Lived Experiences in the Era of Corona Virus Pandemic in Nigeria

[Caroline Okumdi Muoghalu] Wednesday April 22 / Saturday, May 16, 2020


The first case of corona virus pandemic in Nigeria was recorded in February, 2020. Ever since, the number of cases has been rising, that as at now- 22 April, 2020, Nigeria has about 700 cases and has recorded 22 deaths. Owing to the contagious nature of the virus, certain measures have been put in place by the federal government of Nigeria in order to contain the infection. These are restriction of movements, stay at home order, social distancing, frequent washing of hands, greeting each other with elbows and legs and the total lockdown of the economy. All these have resulted in untold hardships for Nigerians and there is need to document these experiences so that the nation may be better prepared for future occurrences of such events.

This paper reviewed the preventive measures put in place by the federal government and how people are living with these measures. Also, the effect of lockdown on livelihoods and feeding was reviewed and the distribution of palliatives and the implication of all these for health care services and the health of Nigerians were looked into relying on the political economy framework. Google search engine, books and daily newspapers were the sources of information.

It was indicated that the preventive measures are not effective due to the fact that many people find it difficult to obey the order because the Nigerian economy thrives on informal sector- there are so many that if they do not go out in a day, they will not be able to feed. Also, the lockdown affected livelihoods of Nigerians to the extent that many families are hungry and prefer to go out and look for food to staying at home so that they can be free from corona virus. It was further revealed that the palliatives are not evenly distributed and many vulnerable people did not get anything. The corona virus pandemic has also exposed the fragile healthcare system and shown that it is not prepared for such crisis and that everything needed to fight the virus is inadequate. Many Nigerians are cooking their own medications in their homes in order to safeguard their lives. The review further indicated that there is a surge in armed robbery and criminality generally due to loss of livelihoods.

The paper concludes that the enormous sufferings of Nigerians in this era of corona virus pandemic is a result of poor leadership at all levels in the country.

In a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Government of Nigeria closed markets and gave orders for people to stay at home, give two metres distance from each other, stop hugging one another and stop all social visits and social activities such as burials and wedding ceremonies. In fact, the federal and state governments declared a lockdown of the economy and social activities.

This government directive has become a thorn on the flesh of Nigerians in many ways. This is because most Nigerians feed from day labour and what they get daily from markets. As such, the inability to go out from the house on a daily basis spells doom and harsh socio-economic circumstances for such people. This includes lack and inability of many people to purchase food due to poverty. Apart from this, the Nigerian healthcare system is a very fragile one which makes it difficult for people to have access to healthcare services during this period. Based on the complaints of Nigerians, the federal government brought out palliative measures to cushion the effects of the lockdown on vulnerable Nigerians. These palliative measures are being distributed to vulnerable Nigerians and a lot of problems and issues are trailing the distribution. All these will be discussed in detail in the course of this paper.

Appreciating the political economy at work here is key to building an appreciation of the already-existing structures in place through which the virus has spread and the inadequacy of the government response. This is in the sense that many Nigerians were already living below the poverty line –on less than one dollar a day before the Corona virus was recorded in the country. The nature and practice of politics and the economic activities and goals especially as dictated by government policies and interventions constitute the political economy of a particular country. A political economic orientation reframes the economic situation and policies of government of any country in the context of the lives of people: their health, livelihood, education and even life chances. According to Marx and Engels (1976), the capitalist political economy entails the exploitation of many by a few and it breeds tensions and strains between different groups (as cited in Muoghalu, 2014). Theories of political economy theory help us appreciate the interlocking of political events and how they exact influence and generate economic outcomes for the population in all facets of life. Political economy focuses on political forms/reforms and events and the accompanying economic arrangements in a country. The nature and practice of politics and the economic activities and goals especially as dictated by government policies and interventions constitute the political economy of a particular country.

For example, Adam Smith’s work examines political economy as a science of the statesman in their efforts to supply plentiful revenue for the people and to enable them provide such a revenue for subsistence for themselves and to supply the state or common wealth with a revenue sufficient for public services.  In applying Smith’s consideration of political economy to preventive measures put in place by the federal and state governments in Nigeria, it brings to the fore the fact that the Nigerian state has not provided the people with the adequate resources to enable them to stay at home and obey the restriction of movement order because most Nigerians are always on the move to look for food and other basic necessities.

