On the 27th of February 2020, Nigeria announced the index case of covid19 in the country. Government subsequently took measures to close the borders and establish stringent protocol for screening and observing visitors and returning Nigerians. As the covid infections kept going up, on March 23 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced a total lockdown in the FCT, Lagos, and Ogun States as part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19.
Thereafter, other states within the country declared similar lockdown measures including the institution of curfews, stringent restriction of movement, interstate travel restrictions, and the closure of state borders. While the lockdown, accompanied by other measures was aimed at containment, the negative impact of these measures will also be immediate and significant.
Through engagement with partners, key government and development agencies, the OSIWA Nigeria office discovered that the adverse effect of the lockdown not only led to extreme hardship for a certain category of vulnerable groups in society; but that the situation was further exacerbated by a deficit of information and inadequacy of platforms for engagement between the government and citizens.
For example, the urban and rural poor, and persons at the grassroots who were suddenly faced with untold economic hardship did not have a complete picture with regards to how COVID-19 affects them and the available palliative measures Government was putting in place. A dearth of information in rural areas meant that citizens were not provided with the needed knowledge to practice safety measures during the pandemic.
With a lot of information and interactions going on online, the majority of Nigerians who do not have internet access were left out in the information exchange around the pandemic.
Furthermore, among the vulnerable and high-risk persons, people living with HIV, for instance, experienced difficulty accessing their antiretrovirals which could have led to a greater public health disaster. Other vulnerable groups also experienced the disproportionate impact of the lockdown, including women and children living with disabilities. Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and victims of domestic violence were forced to stay in lockdown with their abusers. Service providers and first responders to these categories of persons were not designated as essential service providers which led to the inadvertent denial of their protection and support at such a critical time.
The use of force by security actors to enforce lockdown measures was also an immediate concern. Inversely, the absence of adequate security in certain quarters exposed communities to rising levels of insecurity occasioned by increasing economic fragility.
It was therefore important for the OSIWA office in Nigeria to provide responses to these challenges and support partners to address these gaps. To achieve these goals, the Nigeria office adopted both grant-making and advocacy measures. The total sum of $413,248.33 (Four Hundred and Thirteen Thousand Two Hundred and Forty Eight United States Dollars and Thirty Three Cents) (NGN165,299,332) has been disbursed so far for COVID-19 related support to different organisations as grants. This is excluding other in-kind support and on-going grant conversations.
Some of the interventions are highlighted below:
- Strategic Communication to Rural and Fringe areas:
The objectives of these interventions are to create:
- General awareness and sensitisation on the COVID-19 pandemic
- Interactive audience participation and a platform for reporting human rights violations
- Linkages to state entities managing the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response – NCDC, Presidential task teams and state task teams; linkages to civic and private actors supporting the COVID-19 responses in the different states.
- General feedback from citizens on interactions with and impact of the lockdown measures in their respective states.
- Policy advisories to government
- Support for media houses for more effective communication with citizens, amplification of fringe voices and ensuring accountablility by government agencies.
The arrival of COVID-19 in Nigeria led to an information explosion in the social media space while there was a dearth of information amongst persons at the grassroots. Social media was awash with varied claims on COVID-19 cures, causes and symptoms. Dispelling misinformation about the pandemic and the provision of public health advisories needed to reach citizens in languages they understood.
It was also necessary to make these platforms interactive because citizens had concerns and their voices also needed to be heard. To create synergy between the authorized information sharing systems at the national level and the sub-national levels a unified public sensitisation programme was the most ideal approach.
So far, OSIWA has provided support to COVID-19 programming on television, print media and radio stations across the country. We were strategic with the radio stations we partnered with because a critical mass of citizens needed to be reached.
The radio stations are RayPower Radio- reaching the Federal Capital Territory, Edo, Gombe, Bauchi, Kano, Oyo, Osun, Lagos, and Rivers States; Freedom Radio- which presents its COVID-19 programmes in the Hausa language is targeted at citizens in North West and North East Nigeria reaching, amongst others, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina and parts of Kaduna States. Using Facebook to air its programmes, Freedom radio is interactive and has become a trusted information source for citizens in those regions; Human Rights Radio- a station widely famous for its dogged pursuit of human rights issues, (with the add-on of Facebook live programming) has given citizens a platform to present complaints and express their concerns on the rights violations they experienced and the challenges that were presented through the lockdown.
It reaches an estimated audience of about 20 million. Nigeria Info also provided public engagement and led conversations on national interest. Premium Times and Media Advocacy West Africa Foundation (MAWA-Foundation) have also received support or in the process of receiving support to report human rights abuses and the economic predicament of citizens as the lockdown continued. So far, we are on track to fulfilling the outcome of noticeable improvements in public understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of citizens in contributing to their safety during a pandemic, and in giving citizens a platform to engage with the Government on the impact of the lockdown.
- Support for human rights monitoring and documentation.
The objectives of this intervention are to:
- Strengthen the capacity of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to document, analyse and release reports of the state of human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Support the Commission’s engagement with key law enforcement agencies in identifying and reporting on abuse of power by state agencies.
- Support the interface between the Commission and CSOs working on SGBV.
