Response to COVID-19 and the need for rethink on Urban Informality in Jos, Nigeria

RESPONSE TO COVID-19 AND THE NEED FOR RETHINK ON URBAN INFORMALITY IN JOS, NIGERIA

 

 

Maren Mallo Daniel

Department of Estate Management, University of Jos, Nigeria

mallod@unijos.edu.ng

mdmaren@yahoo.com

 

 

This writeup examines how the response to COVID-19 has been interfered with by urban informality in Jos, the administrative city of Plateau State in north-central Nigeria. Jos is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious setting with a population of over 1 million people (Plateau State Goverment, 2009 p.1) and the activities that support living for the majority of low income and poor households in the city are informal in nature. Though formality and informality are a highly contested couplet (Lutzoni, 2016; Avis 2016 & Ghani and Kambur, 2013 for example), the term urban informality is employed in this writeup as a specific description to certain solutions that support living for low income and poor households in Jos. Examples include: housing that come about from self-help/build efforts as opposed to buying a house on mortage; settlements that represents organic layouts (see Zeka and Yuzer, 2019 for further explanation) as opposed those planned by the planning authorities; engaging in and deriving incomes from petty trading, farming, manual labour, hawking of goods, small scale manufacturing, transportation, tailoring, hairdressing, artisanship; surviving on daily income as opposed to monthly income etc.

 

In Jos, the response to COVID-19 pandemic has been a battle against a public health emergency on one hand, and an encounter with the realities of urban informality on the other hand. In many instances, urban informality was seen to substantially influence the outcomes of the fight against COVID-19. Before a detailed examination of this, a brief narration on how the authorities in Jos responded to the public health emergency will be offered so as to set the context.

 

The authorities in Jos began the fight against COVID-19 pandemic with a state-wide fumigation across the 17 local government councils of the state. This exercise was carried out under a lockdown arrangement beginning from  9th to 15th April, 2020 as a proactive measure as no case of infection was recorded in the state yet[i].  At the end of the fumigation period, the state government decided to extend     the lockdown for another seven days[ii]. This move generated reactions as people felt that government did not carry out consultations with relevant stakeholders before reaching the decision. This clearly highlights the need for government to always engage relevant stakeholders in taking certain decisions in the city of Jos.

 

 By April 23, 2020, it was announced that one case of COVID-19 infection was confirmed in the city of Jos[iii]. In response to this development, the government began contact tracing and evacuating established contacts to quarantine centres. Lockdown was imposed consistently on the city of Jos with partial opening of food markets to allow people to restock their supplies. However, people were expected to observe social distancing within the markets. Movement was limited to persons on essential services[iv]. By end of April 2020, government began to distribute palliatives to vulnerable and poor people[v].

 

All the measures introduced and the actions of government were seen to encounter challenges. As indicated earlier, self-help housing solutions and organic settlements predominate the landscape of Jos. These settlements are often congested and lacking access roads. Streets are not addressed, houses not numbered and data on properties and their occupants and owners do not exist. All these were found to interfere with the response to COVID-19 especially with regards to tracing of people who may have had contact with the first infected person. Faced with this situation, the health officials had to employ the services of local guides to help them in navigating the settlements. In some instances, not all the contacts were traced and this explains why community infections continue unabated. This is a wake-up call to both planning authorities in Jos and the residents of the affected settlements. It is recommended that government should employ a co-production strategy to decongest and open up the settlements, and at the same time provide basic infrastructure for the residents. However, this must be carefully carried out so as to avoid involuntary displacement of people and loss of livelihoods.

 

At some point, the authorities in Jos decided to ban almajiri education[vi]. The almajiris are children who receive Islamic education and reside with their teachers. This system of education has existed for over a century in northern Nigeria[vii] but the practice remained informal. Public commentators[viii] have decried that fact almajiris often end up on the street as beggers and criminals. Some commentators[ix] have blamed leadership in the northern part of Nigeria for the bad situation of almajiri education.  The experience of dealing with almajiris at the wake of COVID-19 in Jos would confirm the assertions. For instance, there is no database on almajiri schools in Jos as well as comprehensive record of the students. This was a challenge when government needed to identify and profile the almajiris in order to return them to their states and families. After weeks of research, 601 almajiries were profiled and sent to their States of Bauchi, Kano, Jigawa, Gombe and Kaduna. The State also received 119 almajiris from other States and sent them to their families in Wase and Kanam local government areas in Plateau State[x]. Almajiri education needs to be reorganised to ensure that data on the schools and students are kept. It is also important that government should streamline this form of education into the formal education arrangement that exists in Jos and Nigeria.