For example, Adam Smith’s work examines political economy as a science of the statesman in their efforts to supply plentiful revenue for the people and to enable them provide such a revenue for subsistence for themselves and to supply the state or common wealth with a revenue sufficient for public services.  In applying Smith’s consideration of political economy to preventive measures put in place by the federal and state governments in Nigeria, it brings to the fore the fact that the Nigerian state has not provided the people with the adequate resources to enable them to stay at home and obey the restriction of movement order because most Nigerians are always on the move to look for food and other basic necessities.

Also, according to Adam Smith (1846), the wealth of the nation is supposed to enable the members of the society to provide subsistence for themselves. This cannot be said to be true in Nigeria anymore. This is because Nigerians are no longer able to provide for their own subsistence because there are now so many obstacles militating against people being able to provide for their own subsistence. So many people are unemployed and this constitutes a great burden on families. Also, in recent times, the distribution of wealth in the Nigerian society has been in such a way that the few rich are getting richer and the majority poor are becoming poorer. To make matters worse, government policies tend towards a more capitalist economy in which school fees are paid and other services are paid for more than ever before (Muoghalu, 2014). With this scenario, many Nigerians cannot afford good meals, and the coronavirus pandemic has met many Nigerians in this situation thereby making an already bad case worse.

On the issue of health, the Nigerian healthcare system is so fragile that it is accessible to only few who can afford it since the removal of subsidies on healthcare services in Nigeria. Many poor people cannot avail themselves of even free healthcare services due to distance and other logistical issues. As such, many resort to patronizing traditional health practitioners – a medical system that is yet to be brought into the mainstream healthcare system in Nigeria, though 67 percent of the population rely on it for primary healthcare needs (Muoghalu and Adeyara, 2010). It is therefore perhaps stating the obvious that many Nigerians are experiencing poor health status while our leaders go abroad for medical services and our doctors and other medical personnel practice in other countries for better pay and better facilities. Presently, there is no law that said that leaders cannot travel to other countries for healthcare but the issue is that boarders have been closed thereby making it difficult for anyone to travel outside the country. This was the scenario where COVID- 19 met Nigerians and this could explain why many Nigerians resorted to cooking their own medicines. The lived experiences of Nigerians in this era of corona virus pandemic is a product of our political economy which has generated poor governance, lack of trust and general poverty in the land. The lockdown of the economy created untold hardship on Nigerians due to poor political-economic status of Nigeria as a state in which majority of the people are living in abject poverty while the enormous wealth of the nation is in the hands of few.


In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, there are various measures put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Part of these measures are social distancing in which the government directed that there must be a distance of six feet between two persons, closure of markets, churches, washing of hands regularly or using sanitizers, stoppage of social gatherings such as weddings, burials, social visits, hugging and shaking of hands and stay at home order. Instead, people were asked to greet each other with legs and elbows. Many Nigerians are trying to obey these directives, after all, it is about their lives and safety.

However, there are issues in the environment that make it very difficult for most Nigerians to adhere to these directive. In the first place, many Nigerians get their daily food from daily work and if they do not go out in a day, they will not eat. How then can such a person survive if he/she stays at home. As a result of this, many people did not obey this order. They continue to come out and on many occasion, they clash with the police which sometimes result in fatalities.

On the issue of washing of hands regularly under running water, only very few Nigerians have access to clean running water. The majority are using wells, streams and other sources of unhealthy water. How then can such people wash their hands under running tap water? Infact, the World academy of Sciences (2020) captured this when they observed “how can people without access to clean water be expected to wash their hands? How can people living in overcrowded urban living situation practice social distancing? How will preventive measures impact developing nations as regards the economic consequences of a quarantine”. Also, the social distancing was met with mixed feelings as most cultures in Nigeria were built around love and closeness to one another. It is very difficult for a people that have been socialized from childhood to hug and shake one another to begin to greet with elbows and legs in old age. To such people, social distancing looks like a taboo and sounds impossible and to make matters worse, many Nigerians especially in urban areas live in crowded homes and neighbourhoods there by making it impossible for them to practice social distancing.