The National Human Rights Commission issued an advisory calling on Government and all law enforcement agencies to ensure the respect of rights in the enforcement of lockdown measures and the management of the COVID19 pandemic in Nigeria. The Commission released it’s contact details for reports and communications while civil society groups provided coordination for information sharing with the Commission. OSIWA’s support to the NHRC is to strengthen their already existing structure to aid the monitoring, documenting and reporting of human rights abuses in fulfilment of its statutory mandate. The support is also towards strengthening the strategic communication of the Commission, improving its accessibility, visibility and engagement with citizens. Within the first week of implementation, the NHRC released a report on the rate of violations by law enforcement officers against citizens since the lockdown began. This report became an advocacy tool which prompted the Presidential Task Force to engage the Commission and led to the House of Representatives making a declaration against gross rights violations by public officers and passing a motion for investigation of violations by law enforcement officers. See the report here
In terms of visibility, the presence of the NHRC on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) has increased rapidly. The NHRC official twitter handle following has increased by almost 150%. The average cumulative impression of the NHRC on social media is 6,900,000 (Six Million Nine Hundred Thousand).
- The presence of the Executive Secretary of the NHRC on social media has improved the accessibility of the Commission. The Executive Secretary did not have any social media presence before the intervention. The intervention registered a twitter account for him. He now has a following of over 2,000 persons within the space of just 3 weeks.
The project has also expanded the reach and access of NHRC to traditional media. Project partners organized over 10 TV appearances for the Commission on major Television Stations including Channels TV, AIT, Arise Television and TVC to discuss their Human Rights Report.
- Special communication and access support for persons living with disabilities and other vulnerable groups:
The objectives of this intervention are to:
- Enhance access to information and essential services among persons with disabilities.
- Link persons with disabilities to social security interventions of the Government
- Increase awareness amongst people living with HIV and TB on basic transmission and preventive measures for the virus.
- Ensure continued treatment access and care services for PLHIV while sheltered at home, unable to travel across the state for drug pickup.
- Provide support services to victims of domestic violence who have been forced into the same space with their abusers for extended periods due to the lockdown.
The absence of official representation for persons with disabilities in COVID-19 response at the national and subnational levels translated into a lack of consultation in the promotion of inclusive intervention strategies. No group must be left behind in accessing support and social buffers. Women with disabilities could no longer go out or earn livelihoods, they were also exposed to abuse. OSIWA, through support to partners at Project Alert, provided an inclusive intervention that ensured prevention and mitigation of the impact of COVID-19 at all levels. Partners for Justice aka The Mirabel Centre through support from OSIWA has continued to provide remote counselling services to victims/survivors of Gender-Based Violence. The nature of the lockdown meant that survivors could no longer walk into the centre to access services and the Mirabel Centre adopted an innovative approach to ensure the continued protection of survivors. As lockdowns are now relaxed we will continue our support to the centre but now also working towards supporting the centre and other frontline SGBV activists with PPE. We are utilizing our convening influence to bring together groups working on SGBV to promote collaboration, information sharing and joint advocacy.
Following due consultation with HIV clinicians and in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Health Programs (CIHP), the HIV treatment provider in Lagos State, OSIWAs partner, PATA received support to ensure uninterrupted treatment for people living with HIV during and immediately after the movement restrictions in Lagos state. This support means that a greater danger has been averted through the provision of antiretrovirals to persons living with HIV/AIDS.
- Engaging Policies and Promoting Collaboration:
As part of our effort to ensure collaboration across diverse range of our partners, we have deliberately engage Civil society groups, funding organiations and media groups.
With CSO, we utilized the platform of CSOs who worked with us on Abuja raid to drive a joint CSO memo on Covid19 response in Nigeria. This memo was endorsed by an unprecedent 407 CSOs in Nigeria and was used to engage the Presidential Task Force and the Nigeria governor’s forum. From this engagement we are able to support coordination of CSOs to confront the obnoxious Control of Disease Bill which was introduced by the National Assembly. Our work with CSOs and our support to media partners helped to push the bill to public hearing. This will allow for more critical conversations and needed reforms to this bill. We are also bridging the gap between CSOs and media by ensuring that our partners are able to benefit from each other’s expertise and platform in confronting issues around covid.
With the media, we convened a meeting of key media organisations to interrogate the peculiar challenges the media is facing under the covid pandemic and the ways to better highlight the plight of citizens and other fundamental issues arising from the pandemic. Through this engagement, we are able to tailor our support to media organisations to improve reportage on covid from a more substantive human angle. The platform is helping amplify information from our CSOs partners in more structured manner.
Our policy engagement extends to our collaboration with the Africa Independent Television to design and roll out a national virtual townhall on covid allowing for a more diverse and robust discussion on issues affecting the country and in particular citizens. It has allowed for opportunity for confronting and interacting with policy makers.
We are also driving coordination amongst funders by hosting the bi weekly COORDINATED PHILANTHROPIC RESPONSE TO COVID-19 IN NIGERIA. This platform is helping with coordination and joint understanding of covid challenges.
The final intervention will be to support partners in repurposing their existing grants to provide COVID-19 response within their target communities and their beneficiaries taking cognisance of the four intervention areas which the Foundation is focused on.
In conclusion, the evolving nature of the environment requires that OSIWA Nigeria adopts an organic approach to COVID-19 response through continued engagements with partners who are working directly on the field. The next phase of our intervention will be determined by identifying what the immediate needs of partners are and finding ways to support those needs which fall into one of our four target strategic intervention areas. We see a need to also provide direct support to Nigeria government. We are now exploring the option of providing direct support to three States in the country to ease the management and movement of patients.