fact, the totality of the population of these four countries put at about 74,630,000 is just 36% of Nigeria’s population standing at 206,740,000. Yet, while the combined confirmed cases in the four countries are 1733, the recoveries are 448, with 66 deaths. Whereas Nigeria has, 665 confirmed cases, 188 recoveries and 22 deaths.
Nigeria’s public officials may not come out open about the real statistics, thereby leaving a wide room for speculations, but knowledgeable people are of the view that the worst is yet to come. As at April 20, 2020, Nigeria has merely conducted a paltry 8,003 coronavirus tests, a very low figure even if it was to be used for only Bayelsa State with the lowest population of 1,704,515 in Nigeria, let alone for the whole country over 206 million people.
There is acute dearth of protective equipment and other medical tools like testing kits and ventilators that are much needed to treat coronavirus-infected people. The pandemic is presently recorded in 26 states of the Federation. Nigeria is made up of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, which in many instances, has the status of a state.
The Director General of Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu was recently reported to have said that the pandemic may spread to other states of Nigeria. Ihekweazu is highly placed to know, and must have actually spoken from the point of information at his disposal. Even Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, in a recent report by the Premium Times, Nigeria’s leading on-line newspaper, was quoted to have said that the low number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nigeria “does not mean that new cases in the country are dwindling,” and that “the number of confirmed cases could fluctuate as time goes on.”
Different groups have expressed dismay about government information management of the pandemic.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council, decried what it described as “soup-pot” information management by government officials saddled with COVID-19 fight” in the state.
In a statement signed by the association’s Chairman and Secretary, Comrades Amos Etuk and Dominic Akpan respectively, the Council said “while the intention to embark on massive testing of the people was commendable, the statement issued by the state government regarding the development lacked details, depth and consistency.”
The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), on its own, urged the Federal Government to provide more testing facilities to contain the spread of coronavirus. NIPR, through it’s President, Mukthar Sirajo, clamoured that “testing facilities should be distributed across every corners of the country to avoid the potential of people being infected without knowing.”
Experts are very worried, and rightly so, about COVID-19 escalating in Africa due to inadequate health system manifested in lack of equipment, lack of funding, frequent dispute with medical practitioners, insufficient training of healthcare workers, inefficient data transmission, low morale in or frontline workers, lack of insurance coverage for health personnel and so on.
For Nigeria, the “giant of Africa”, the days ahead may be very challenging.
From all pointers, the official figures may neither be holistic nor reassuring. A lot need to be done and urgently too, so that it would not be discovered, when it is too late, that we have lived in a “fool’s paradise” as far as the pandemic is concerned.
Tunde Oladunjoye, a Nigerian journalist and social policy advocate, is available on firstname.lastname@example.org