HOW COVID-19 HAS REVEALED THE FRAGILITY AT NIGERIA’S BORDER COMMUNITIES
Dr Deborah Bunmi Ojo is a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and a member of the Urban Studies and Sustainable Construction research group Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria.
Despite the fact that diseases have plagued mankind since the early days, the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been particularly impactful, spreading across the world since late 2019. The pandemic has impacted both developed and developing countries, affecting health, economic and social systems. In a bid to curbing the spread of the virus, national and municipal governments have taken bold action by closing national and local borders and implementing World Health Organisation recommended public health measures.
One issue that interests me is borders. What does the lockdown mean for residents of border areas in Nigeria?
The dynamics of communities across different border regions ranging from the local to international have positioned them as important both in developed and developing countries. Cooper and Perkins in 2012 let us know that border communiites are the first in line when there is an incident in the neighbouring country or when there is an irregular event at the border. Despite this huge role, some of these strategically located communities are left vulnerable due to infrastructure deficit occasioned by neglect by the concerned government authorities. The state does not seem to consciously accommodate them within the overall developmental agenda and/or when it does, the agenda does not necessarily seem to focus on lending support to the local communities so as to build stability based on cooperation, communication and exchange with the neighbours.
Consequrntly, border communities are often characterized by substandard housing, poor infrastructure and social isolations that hinders integration with other society and established markets, which could result in greater development and economic security. Other challenges of border communities are unsanitary conditions, unsafe public drinking water and limited access to healthcare services, education, security, governance among others. These charcteristics of border communities unveil spatial inequality between inland and border communities and hence are termed vulnerable (Ojo 2019).
The outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria led to an emergency border closure to prevent the spread of the virus. This disrupted cross-border trade, slowed progress toward economic cooperation, brought economic impacts, concerns of new food crises, among others. Although the international and domestic borders have been closed to travellers for security reasons, they still allow freight, agricultural and food products to pass under tight controls. In addition, at the entrypoints of international borders such as Badagry in Lagos and Idiroko in Ogun, people coming in are subjected to temperature checks, mandatory isolation, testing and hospitalization where necessary. These measures have been adopted to protect public health, however, the numerous unmanned illegal entry point to the country pose a greater health danger. Therefore, this coronavirus pandemic provides one more reasoin for stricter border patrols, and the engagement of residents of border communities to identify strangers in their midst.
Firstly, banning people from crossing the border blocks one way of informal trade and has resulted in increased costs. Residents in border communities such as Seme Krake (Lagos State), Idiroko (Ogun State), Aiyegun (Oyo State), Chikanda (Kwara State), Babanna (Niger State) and others rely on border movements for their daily survival as a higher percentage of residents are engaged in cross border trading and service provision. They are usually informal sector workers, earning precariously low wages – hence the border closures have resulted in increased hardship of many of them.
Second, the lack of basic services includng potable water, primary health cetre and waste managemement services have increased the risk of infection in many border communities. Where such facilities are available, they are often in poor condition or nonfunctional. For example, how is it possible for these border communities that have to access potable water many kilometres away to respond effectively to the World Health Organization's recommendation on regular hand washing as a protective measuer against COVID19 infection?
A well-designed and planned environment can improve citizens' welfare and effective response to health issues including outbreaks of disease or disasters. Therefore, the federal government needs to see this pandemic (COVID-19) as an opportunity to address the porous nature and infrastructure deficits that are ravaging Nigeria's international border communities. This could be done by investing in the development and upgrading of infrastructure, in particular by providing sufficient preventive and health care resources within the border. This is because the city's border location also makes residents susceptible to diseases that have no borders, such as COVID-19. More so, new border restrictions measures should be announced in advance so that people can adapt as best they can. Also, developmental policies to improve the quality of life of residents should be put in place to ensure that citizens comply with the government Directives on safety measures to prevent the spread of diseases. All of these measures will help to ensure the future of post-pandemic border communities planning.
Cooper, A., & Perkins, C. (2012). Borders and Status-Functions: An Institutional Approach to the Study of Borders. European Journal of Social Theory, 15(1), 55-71.
Ojo D. B. (2019). A study of Residents’ Quality of Life in border communities between Nigeria and Benin Republic. A PhD. Thesis submitted to the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife.
World Health Organisation (2020). Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. Retrieved May 24, 2020 from https://www.who.int/
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.