(Lockdown in Abuja, Photo by Afolabi Sotunde – REUTERS)

Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos, neighbouring Ogun state, the capital city Abuja, and their thirty million inhabitants have been on lockdown since 29 March. As of the 11th May, Africa’s most populous nation has recorded over 4300 cases of COVID-19 and over 140 virus-related deaths . Although lockdown restrictions have now been eased, concerns remain about a major outbreak of the virus in the country’s Kano state , and there is uncertainty about how the nation can adapt to face the continuing challenges associated with the pandemic. Public perceptions of the government’s COVID-19 response are poor, and potential misinformation around the virus has complicated efforts to prevent its spread. Research into how best to reach people, inform them of the risks and preventative measures they can take, and persuade them to follow government guidelines has never been more important.

We spoke to Mubaraq, ORB’s Maiduguri-based Research Manager, and Ibhade, Managing Director of a Nigerian partner organisation, to understand more about COVID-19 and its effects on Nigerian daily life and the research sector. This article is a summary of their collective responses.

Tell us about lockdown in Nigeria.

Lockdown here has meant restricted movement, social distancing, no gatherings of more than 20 people, wearing face masks in public, and a general emphasis on things like regular hand-washing etc. It has also meant a blanket shutdown of all companies except those providing the essentials like food and beverage services, medicine, security, and power.

How do Nigerians feel about the Government’s COVID-19 Response?

Public perceptions of government handling of this crisis are poor.

One reason for this is the low rate of testing compared to other African countries with smaller populations: as of 11th May, South Africa has administered over 350,000 tests (with a population of 60 million), Ghana has administered over 150,000 (with a population of 30m) while Nigeria (with a population of 200 million) has only tested 24,000 people.


Population Size Total cases Total Tests Test/1m Population
South Africa 58m 10,652 356,067 6,004
Ghana 30m 4,700 160,501 5,165
Nigeria 196m 4,399 23,835 116

(Source: Worldometer, Last accessed: 11/05/2020)

Another issue is reports in the media of heavy-handedness by security forces as they enforce lockdown. Claims which have caught the public imagination are that in parts of Nigeria security forces have killed more people than Coronavirus itself . It remains to be seen if these claims can be verified, or if they are in fact part of a wave of corona-related misinformation known to be in circulation at the moment .

Worryingly, there appears to be a trend towards violence under lockdown across the region : killings by security forces have been reported in South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya as well.

With experts forecasting that the number of cases will grow exponentially over the coming weeks, there is pressure on the government to step-up testing quickly and to rein in the security forces as lockdown begins to ease in some cities .

What has life been like for Nigerians under lockdown?

Things have been hard for Nigerians whatever their social class, but those who are worst off are also unfortunately the worst affected. Street traders for example, who are everywhere in Lagos, have seen their customer base vanish overnight; living a hand-to-mouth they are unlikely to have savings to help them get by. Optimism is high that the current easing of lockdown will relieve some pressure, but this is tempered somewhat by the knowledge that a second lockdown may be necessary.

The government has announced an aid package, including financial and food relief, but huge challenges remain in terms of getting that aid to the people who need it most. Above all, these challenges are logistical: distributing aid fairly across a country the size of Nigeria is extremely difficult, but the situation is made worse by structural issues within the Nigerian political system which have left the health system vulnerable to corruption .

What has the effect on the Nigerian research industry been?

We’ve been hit hard like everyone else. We rely heavily on international clients and that work has significantly diminished causing nearly all the Nigerian research agencies to cease operations. A few are still doing telephone-based and online research, including ORB.

Face-to-face work had completely stopped during lockdown to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, with all research moving to telephone or online. With lockdown easing however we will see a return to face-to-face work, ensuring we have the right permits to work and that all ORB’s workforce follows local and international health guidelines.

We have always had to be mobile, working across huge distances, so we are already set up well to work remotely.

What services are you currently offering?

At the moment we can guarantee successful completion of 5,000 to 6,000 telephone interviews and 2,000 online interviews within 14 days.

The most important thing to say is, we are still working, carrying out both quantitative and qualitative studies.

For our quantitative work, using our current interviewer networks, we have developed a nationally representative panel across all 36 states which now contains 40,000+ respondents.

This panel can be leveraged for evaluations, third party monitoring, and other communications outreach. It can also be leveraged in a variety of ways, including both telephone and SMS messaging, although we prioritise the telephone approach given limited literacy skills in some locations.

The panel was compiled using two methods: we collected numbers from previous face to face surveys we have conducted in the past year and we conducted further panel development using our interviewer networks who conducted a snowball recruitment survey for additional respondents. We retain basic demographic information for these contacts (name, age, gender, education, religion, language preference, and ethnicity).

We are currently capable of executing small panel surveys (samples of 500-1000) or larger regional or national surveys (samples of 3000+). Specific samples are selected from our panel given characteristics of the desired population (general population vs. a specific state, age, or other demographic characteristic). We will add or replace numbers to account for panel attrition as needed.

In addition to our general population panel, ORB is also targeting specialised populations for panel recruitment such as nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel including contact tracers. We can expand this specialised recruitment to other professions (educators, civil servants, etc.) upon demand.

As with our face-to-face research, for all of our telephone and online research we work with ORB’s proprietary ‘ARC’ software for quality assurance to ensure the very highest data quality and integrity.

For information on ORB’s current work, or discuss a potential project, get in touch using the Contact page. To read up about ORB UK’s latest UK Covid-19 tracker results, head to our Recent Findings page.


Cover Photo by CDC Global used under CC BY 2.0 DEED license, no changes made