‘Eid-el-Kabir’ Festival amidst Economic Hardship, Cholera Outbreak

As Nigeria commemorates the significant Islamic holiday of Eid-el-Kabir, the nation is concurrently grappling with the daunting challenges of economic hardship and a cholera outbreak, which have not only claimed lives, but collectively precipitated a precarious situation that necessitates caution, vigilance, and prudent measures to mitigate the spread of disease and ensure a safe and healthy celebration. Sunday Ehigiator reports

Eid-el-Kabir, also known as the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’, is a significant Islamic holiday commemorating Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

Celebrated on the 10th day of ‘Dhu al-Hijjah’, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, it is a public holiday in many countries, including Nigeria, where the Muslim population observes it.

The festival typically encompasses prayer, sacrifice, and charitable acts, allowing Muslims to congregate with family and friends, introspect on their faith, and express gratitude to Allah.

However, this year’s celebration is beset by two significant challenges: the surge in prices of essential food items necessary for the festivities and the cholera outbreak, which may also impact gatherings in public spaces.

Surging Food Prices

A survey visit to the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos by THISDAY revealed that a full Basket of tomatoes which used to be sold for N60,000 two weeks before the Eid-el-Kabir festival, was now sold for N270,000 just a day before the festival.

The average cost of ram which was between N80,000 to N150,000, is now sold between N170,000 to N350,000 within the same period, while a bag of rice was sold for N94,000, as against N75,000 it was selling two weeks before the festival.

The prices of essential food items like onions, yam, groundnut oil, and other vegetables have skyrocketed, with onions increasing by 122.9 per cent to N971.9 per kilogram, unripe plantains by 114.6 per cent to N746 per kilogram, sweet potatoes by 105 per cent, Irish potatoes by 85.8 per cent, yam tubers by 92.5 per cent to N818.9 per kilogram, groundnut oil by 33.22 per cent to N968.76 per bottle, and vegetable oil by 33.99 per cent to N1,106.08 per bottle, compared to the previous year.

NBS report

According to The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), through its Consumer Price Index report released on Saturday, June 15, 2024, Nigeria’s inflation rate climbed to 33.95 per cent in May, driven by persistent surges in food and non-alcoholic beverage prices. This increase marks a 0.26 per cent rise from the April rate of 33.69 per cent.

NBS said food inflation rose to 40.66 per cent in May, compared to the 24.82 per cent reported in the same month last year, indicating an increase of 15.84 per cent points.

The bureau said semovita, oatflake, yam flour prepackage, garri, bean, etc. (which are under bread and cereals class), Irish potatoes, yam, water yam, etc. (under potatoes, yam and other tubers class), contributed to the year-on-year increase in the food inflation rate.

Other contributors are palm oil, vegetable oil, etc. (under oil and fat), stock fish, mudfish, crayfish, etc. (under fish class), beef head, chicken-live, pork head, and bush meat (under meat class).

Cholera Outbreak

On June 9, 2024, the Lagos State Government declared a cholera outbreak. As reported by the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) on June 12, 2024, 324 suspected cholera cases have been reported in the state, including 15 people who died and 40 who were discharged.

Three suspected cases of cholera have been reported respectively in neighbouring Oyo and Ogun States.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) reported that as of June 11; 1,141 suspected cholera cases had been recorded across 30 states in Nigeria since January 1, 2024.

The top 10 states with the highest number of cases, accounting for 90% of the total, are predominantly located in the southern region, with Bayelsa state having the highest number of cases, exceeding 400, followed by Lagos, Abia, Cross River, Delta, and Imo states. Additionally, some states in the northern region, including Katsina, Nasarawa, and Zamfara, also reported significant numbers of cases.

In response to this, the Emergency Operations Centre has been holding daily meetings since June 11, with representatives from various government ministries and international organizations in attendance.

On June 12, the Lagos state government swiftly activated Rapid Response Teams, composed of experts in health, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and risk communication from government agencies at the Local Government Area (LGA) level.

Furthermore, the government prepositioned cholera kits in 24 health facilities across 20 LGAs by the end of May, in preparation for a potential outbreak.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Cholera is a bacterial disease spread through contaminated water and food. Cholera can cause severe diarrhoea, dehydration, and even death if the disease goes untreated. People living in places with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene are at highest risk of cholera.”

In simple terms, you can get cholera from drinking water or eating food containing cholera bacteria.

The CDC said, most people who get cholera don’t get sick. However, cholera can cause life-threatening watery diarrhoea and vomiting.

