NewsReporter's Diary

Battling The Triple-Impact Of COVID-19, Crime, And Conflict

While Nigeria was struggling with underdevelopment and unabated violence across different regions, the country was suddenly confronted by an invisible and vicious enemy: the COVD-19 pandemic. 

Since Nigeria reported its first COVID-19 case in Feb. 2020, cases have grown steadily, moving from an imported case to community transmission, and more than 100,000 Nigerians have tested positive for the disease while about 1,900 deaths have been recorded. 

In response to the pandemic, the Nigerian government adopted measures such as enforcing social mobility restrictions to curb the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. But this had a ripple effect on the economy and also led to the reassignment of security forces,  thereby contributing to national fragility and particularly stretching the military thin.

Although the general security posture in the country appeared to have remained the same during the lockdown, different gangs, armed with machetes and other weapons defied the police and terrorised some communities in Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos, forcing some residents to set up vigilante groups in response to the upsurge in violent crime. 

In Oct. 2020, several people descended on warehouses containing undistributed stockpiles of COVID-19 relief supplies and, in some cases, private facilities were looted. This was amid escalating unrest across Nigeria in the aftermath of the protest against police brutality and the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The waves of palliative raids across the country were attributed to the impact of earlier social restrictions and increasing economic insecurity. 

This highlighted that beyond the health risk of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic uncertainties and disruptions posed a threat to human and economic security, and could have a long term impact on the resilience of citizens.

COVID-19 and security operations 

As we witnessed an escalation in military actions to obliterate terror and criminal groups, as well as more airstrikes on armed groups in the Northwest and Northcentral, the most significant offensive against Northeastern jihadist groups, in recent years, began last month particularly due to the injection of additional troops and hardware. 

The outlook for the coming months indicates that the government will need to implement robust policies to stimulate the economy and improve the resilience of citizens to curb insecurity. At the same time, efforts are required to truly reform the police and rejig the military. 

COVID-19 and conflict reporting 

For reporters like myself, COVID-19 was accompanied by constraints on the ability to travel and resources available to follow up on the stories of victims of violent crimes and conflicts, the underlying factors responsible behind them or the government’s response to the numerous threats. 

Developing innovative and safe alternative plans like the use of digital technologies (social media) was essential to adapt to the new challenges induced by the pandemic and ensure the public is aware of security trends and that interested parties, including policymakers and development agencies, can access the necessary information to respond effectively to threats that undermine human security and stability in the country and Lake Chad Basin.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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