Blog post by Dr Hadiza A. Ahmad, Abuja.

6th April 2020

COVID-19: Public Transport and Gender in Nigeria

Since the 30th March 2020, millions of Nigerians have been in lockdown in Abuja Federal Capital Territory and in Lagos and Ogun States due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has caused distress for many Nigerians, including transport workers, petty traders, and domestic workers who need to work on daily basis to feed their families, and who lack savings to stockpile food.

Maryam, a middle age woman explained: “I have to walk 12 kilometers to and from work today just to fend for my family. This lockdown imposed on public transport is not fair at all, we can’t stay hungry at home, we have to feed our children with this petty job we are doing.  [It] is not possible to save for a rainy day, and we the women are always at the receiving end. We can’t sit down and watch our children go hungry. The men don’t really care – all they worry about is their social life that is hindered. I can’t stay at home“

Nigeria’s first case of coronavirus was announced on the 27th February when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Even though the government was already setting up measures to locate those people who must have come in contact with the Italian, and also worked unrestricting public movement and gatherings, most Nigerians remained nonchalant.

Another COVID-19 case was confirmed in Lagos state on 9th March. The second case was a Nigerian citizen in Ewekoro, Ogun State, who had been in contact with the Italian citizen. Subsequently more cases were confirmed almost on a daily basis. On 23rd March the Nigerian government announced the closure of all schools, and restricted public servants from level 12 downwards from going to work, with the exception of those who work in essential sectors including security, health, water, electricity and communications.

On 26th March more cases were reported and the Nigerian government announced that they were tracing 4,370 suspected cases. The closure of schools and workplaces had a huge impact on public transport. Public transport was restricted and people were advised to stay in their houses and avoid public gatherings.

On 29th March, the Nigerian president declared a total lockdown in three states: Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun States for 14 days. These states were declared by the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health to have the highest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus. Cases in the country rose to 111 with 1 death recorded.

The lock-down included the closure of all public places, including garages, lorry parks, bus stops, and clubs and prayer houses. Moreover, the state and local government boundaries were no longer to be crossed. With all these measures in place, public transport was severely impacted. When this happened, some okada [motorbike-taxi] riders took the risk of still going to work, since they needed to feed their families, and some of them were arrested by the police. With this development, coupled with the fact that more case were confirmed in Abuja, Lagos and some other states, many Nigerians I spoke to came to the reality that the COVID-19 outbreak was real. As Hassana, a woman in her early 40s living in Abuja observed:

I now believe that this disease outbreak is real since banks, with all their greed for money, agree to close. Initially I thought the disease only affects the white and is not for the black race. Also, top government officials and politicians agree to close the airports and denied themselves of foreign trips”. She sighed: “Abuja become calm”.

First day of the Lockdown (30th March, 2020 Abuja City)

Third day of the lockdown (2th April 2020, in a suburb of Abuja)

Although the seriousness of the situation became apparent to most Nigerians, requiring everyone to be careful, many people in Abuja believed that they could not stay at home and go hungry. They walked to their business places as there was no public transport. Even though the markets were closed, most petty traders especially women still went out to sell vegetables and groceries along the roads,  though in a good number they were hounded by security officials.

On 2 April, which was the third day of the lockdown, I drove around the town in Abuja with my husband in our private car to see the situation for ourselves. We stopped at the front of the market to buy tomatoes and the young woman tomato seller there attended to us in a hurry, saying:

I have to be very watchful of the taskforce as am selling before they will come and throw away my tomato. Oga, give me the money fast so we don’t waste time because they can come anytime.“

I asked her why she was not staying at home, and she explained that she could not stay at home and go hungry. She said she attends to her customers from a reasonable distance and she washes her hands very often to stay safe. Such circumstances shape how poor people respond to the stay at home order by the government.

Today, Monday 6th April 2020,  a domestic worker in the locality told me about how she had been: to see her sister off at the lorry-park as she was travelling to Kano. She said that the roads were a bit busier today than they were last week, and the parks are now open but one has to book for the journey because the vehicles only carry half of the number of passengers that they used to carry before the lockdown. The majority of the passengers are not wearing face masks and there is no provision of hand sanitizers in the vehicle. The cost from here to Kano used to be 2500 naira but now it is 5000 naira because of the lesser number of passengers that board the vehicle.

6th March 2020 A few Okada riders on the move (Suburb of Abuja)

6th March: The Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has just announced that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nigeria is 232 and 33 has been discharged, with five deaths [i.e. as of 5thApril.] The irony here is that as the cases are increasing in the country: Nigerians are finding more reasons why they should not remain at home in their struggle to survive. The dreadful situation is making almost everyone in the country potentially vulnerable to the infection – both those that isolate and those that are on the move. The use of public transport has become unavoidable as people persist in going on with their daily hustle amidst the frightful situation. The government through the security officials is trying its best to force people to stay indoors but many people are sabotaging their efforts and claiming that they cannot stay home and go hungry.

If coronavirus did not kill us hunger will kill us if we agree to stay at home. Even if they will break my bones I will go out to get money“ (lament of an okada rider in his 20s).

6 th March 2020. More people on the move (A suburb of Abuja)

Towards the end of last week, markets were opened for a few hours for people to restock food and other necessities in their houses, which will also reduce the expected impact of the stay at home order. Most likely, the two weeks total lockdown that is ongoing and will end on 14thApril 2020 will not turn out to have the required impact of reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Women and transport workers are especially vulnerable as they go out to do the petty jobs that are essential to sustain their families.

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