Responses to Economic and Security Risks During Covid-19 in Lagos, Nigeria

Jessica Gottlieb
Adrienne LeBas
Janica Magat
Researchers studied the economic, social, and security impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on informal market vendors in Lagos, Nigeria through a phone survey. Nearly half of respondents reported that their marketplaces were closed entirely, and only 1.5 percent of respondents reported that their marketplaces were open for business with no restrictions. Ethnicity has a significant impact on vendors’ experience of the crisis. Members of the Yoruba majority experience less food insecurity, fewer shop closings, and more access to state resources.

Project Summary

Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Sample: 868 informal market vendors
Timeline: May, 2020
J-PAL Initiatives providing funding: J-PAL Jobs and Opportunity Initiative
Target group: Informal workers, self-employed and microentrepreneurs, urban population
Outcome of interest: Crime, discrimination, earnings and income, firm survival and sustainability, food security, gender-based violence, service provider performance, social cohesion, trust, violence
COVID-19 dimensions: Economic shocks on individuals, households and SMEs, knowledge, attitudes, practices and beliefs, access to government relief measures, food security, gender-based violence, xenophobic attitudes, ethnic polarization
Mode of data collection: Phone survey
Nature of activities: Phone surveys to understand the economic, social, and security impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on informal market vendors in Lagos, Nigeria.
Research paper(s): Gottlieb, Jessica, Adrienne LeBas, and Janica Magat. "Resilience and Risk in the Informal Sector: Responses to Economic and Security Risks of COVID-19 in Lagos, Nigeria. A Report from Survey Wave 1." Working Paper, July 2020. If link stops working or new version comes out, can find in this section of PI website

Project Details

With 24 million people, Lagos, Nigeria is Africa’s largest city. Lagos was hit hard by Covid-19. In response, on March 30, 2020, the president imposed a total lockdown on Lagos and Ogun states and Abuja, the capital, closing almost all businesses and limiting essential businesses’ operating hours for over five weeks. Despite these efforts, Lagos accounted for 38 percent of Nigeria’s Covid-19 cases and 19 percent of Nigeria’s Covid-19 deaths as of July 2020. For the period of this survey in May 2020, businesses, shops, and markets could reopen with limited hours each day, but schools and churches remained closed, and the Lagos state curfew remained in place, as did the ban on interstate travel. To support residents impacted by the Covid-induced restrictions, the federal and state governments enacted social protection programs that provided cash transfers, food support to vulnerable residents, and loans for small businesses and households.1 Implementation of government relief programs has been imperfect, with many citizens reporting that party elites and middlemen have expropriated significant resources and that violent gangs have also prevented some deliveries. 

Ethnicity and indigeneity are salient political cleavages in Lagos. People who are Yoruba account for nearly 60 percent of Lagos’s population, and tend to have privileged positions in political networks and therefore often have greater access to state resources. In Nigeria, indigeneity can be an important mediator of access to state resources, making even intra-national migrants more vulnerable to exclusion. In some states, non-indigenous people cannot hold civil service jobs. Additionally, Igbo people make up a significant minority accounting for just over twenty percent of the population of Lagos; however, they account for more than forty percent of the study sample. 

Researchers conducted a phone survey of a representative random sample of informal market vendors drawn from 146 markets covering all 20 of Lagos’s local government areas. Through their phone survey, the researchers sought to quantify the economic, social, and security impact of the crises on informal market vendors, with a special focus on how identity moderates access to state benefits and how crises may widen ethnic cleavages.

Research Results

Descriptive statistics show that the lockdown had economic, social, and security consequences for the informal market vendors reached during this phone survey. 

Most informal market vendors faced negative economic consequences as a result of the lockdown. Seventy percent of vendors reported lost income. Thirty-seven percent of vendors reported decreased access to food, and 13 percent of vendors reported a loss of electricity or water. In 2018, the median weekly income among this same sample of vendors was N8,000-14,000 ( US$22-40). During lockdown, the median weekly income fell to N5,000 ( US$14). Yoruba vendors were significantly less likely to report having some cash savings before the crises and were just as likely as their non-Yoruba counterparts to report lost income. Despite a lower incidence of cash savings and an equal incidence of lost income, Yoruba vendors were 7 percentage points less likely to report food insecurity and 9 percentage points less likely to report shop closures.

Knowledge of government relief programs was limited and program access was mediated by identity. Fewer than 30 percent of respondents knew the steps the government was taking to help them. Among respondents who knew about government relief programs, the best-known programs were state and local government food relief programs. Yoruba vendors were doubly likely to apply for and receive government relief programs relative to their non-Yoruba peers—6 percent of Yoruba vendors reported that their household received government relief programs, whereas only 3 percent of non-Yoruba vendors reported the same. Though less likely to be negatively impacted by the crisis, Yoruba vendors were more likely to gain access to government relief.

Yoruba respondents were more likely to feel safer after seeing the federal police. Nigerian federal police, who are drawn from all over the country, were charged with enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown in Lagos. As a result of the federal police’s ethnic diversity and distance from Lagos’s politics, the researchers did not expect to find significant evidence of discrimination by police based on ethnicity. This expectation was generally supported by the survey data, with the exception that 48 percent of Yoruba vendors felt safer after seeing federal police, compared to 38 percent of non-Yoruba vendors. 

Rates of gender-based violence were equal among genders but were higher among Yoruba than non-Yoruba households. Thirty-eight percent of respondents predicted that lockdown put women at greater risk of gender-based violence (GBV). Four percent of households reported experiencing GBV since the beginning of the pandemic. Yoruba households were 2 percentage points more likely to report experiencing GBV than their non-Yoruba peers. 

Religious organizations were a more important source of support than marketplace associations, which provided mostly information. In previous work, the researchers found that marketplace associations (MPAs) played an important role in taxation and public service provision through their interactions with the state. Yet, during the pandemic, they found that MPAs provided a significantly lower level of support to vendors than churches and mosques. Thirty percent of vendors reported receiving assistance from churches and mosques, but only 6 percent of vendors reported receiving assistance from their MPAs. Yet, MPAs were an important source of information, with nearly half of vendors receiving information from their MPAs since the start of the lockdowns. Consistent with a higher likelihood of government exclusion, non-Yoruba people were more active in seeking and receiving information from their MPAs during the crisis.    

Respondents who had more negative experiences during lockdown were more likely to dislike or distrust members of other ethnic groups, to identify strongly with their own ethnic group, and to express xenophobic attitudes. Despite these views, the vast majority of respondents were opposed to limiting access to government relief programs for new migrants, non-Yoruba people, or non-indigenous people (people, including Yoruba people, who are not from Lagos state). 

The researchers note that their study suggests that access to social protection programs, notably Covid-related food assistance, has not been distributed equitably in Lagos, and the majority of the population did not receive timely information about these programs. The researchers would advise governments and aid organizations that information about future benefit programs should be disseminated more widely, with particular attention paid to more vulnerable and excluded groups, including ethnic minorities. 

Those who received cash and food support included households with children in years one through three of primary school, people over age 60, families that were very poor and who had at least six people, and people living in extreme poverty. The government also provided a N5,000 (US$13) cash transfer program in six of Lagos’ twenty local government areas (LGAs), and the Central Bank of Nigeria launched a program to give loans to impacted small businesses and households. 

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