“Every year, an estimated 1.3 to 4 million people around the world get cholera, and between 21,000 to 143,000 people die, but with early and proper treatment, even severely ill patients can survive cholera.”

The signs and symptoms of cholera, a highly infectious and potentially life-threatening disease, include a plethora of debilitating manifestations, such as profuse watery diarrhoea, intense vomiting, severe leg cramps, restlessness, irritability, rapid heartbeat, loss of skin elasticity, dry mucous membranes, low blood pressure, and dehydration, which if left untreated, can progress to severe acute watery diarrhoea with extreme dehydration, leading to death.

Cholera is not an airborne disease, but it is a highly infectious disease. It can be spread through direct contact with an infected person’s faeces or vomit, consuming contaminated food or water, touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching one’s mouth or nose, and poor hygiene practices, such as not washing hands regularly.

It is an acute diarrheal disease caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with the bacterium ‘Vibrio cholera’. It can also be caused by poor access to safe water and sanitation facilities.

However, cholera is not typically spread through airborne transmission, such as coughing or sneezing, nor through person-to-person contact, like shaking hands or sharing food and drinks, and also not through vector transmission, like mosquitoes or other insects.

Preventing cholera involves accessing safe drinking water, properly disposing of human waste and garbage, practising good hygiene like regularly washing hands with soap and water, properly cooking and storing food, avoiding contaminated food and water, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, getting vaccinated, implementing appropriate Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) practices, educating communities, and conducting regular surveillance and monitoring for outbreaks.

Curbing the Spread During the Festivity

Medical experts warn that the current cholera outbreak may spread rapidly to multiple communities and states during Eid-el-Kabir celebrations unless prompt action is taken to contain the spread of the highly infectious diarrheal disease, emphasizing the urgent need for preventive measures to prevent a widespread public health crisis.

Speaking on the possibility of further spread during the Sallah celebration, the President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr Dele Abdullahi, stated that the surge in holiday season travel could lead to an increase in cholera cases.

Abdullahi said, “Cholera is a bacterial infection, so there is a possibility of it spreading to other states during the festive season.

“Because of the Sallah celebration, a lot of migration is going to occur. People will move from one place to the other, and many of them, possibly in the incubation period, will change location. The key here is for our healthcare facilities to maintain a high index of suspicion when they encounter any cases of vomiting and diarrhoea.

“I am confident that the outbreak will not spoil the Sallah celebration,” he added.

To curb the spread, the NARD President stressed the need to maintain optimal and high standards of hygiene.

“We need a high index of suspicion. Whenever we encounter patients with vomiting, we must quickly take them to health facilities. It is better to arrive there and find out that it’s just food poisoning than to be uncertain about the health condition we’re dealing with.

“People should also avoid self-medication and refrain from using unorthodox methods to manage their health issues at home. All these measures will help in curbing the spread of the disease,” he said.

In his submission while speaking with THISDAY, a medical doctor at Regions Stroke and Neuroscience Hospital, Owerri, Dr Malachi Ezegbogu said, that by implementing measures such as “ensuring access to safe drinking water, providing adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, encouraging frequent handwashing, ensuring proper food handling, avoiding close contact with symptomatic individuals, promoting proper waste disposal, providing education on cholera prevention, offering vaccination and treatment services, and encouraging prompt symptom reporting, the risk of cholera transmission can be significantly reduced, enabling a safe and healthy celebration.”

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The Social Promise of Nigeria’s Coastal Highway

Femi Taiwo

Across various regions, the struggle with inadequate road infrastructure casts a shadow over economic prospects and societal well-being

In an increasingly interconnected world, robust infrastructure plays a pivotal role in fostering social well-being and propelling economic growth. Strong connectivity through a well-developed network of roads, bridges, and highways acts as the backbone of a thriving society. It facilitates the seamless movement of people, goods, and ideas, fostering collaboration, innovation, and a more inclusive society. By investing in infrastructure and connectivity, countries can unlock a range of economic and social benefits that contribute to a more prosperous and inclusive society. This strong foundation is even more crucial for nations like Nigeria, with its vast size, diverse population, and growing economy.

The Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, a 700-kilometer project being built under an Engineering, Procurement, Construction, and Financing (EPC+F) arrangement with Hitech Construction Company Limited, one of Nigeria’s top civil engineering companies, aims to transform Nigeria’s road infrastructure into action. Its impact, especially on the communities and people, cannot be overstated.