Furthermore, stoppage of social visits, social gatherings such as weddings and funerals did not go down well with many Nigerians because these events are avenues through which people interact and nourish their mental health. Nigerians visit one another a lot and finds it difficult to stop even in the face of a deadly virus. This is why social visits and other social gatherings are still going on despite the threat of the pandemic and the fact that the law enforcement agencies are patrolling the entire nation to stop people from moving about. All these have serious implications for the prevention and containment of the pandemic.


The lockdown order of the federal government of Nigeria came with the closure of markets in most affected states and many other states were lock down by their governors. The closure of markets, a place for economic activities for most Nigerians hit the people so hard that Nigerians are at their wits end right now more than ever before. This is because it is from the markets that many Nigerians earn their living and its closure means closure of their source of livelihoods. It is important to point out here that most Nigerians are in the informal sector (with little or no savings) with only few in the formal sector. The closure of markets and restriction of movements have resulted in high cost of food items with negative impacts on the lives of Nigerians.

The closure of markets and restriction of movements have resulted in high cost of food items with negative impacts on the lives of Nigerians. There have been significant hikes in the prices of food items in which a kilogram of chicken previously sold at N1000 is now sold at N1, 500 and a tuber of yam which sold at N300 has jumped to N700. Also, Nigeria’s daily newspaper the Guardian has noted the complaints of some Lagos residents, including a resident of Abule Egba, Lagos who described the situation as disgusting. According to her, “I feel like crying, it is so heart breaking that in times like this, we chose to be evil and wicked to one another, a cup of rice is now N500 instead of N100 and hand sanitizer of N300 now sells for N800. In fact, to eat at this present time is war.” This opinion was further reiterated by another Lagos resident who said that “in other countries, people are helping one another and here we are killing ourselves. Like it or not, people will die of hunger than the virus itself. Why is every situation an opportunity to make money? No wonder, our leaders don’t care.” This supposed exploitation was explained by a farm manager who indicated that hike in the prices of foods is the result of increase cost of logistics. The food supply exists on farms but farm workers are not allowed to get to the farm and bring food to town. Some farmers in Ikorodu, Lagos were beaten recently by law enforcement agents on their way to feed chickens and pigs on the ground that they did not possess farmers’ association identity cards: how many Nigerians farmers have identity cards and is it in times like this that we should be enforcing association membership? If urgent solutions are not proffered, hunger will be the resulting epidemic. Now it is a choice between feeding the nation and getting assaulted by the police. The farm manager warned that unless the government intervenes, “[h]unger will kill many Nigerians before COVID-19 finds them.” As noted by another farm manager in Oyo state, the cost of logistics is transferred to the consumer and the situation may result in food glut in which there is plenty of food and many people will not have money to buy since “people are locked up.”

The people continue to lament the situation. According to Guardian Life, “[T]he development has not only exposed the country’s many challenges as it pertains to food security, but it has also created an unpremeditated food crisis, forcing many people to break the restriction order in a desperate search for survival.” This was re-echoed by agricultural consultant who observed that

“[T]he problem stems out of the fact that the country does not have enough food in stock to survive during the lockdown as it has failed to prepare for the rainy day. As the lockdown continues, so also is the fragile economy getting locked down. We are ill equipped in all areas and this is why the situation is affecting us. Our leaders preferred to celebrate birthdays abroad at the expense of taxpayers, go for medicals abroad, take our money abroad and nothing is left to cater for the citizens. There are no good hospitals, our education is in comatose, hence the bane of our problems today.”

These issues have raised serious questions on our political economy because the implication of all these is that the leadership of the nation has not done the needful which has brought untold hardship on the people at this critical time. I want to concur that the way things are going, many people that survive COVID-19 may end up dying of hunger which will be a great indictment on our leadership and on us as a people.


It is noteworthy that many Nigerians live on daily wages and the lockdown and restriction of movement mean no food and money for such people. The BBC News (2020) rightly observed that Nigeria has a high percentage of people living on a daily wage and that the lockdown will be very challenging to such people. I wish to say that indeed, it is a very challenging period for most Nigerians- a country whose economy is based mainly on the informal small scale businesses who depend on daily activities to thrive. The federal government expressed awareness of the economic implications of the lockdown but insisted that the lockdown was necessary in order to safe guard the lives of Nigerians (BBC News, 16 April 2020).

