COVID-19 in Nigeria: Frontline Data and Pathways for Policy

COVID-19 has hit countries with a health and economic shock whose effects will be felt far into the future. In countries, like Nigeria, that already faced complex development challenges, the pandemic continues to affect health outcomes, human-capital accumulation, household poverty and coping strategies, and labor-market dynamics. A new World Bank report shows both the extent of these impacts on Nigerians and promising policy options that could accelerate the nation’s recovery.

The report, COVID-19 in Nigeria: Frontline Data and Pathways for Policy,” draws on innovative sources of high-frequency data, namely, the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS), to inform the choices that Nigeria’s leaders now face. The NLPS represents a successful collaboration between Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Data Production and Methods team at the World Bank. It was launched in April 2020 – almost immediately after the COVID-19 crisis began – and has since regularly collected information on key social and economic outcomes, up to 12 times, from households across Nigeria.

The report shows that the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for human capital, livelihoods, and welfare are proving to be severe. While many schools have reopened across Nigeria, learning that was lost during the COVID-19 crisis still needs to be recouped and some children have not returned to school. Even though many Nigerians have returned to work, the jobs to which they have shifted – mainly in small-scale non-farm enterprises – may not offer income security, making it difficult for households to escape poverty. With the COVID-19 crisis ushering in associated shocks – especially to food prices – and social protection remaining rare, households’ food security and their welfare at large is under serious threat.

The report’s findings underscore the urgency of far-reaching reforms to strengthen Nigeria’s economy and development outcomes.

“The COVID-19 crisis has provided a wake-up call to address the long-standing structural challenges that could constrain the government’s ambition to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty,” said Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria. “There is no time like the present for the country to prepare for future climate and conflict shocks and seize the promise of its young population to lay strong foundations for inclusive growth.”

The report suggests three immediate priorities that could provide the bedrock for recovery. First, rolling out vaccines quickly and equitably should reduce the direct health threat posed by the virus. Second, it will be essential to help children remediate the learning losses incurred during the pandemic – by getting them back to school or by finding low-tech remote solutions that work for the poor where this is not possible. Third, expanding social protection could provide short-term relief for the welfare losses Nigerian households are currently facing.

The report also explains how the crisis has provided renewed impetus for the longer-term policies needed to provide sustainable pathways out of poverty. This includes effecting the macroeconomic reforms that could energize job creation and supporting the farm and non-farm enterprises that will dominate employment in Nigeria for many years to come.

Nevertheless, the report emphasizes that it will be vital to keep generating fresh data that track Nigeria’s progress out of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Evidence from the NLPS and other sources already puts Nigeria’s policymakers in a position of strength, and the country’s unique commitment to phone surveys throughout the COVID-19 crisis has set the standard for high-frequency welfare monitoring,” said Tara Vishwanath, World Bank Lead Economist in the Poverty and Equity Global Practice and co-author of the report. “Continued investment in producing and then using data – so that the voices of Nigeria’s people can be heard – will be crucial for designing the policies required to build back better.”

By committing to generating and using data in this way, the results of Nigeria’s policy innovations can fully benefit the nation’s citizens and inspire other countries around the region and the globe.