ActionAid Nigeria (AAN) has followed with keen interest the Federal Government’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic. We applaud some of the steps taken by the Presidential Task Force and other stakeholders including the media and first responders who are working tirelessly to ensure that the novel virus is exterminated from our shores.
As an anti–poverty non-governmental organization working to combat poverty and promote social justice in Nigeria for the past 20 years, ActionAid Nigeria is responding to the pandemic and we deem it fit to highlight our response and comment on governments response strategy thus far particularly as it affects our primary beneficiaries; women, children, youths and persons with disabilities as follows:
ActionAid Nigeria’s Response
ActionAid Nigeria’s approach to emergencies focuses on cultivating women’s leadership and shifting power to local organizations and movements. ActionAid Nigeria is currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in partnership with Activista Nigeria; a youth movement consisting 2957 youths, 28 women led organizations, 12 Local Rights Programme partners and the CSO Network on Social Protection consisting of 60 CSOgroups across the federation. AAN’s immediate response is focused on protection services for women and girls, awareness, prevention and control; this we are implementing through community-based facilitators who have received safety kits and the pandemic awareness materials including megaphones, flyers, posters and banners with messages in local languages. Working with community–based facilitators is a safeguarding approach to mitigate the risk of staff and partners infecting or being infected in the response process. The community-based facilitators are leading the awareness campaigns in the communities and providing real time updates on the situation.
Also, strategic funds have been released from AAN to our project partners in different states to cater for the protection of women during the period of the epidemic. AAN has set up a 9-member Committee on COVID-19 finalizing a strategy and seeking innovative ways of working with relevant stakeholders during this period.
Comments on Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) Response to COVID–19
ActionAid Nigeria believes the COVID–19 response requires a wider and multi–dimensional perspective compared to the approach currently adopted by the FGN. Observations and recommendations are as follows:
1. A huge amount of funding has been committed to the COVID–19 response by both the government and private sector, yet there is no proper accountability put in place, which is likely to breed corruption and defeat the effectiveness of government’s noble efforts.
2. The idea to sustain the school feeding programme is commendable, however children are not in school and there is no clear workable strategy for its implementation. More so,there are no clear information on how child education will be sustained nationally at this time.
3. Access to testing and quality of service received by COVID–19 infected persons remains a point of concern with some citizens reportedly paying for testing while others have complained of neglect and favoritism of infected influential persons.
4. The attention on public health have shifted to the COVID–19 outbreak, women and citizens with other ailments are finding it more difficult to access much neededhealthcare services; as some state governments are converting health facilities to isolation centres.
5. The conditional cash transfer was initially designed to capture a particular set of beneficiaries under a ‘normal’ social and economic environment, however COVID-19 has altered that environment, hence, the beneficiaries list has expanded to include other set of persons affected by the pandemic.
6. Women constitute a higher number of Nigeria’s informal economic sector and the lockdown will significantly affect them due to the increased burden of unpaid care work,loss of work and markets for their goods. Yet, government’s palliative measures are not prioritizing women. The exclusion of the Ministry of Women Affairs from the Presidential Task Force on COVID–19 further hinders the voices and needs of women being captured in governments’ response strategy.
7. There is high probability that increased cases of Gender Based Violence especially towards women will be recorded at this time, but the Federal government’s responsestrategy did not capture a well-defined service provision for survivors.
8. Information gaps, misconception and myths are still high amongst Nigerians, particularly at the grassroots. The concept of social distancing remains a mirage to many, campaign messages seems to omit children and persons with disabilities such as the deaf andblind.
9. The lockdown of the states with infected cases is noble, but it will be ineffective if adjourning states do not follow suit.
10. Civil Society Organizations who are the independent observers with workable solutions to coordination challenges are not carried along in the implementation of the strategy.
The Federal Government should:
1. Set a clear accountability mechanism structure in partnership with Civil Society Organizations to track and monitor the utilization of resources committed to the COVID–19 response.
2. Innovate and communicate ways on how child education will be sustained nationallyat this time while they are at home.
3. Ensure that access to testing and quality of service is prioritized irrespective of citizen’s status.
4. Ensure that the focus on COVID–19 does not lead to diversion of resources away from other existing health priorities such as efforts to eliminate maternal and child mortality.
5. Work with CSOs and other existing structures who already have database of the poorest of the poor including the aged, to ensure they benefit from the advance conditional cash transfer, as our findings show that some of the most vulnerable and poor are omitted from the list and will suffer other complications other than COVID–19.
6. Prioritize vulnerable women in its palliative measures to cushion their loss of income because when women are reached, their household benefits. Electricity, water, food should be available to households to reduce the burden of care work on women.
7. Include Gender Based Violence (GBV) care as part of essential services, update GBV referral pathways and provide extra funding for GBV service provision.
8. Ensure that awareness and prevention campaigns are intensified at the grassroots to demystify the myths and misconceptions on the novel virus. Such campaigns should be audience specific considering the information needs of children, the aged, the blind and deaf.
9. Ensure that states implement the lockdown order as a matter of urgency for effectiveness with adequate notice to enable citizens prepare for the lockdown.
10. Expand the membership of COVID–19 response team to include CSOs for effective coordination, accountability and transparency in the entire response.