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How CSOs, NGOs, aged fight COVID-19 in Nigeria

From the time of lockdown till now, people are not relenting in the fight against coronavirus. In this report, Okechukwu Onuegbu uncovers how COVID-19 war is being fought nationwide especially in Anambra state.

“Go back! Go back! Wash your hands from that bucket at entrance using soap in that plastic cup. If not, I won’t receive you,” says Mrs Elizabeth Okafor, a 92-year-old woman as Blueprint walked into her compound.

 She sat at her sitting room, steering through the window on hearing greetings. The mother of 6, from Enugwu-Ukwu, Njikoka LGA of Anambra state had since the news of coronavirus broke out, directed her domestic ward to place a locally constructed tap bucket, soap, water and sanitiser at her entrances for people who comes to visit her to keep clean before entry.

“As a community leader who receives good number of people in my home regularly it is my duty to talk to people on need to respect the directives and bear the temporary discomfort for a common good. I see on my television set how the virus was currently ravaging the International Community and I shudder and pray to God never to allow such trouble to befall us,” she added.

The nonagenarian is a matron of Aboatulu Kindred Meeting (Women Wing), which she had in collaboration with its executive on many occasions, toured the whole community educating people on why they must comply to various measures put in by the government to contain spread of coronavirus in Nigeria. Among them are social distancing, hand washing with a soap under running water, use of hand-sanitiser and others.

On February 27, 2020, Nigeria reported a first case of COVID-19, and as at May 11, has 4641 cases with 902 discharged and 150 dead. Only Kogi and Cross Rivers states had no case of the deadly pandemic in the whole 36 states of the federation and FCT (Abuja).

Like the aged Mrs Okafor, a 32-year-old tailor, Mr Ifeanyi Nwankwo, on April 12 embarked on distribution of free cloth sewed face masks to residents of Okpuno, Awka South LGA. He had during the lockdown produced 300 face masks as a self sponsored palliative package to people since Anambra state government reneged on its promise to make 3 million face masks available to the entire populace. Governor Willie Obiano had in a broadcast promised to provide 3 million face masks to the populace across 181 communities.


Civil society groups had in  various ways joined the crusade to end COVID-19 in Anambra State and beyond even when various States and federal government refused to include them in their respective COVID-19 committees. Anambra COVID-19 Network is one of such. The network, a conglomerate of Civil Society, Media and others, facilitated by Prince Chris Azor, have toured 21 LGAs of the state monitoring, documenting, reporting, engaging and distributing freewill donated palliatives to rural communities.

Barr Chisom Chude, a member of the team, said “The Civil Society Organisation network also produced posters, fliers, write ups etc to aid the sensitisation processes in the communities, these were shared to members of the communities we visited. Also we provided the proper washing hand materials and taught the citizens on how to wash hand properly and how to make use of sanitizers.”

Chude also assisted people via her NGO. “At first through my NGO Barr Chisom Chude Foundation, I succeeded in visiting the Nigerian Correctional Services Awka and Ekwulobia Correctional centres and donated 100 bottles of sanitizers and other COVID-19 prevention materials. I also visited the Mentally Sick home and rehabilitation centre Nteje and gave them some edibles, then as a Lawyer I also supported some people to you get lawyers in my own beautiful way through the NGO.”

She described the experience as a worthwhile, adding that “When my NGO visited Nigerian Correctional services Ekwulobia, the place seems to be an abandoned facility with lack of care, no electricity for more than a year now. It seems the society dont know such place exists, they were so happy to see us as people hardly visit them.”

It was indeed a worthwhile experience because through the Civil Society network, she met people across communities who were very difficult to be convinced that COVID-19 does exist, others complaining that their leaders confiscated palliatives given them to share. They also met people who saw them as been sponsored by government even when they were self-sponsored.

Federal government had said it gave out conditional cash transfer to some states including Anambra, as well as promised grants to people with less than N5000 in their banks accounts or airtime recharge of not more than N100. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state also distributed 10kg bags of rice to youths, vulnerable and aged. These could be why people across communities complain and suspect NGOs and CSOs as well.

The physically challenged persons never waited for this largesse. According to Comrade Ugochukwu Okeke, Anambra state Chairman of Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities (JONAPWD), members were sensitised and empowered courtesy of the association.

“The first thing we did was that we took time to educate our members on how to stay safe by advising them on how best to follow the directives using our various social media platforms. Secondly, we started to collect feedback from our members which helped us to identify the most affected indigent persons with disabilities in the 21LGAs of the state. Thirdly, we shared money ranging from N2000 to N20,000 to those identified as very sick and those finding it very difficult to eat. We always update sign language version of every official information release by government about covid-19,” Okeke disclosed.

But later on, the state government and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) supported them with food items and hand sanitisers while the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme (NGO), sponsored them to monitor the state COVID-19 protective centres (Isolation centres) to ensure they were disability friendly.

“We want banks to recognise the Anambra state disability law 2018 which provides that priority attention should be given to pwds. We want all medical facilities to be upgraded and make accessible to all as stipulated by same law. We are also appealing to philanthropists and other donors to remember us, and government and communities to always include us in every COVOD-19 committees formed or palliatives,” he further suggested.

CSOs commended

Commending CSOs and media, the Executive Director, Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu,  Executive Director, observed that they had through coalition offered humanitarian services as well.

“Civil society had through been able to do a lot of work together through coalitions and thinktank groups. They have also been very actively advocating for pro-poor policies around Covid,  and ensuring access to justice. They have in addition taken up humanitarian services where government lacks capacity. We must commend the media; they are doing their best given the circumstances and the poor support they receive from their employers.  We know a few journalists covering stories at this time and having to provide their own PPEs,” Baiyewu added.

The international human rights capacity-building non-governmental organization (NGO) had been working nationwide and beyond, educating the public about the protocols for Social Distancing, and advocate for the rights of citizens as well in the current crisis.

“Government should have worked with religious bodies and CSOs since they are closer to the grassroots rather than politicize the entire process. It must reach out to, and accept help from all the other response stakeholders- particularly CSOs and the media. They must also learn to take criticism constructively and realise that at the end of the day, we are all fighting for the protection of our commonwealth and communities,” she maintained.

On palliatives, the Executive Director of Global Rights pointed out that they were not been well handled given that government needed to have been holistic in its thinking and ensured widespread consultations.

 “Second, the distribution formula was opaque and did not afford people a chance to monitor, hence promoting distrust.  Third, most of the state level palliatives were also not transparent and could not even feed a single person for longer than a day, much more a family through a month long lockdown. Citizens were exposed to indignities and even the virus in the poorly conceptualized distribution logistics.”

According to her, COVID-19 exposed globally vulnerabilities of countries like Nigeria whose social goods,  especially health systems were near nonexistent and have sunk the populace deeper into poverty as a people.

“We are too knee-jerked in our thinking and orientation to thrive as a nation.  The gap between government and distrust of the system is at an all time high. We failed to develop our science and technology, produce our consumables locally, and now that other countries have shut down, we are in a fix. We need to up our educational system and research capabilities for very own survival. We must invest in ICT and technology.  There is such a thing as collective responsibility for collective survival,” she stated.

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