Covid-19 Plunging Urban Poor Nigerians Further into Poverty

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Lagos, Nigeria

Margaret Okuomo

My name is Margaret. I was born [in] 1980, and I live in Isale Akoka [community in] Bariga.

I have seven children. We don't eat the way we used to eat before. People who ate three meals [a day] are now eating one.

Narration: The Covid-19 crisis has had a devastating economic impact on families living in or near poverty in Lagos State. The number of Nigerians experiencing hunger more than doubled during the pandemic.

Margaret Okuomo

How do we eat? [Through] God’s grace. Sometimes at night we just soak two handfuls of garri [cassava meal] for dinner and sleep. But we still thank God we didn't die of hunger or coronavirus.

Narration:  Margaret lost her job as a cleaner in March 2020 and scraped by for more than six months without any government support. Nigeria’s under-resourced social security system struggled to respond to the impact of the pandemic.

Margaret Okuomo

In the neighborhood we are managing small small, everybody is hustling for their life. But as Corona came, these days, everybody is just there, no work.

Narration:  The federal and Lagos State governments promised cash transfers and food handouts to help people through the pandemic, but they only reached a fraction of households needing support.

Margaret Okuomo

We have been hearing rumors that the government shared money and food, but in our area we didn't see anything except from [charitable] organizations.

Narration: The federal and Lagos State governments should increase support for families, like Margaret’s, and they should build well-funded social security systems to tackle widespread poverty.

Margaret Okuomo

They should think about the fact that it is the poor people that suffering the most. Let them look for a solution, so we don't die of hunger.


(Abuja, July 28, 2021) – The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the plight of families living in poverty in Lagos State, Nigeria and left many people struggling to afford food and meet other basic needs, Human Rights Watch and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) said in a report released today. The number of Nigerians experiencing hunger doubled during the pandemic.


The report, “‘Between Hunger and the Virus,’ The Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on People Living in Poverty in Lagos, Nigeria,”  documents how a five-week lockdown, rising food prices, and a prolonged economic downturn have had a devastating impact on informal workers, slum dwellers, and other urban poor families in Lagos. The absence of a functioning social security system meant that government assistance, including cash transfers and food handouts, reached only a fraction of people going hungry.

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