Job Creation and Economic Development

Infrastructure investments have a multiplier effect on the economy, creating employment opportunities, stimulating demand for goods and services, and attracting private sector investments. At the Infra4Dev Conference, jointly organized by the World Bank and the International Growth Centre in March 2022, the consensus amongst the academic and policy-making community at the event was that investments in transportation and digital connectivity increase access to markets due to reduced transport and transaction costs, and further improve the ability of workers to find jobs and access them. 

With improved transportation infrastructure and the enhanced connectivity it provides, businesses and organizations along the Lagos – Calabar Coastal Highway route will benefit from increased market accessibility – both within the nation and even into the larger West African market. This, supported by lower transportation costs, will result in higher incomes and investments, thereby stimulating local and regional economies.

In addition, it was argued that infrastructure investments affect the process of transformation of economies with jobs moving from low-productivity agricultural sectors to higher-productivity industrial and service sectors. This transition will foster economic diversification, innovation, and productivity growth, ultimately driving sustainable development and prosperity. Moreover, upgraded infrastructure attracts private sector investments, spurring entrepreneurship and fostering a conducive environment for job creation and economic expansion.

With the construction of the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, nearly 10,000 jobs are projected to be created. This will provide much-needed income and stimulate economic activity in the neighbouring communities. Women are expected to be among the primary beneficiaries of this initiative, gaining access to employment opportunities that can improve their livelihoods and contribute to the overall economic well-being of their families and communities. Women account for most of Nigeria’s unemployment and underemployment and only earn 77 cents for every dollar that men can get for the same work. Strategies for women’s recruitment and awareness campaigns programs among the workers and communities along the road will contribute to the improvement of women’s livelihoods in the coastal states of Nigeria. 

While the estimated number of direct jobs created by the project is around 10,000, this figure does not fully capture other indirect and induced employment opportunities that will arise due to the project and the subsequent increase in future economic activities. Moreover, the completed highway will facilitate the movement of people and goods, unlocking the economic potential of isolated and disadvantaged communities along the coast.

Increase in Trade and Commerce 

The construction of the Coastal Highway promises improved accessibility, fostering economic growth and regional development. With smoother transportation routes, businesses can more efficiently transport goods and services, stimulating trade and commerce. Furthermore, enhanced connectivity encourages the establishment of new markets and trade routes, potentially boosting the local economy. As a result, the region may experience a surge in economic activity, attracting both domestic and international investors seeking opportunities in Nigeria’s burgeoning markets. The improved infrastructure will not only benefit transportation but also attract greater investment across sectors, including Nigeria’s key exports like gas and oil.

Most of the nation’s gas and oil are being pumped in the project area, especially in the southeast of Nigeria. The highway will allow for better transportation and increased investment interest for the gas and oil companies in Nigeria, which are the biggest exports of the nation.

Enhancing Accessibility to Essential Services

Inaccessibility to healthcare, education, and other social services has long plagued many Nigerian communities, particularly those nestled in remote areas. According to the WHO Nigeria 2021 annual report, there is a significant urban-rural divide in the distribution of healthcare resources in Nigeria, with the majority concentrated in urban centers. However, the Lagos-Calabar Highway promises to reverse the trend. The completion of the Coastal Highway is anticipated to bring about significant improvements, notably in reducing travel time and fuel consumption compared to the existing route. 

With the new highway, the distance between Lagos and Calabar will be shortened significantly. Currently, the journey from Lagos to Calabar via Sagamu, Benin City, Onitsha, Owerri, and Aba requires about 14 hours of driving time. However, with the highway’s completion, the travel time could be halved to about 7 hours.

Also, the addition of a train system alongside the highway will contribute to alleviating traffic congestion, reducing pollution, and offering a more efficient means of travel along Nigeria’s coastline. This integrated transportation infrastructure is expected to significantly enhance public transport satisfaction levels, especially for the over half of Nigeria’s population living along the coast.

Promoting Regional Integration and Cohesion

Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity, but true unity requires bridges—both literal and metaphorical—to span the divides. For too long, geographical isolation has hindered interactions and exchanges between diverse pockets of the country. As communities along the route interact more frequently, exchange ideas, and engage in commerce, they contribute to the emergence of a cohesive regional identity. 

While the completion of the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway undoubtedly represents a significant milestone, its true impact will be measured in the years to come as communities enjoy the benefits of improved connectivity and infrastructure. As Nigeria continues its path toward progress and development, investments in infrastructure projects like this highway will remain crucial for unlocking the country’s full potential and fostering inclusive growth for all its citizens.

• Mr. Taiwo is an economy analyst who wrote in from Lagos. 

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