In order to make life easier for the vulnerable Nigerians in the period of the lockdown, the federal government of Nigeria and other public-spirited rich Nigerians instituted a fund to provide foods and other basic necessities for many Nigerians who usually depend on daily wage/earnings for survival. This palliative did not get to many people who needs it most due to bottlenecks in the distribution network. To start with, there are no proper records of who these vulnerable people are and where they can be found. The government indicated that they are using World Bank records of the poor in Nigeria but is not clear to me how the World Bank gets to my village and other remote villages in Nigeria. As noted by BBC (16 April, 2020), with no proper structure or data to conduct an effective distribution, the relief materials were not evenly distributed. Also, there have been issues of situations where the vulnerable Nigerians were given so little that they did not know what to do with it. This has generated series of reactions among this group of Nigerians. Some of them rejected the offer, some took it and started crying because it is not enough to cook for one day. As such, there were series of complaints and bitterness across the nation.

From the look of things, it is very difficult for government to reach many of the vulnerable Nigerians and the implication of this is that many may die of hunger in the process of protecting them against the coronavirus pandemic. Infact, I am beginning to think that the lockdown does not have much benefit to this group of Nigerians, rather it causes them pain and agony. Too many of them, it is better to be free and eat well and if they catch coronavirus, they may either die or live. This is the scenario in many parts of Nigeria. However, one would not forget the pleasant humanitarian works being done by nongovernmental organizations and some public- spirited rich individuals who instead of donating to the government instituted fund, they used their money and bought food items and other essentials and distributed it to their community members. Indeed, the impact of such good Samaritans was felt so much by the vulnerable Nigerians in their areas in such a way that they have brought peace, joy and the zeal to live into the lives of so many vulnerable Nigerians.

This situation has also exposed the inequities in our political economy in the sense that the distribution of palliatives is not even and the real number of vulnerable people is not known. As such, the entire exercise is confusing and to a great extent ineffective. This was noted by Centre for truth and Liberty (CTL) in Lagos, that COVID 19 has exposed the weakness in our political economy. Palliatives introduced by federal and state governments have proven to be grossly inadequate to assuage the angers of millions of Nigerians. As noted by CTL(2020), “These inadequate palliative measures underpin the failure of a system that should be offering stimuli to teeming population of productively engaged workforce as seen in countries across the world.”


Before the corona virus pandemic in Nigeria, the healthcare system was weak, a very fragile healthcare system with a lot of needs in terms of personnel, facilities, funding and spatial distribution. The situation has gotten to the level that many Nigerians especially the poor do not have any faith in the healthcare system. Therefore, many Nigerians utilize traditional medicine for their primary healthcare needs. Indeed in a study conducted in 2010 in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, it was indicated that 67 percent of the residents utilize traditional medicine for their primary healthcare needs (Muoghalu and Adeyara, 2010).

When I ponder over the health issues in an era of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, it becomes difficult to articulate properly because it is now a bigger problem. People are now being encouraged to go to hospital to report any feeling of ill-health in order to be able to identify coronavirus-infected patients. How will people who have not been utilizing hospitals before the pandemic will now begin to go to hospital for sneezing and coughing for instance? In fact, from my observation, many Nigerians are avoiding the hospitals like a plague because of fear of contracting coronavirus and other infectious diseases. As such, many Nigerians have now resorted to cooking their own medications in their houses. They cook all sorts of medicine from local herbs ranging from immunity boosters to blood boosters and to ones that can clear respiratory tracts of any infections and impurities and people give to family members and friends to drink. I do not know what to make of all these but what comes to the fore is the lack/loss of trust in modern medicine. It is also an indication that the people do not believe/trust government promises and have decided to take their destinies in their own hands.

Also, the issue of nutrition is very crucial in this discourse due to the central place of good food in immunity and the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of the pandemic lockdown, many Nigerians especially those on daily wage find it very difficult to eat good food the way they were before the virus. Many people now eat food just to stay alive and not die of hunger. Some families now eat anything they see. They no longer care about balanced diet because most Nigerians cannot afford balanced diet at this time. This may lead to many Nigerians having compromised immune system which renders them highly vulnerable to the virus. In fact, this has gotten to the level that many people on special diets due to some ailments (diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver) are now eating any food available which has serious implications for their health and their resistance to the virus and other infections.