 

As noted earlier, informal occupations (e.g. petty trading, farming, manual labour, hawking of goods, small scale manufacturing, transportation, tailoring, hairdressing and artisanship) are dominant over the formal (i.e. being employed by government and the organised private sector) ones. Jobs in the informal sectors are casual and erratic with low returns as opposed to permanent and secured employment with high returns. Informal sector workers earn their wages on a daily basis as opposed to weekly or monthly payments. The informal sector has a huge population that do not operate bank accounts but they save money on a daily basis through thrift and esusu arrangement. Their commercial activities take place in open and unregulated markets with stalls as opposed to shops and supermarkets. And more importantly, they get their household supplies including food items through daily purchases as opposed to bulk purchases that last for a longer period before restock.

 

It appears that the authorities in Jos overlooked the extent to which people depend on informal activities for their livelihoods while imposing lockdown. The decision of government to lockdown the state for fumigation was abrupt and many households were not prepared. No wonder, when government decided to extend the lockdown, there was resistance especially by people who survive on daily incomes and purchases, through informal enterprises. And by the time government made the lockdown cyclic, there were substantial and consistent violations of the order[xi].

 

In the distribution of palliatives, the government targeted orphanages, persons living with disabilities, widows and five vulnerable households per polling unit[xii]. It would have been more appropriate to reach the target audience in their residences. This was not as the officials saddled with palliative distribution decided to invite the target groups to assemble at designated locations for collection. As a result, other people hijacked and diverted the palliatives. More so, the distribution of palliative was politicised such that it resulted in a clash between members of rival political parties who desired to have some palliatives for themselves and their party members[xiii]. In part, this was a manifestation of the poor urban governance arrangement, and partly a result of not keeping household data.

 

In conclusion, the experience of fighting COVID-19 in Jos has exposed a number of problems that are deserving research consideration. Firstly, there is a need for a broader understanding on how a city such as Jos functions as a system, and how the sub-systems—e.g. healthcare, education, housing, employment etc—of the city are interdependent. Secondly, there is a need for a participatory urban governance framework that could promote inclusion. Research should look at this. Thirdly, studies should look towards developing a context-specific framework for reorganising informal settlements and economic activities. Lastly, the issue of urban data generation is yearning for attention.

 



[i] Lalong, S. B. (2020, April 6), ‘Talking Points for Plateau State Governor, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Simon Bako Lalong at a Media Briefing  On the Progress Report on the Fight against the Corona Virus Pandemic (COVID-19)’, Media Briefing, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

[ii] Lalong, S. B. (2020, April 15), ‘Address by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, at the End of One-Week Total Lockdown Over COVID-19 Pandemic, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria

[iii] Ibrahim, E. (2020, April 24). Coronavirus: Plateau’s index case arrived from Kano – Official. Premium Times. Retrived from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/coronavirus/389546-coronavirus-plateaus-index-case-arrived-from-kano-official.html

[iv] Lalong, S. B. (2020, April, 30),. ‘Address by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, on the Continuation of Total Lockdown Over COVID-19 Pandemic’, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

[v] Sobechi, L. (2020, April 30). APC, PDP clash over COVID-19 palliatives in Plateau State. Guardian. Retrieved from https://guardian.ng/politics/apc-pdp-clash-over-covid-19-palliatives-in-plateau-state/.

[vi] Lalong, S. B. (2020, April, 30),. ‘Address by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, on the Continuation of Total Lockdown Over COVID-19 Pandemic’, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

[vii] Taiwo-Hassan, A. (2020, June 10). Almajiris are ‘victims’ of Northern Muslims – Kukah. Premium Times. Retrieved from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/396965-almajiris-are-victims-of-northern-muslim-elite-kukah.html

[viii] Ibrahim, E. (2020, April 24). Coronavirus: Plateau’s index case arrived from Kano – Official. Premium Times. Retrived from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/coronavirus/389546-coronavirus-plateaus-index-case-arrived-from-kano-official.html

[ix] Taiwo-Hassan, A. (2020, June 10). Almajiris are ‘victims’ of Northern Muslims – Kukah. Premium Times. Retrieved from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/396965-almajiris-are-victims-of-northern-muslim-elite-kukah.html

[x] Lalong, S. B. (2020, April, 30),. ‘Address by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, on the Continuation of Total Lockdown Over COVID-19 Pandemic’, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

[xi] Lalong, S. B. (2020, May 17), ‘Address by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, on the Update of Total Lockdown Over COVID-19 Pandemic’, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

[xii] Lalong, S. B. (2020, June 11), ‘Press Briefing by Executive Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, Chairman of Plateau State Task Force on Covid-19 on Ease of Lockdown’, Government House, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.

[xiii]  Sobechi, L. (2020, April 30). APC, PDP clash over COVID-19 palliatives in Plateau State. Guardian. Retrieved from https://guardian.ng/politics/apc-pdp-clash-over-covid-19-palliatives-in-plateau-state/.

No 10 - This blog article is written under the auspices of the British Academy supported Critical Thinking and Writing Workshop for Urban Studies Researchers in Nigeria.

 

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.


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