Of particular importance is the situation in the North east and North west where there are internally displaced persons living in camps. According to Osakwe (2020), the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the situation as thousands of children suffer and die of malnutrition. The problem of malnutrition had been in these states among internally displaced persons but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it making it difficult to manage. With malnutrition, one can then imagine what the scenario will be if any of these malnourished children/people get infected with coronavirus. Not only that it will spread like wildfire but that the fatality may be very high which portend a disaster waiting to happen. Again, issues in our political economy as it was indicated that enough commitment has not been shown towards curbing the menace of malnutrition. This plan to curb malnutrition is supposed to be one of the most important agendas of the government and assuming that it was carried out as planned, COVID-19 may not have met these children malnourished which would have given them better chances of survival.

Furthermore, there is an area of health of the population and coronavirus that concerned authorities and stakeholders are not taking into cognizance. This important area is the mental health of Nigerians as generated by the pandemic. Today, many Nigerians are so stressed in such a way that they are at their wits end. This fear is a result of several factors- the fear of the unknown that one does not know whether he/she will get infected and if infected whether one will survive or die especially with a very fragile healthcare system. Also, the fear for the lives of loved ones and what may happen to them. Apart from fear, the stress/hardship associated with restriction of movement in which many people that live on a daily wage do not have food and other basic necessities to give to their families, many have gone into deep depression. All these stressors put together are beginning to take a toll on Nigerians who are naturally very positive and happy people inspite of their sufferings before the coronavirus pandemic. In line with this, I personally observe that many people are cross/irritated these days. They easily start quarrels with one another due to their fragile mental state and this constitute one of the hidden consequences of the pandemic in Nigeria.

Moreover, the sanitizers that is being advocated for is beyond the reach of many Nigerians because of increase in prizes. Due to this high price, many people shun sanitizers because their priority is to buy food first. This implies that many people may go about without sanitizers which may increase their vulnerability to the infection.

I will not close this section on health without mentioning the increased criminality that Nigerians are witnessing. Thieves and armed robbers are now invading homes in Ogun and Lagos States and other states in Nigeria. One feature of the robbers in this era of coronavirus is that they are usually so many in a group and they overwhelm the regular security. This incessant robbery has created fear in the minds of residents who are being deprived of their meager resources. Also, the robbery incidents lead to deaths or permanent injury on innocent Nigerians who are not finding life easy at this time. This is why many people in these areas are sleeping with one eye open which has serious implications for their mental and physical health. The people reacted to this development by organizing themselves into vigilante groups (local security). This has brought about the phenomenon of all men living in an area comes out together every night to keep watch over their wives, children and properties until 5 o’clock in the morning. This is another tragedy in this era of coronavirus because sleeplessness results lowered immunity and in many ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. How then can this group of people resist the virus? These are very important issues in our political economy. A situation where the people cook their own medicines, safeguard their lives and properties is an indictment on the Nigerian political economy.


The entry concludes that the enormous sufferings of Nigerians in this era of coronavirus pandemic is a result of poor leadership at all levels in the country. The palliatives have not been adequately distributed and people are angry and feel locked up. A situation where no palliative reached a family especially if the family depends on daily wage and the movement of such a person is restricted, the person feels angry, frustrated and is pushed to the wall and I wish to say that many Nigerians are at this stage right now. This has raised issues about the appropriateness of a total lockdown in Nigeria- an economy that is based on informal activities- where most people live on daily activities without any form of welfare package for any age group. Again, a very important issue in the political economy of Nigeria. I want to observe that life may not be the same after COVID-19 in Nigeria because many people have learnt new ways of catering for themselves. They now cook their own medicines. They devise new ways of managing their foods and lives. This is an indication that Nigerians are becoming more independent, have taken their destinies into their hands and this may have implications for their relationship with government/leaders after the coronavirus pandemic.

Carolina Okumdi Muoghalu | lle-Ife | April 22/ May 16, 2020

The author is a medical sociologist in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Email: 


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