COVID-19 and the Frontlines in Nigeria

By Titi Tade, Medical Social Worker, Lagos, Nigeria

The COVID-19 Pandemic plunged the world into an unprecedented crisis. Globally, most gaps within the different health sectors in Africa were exposed due to the contagion.

In Nigeria, the initial high of identifying and isolating our index case and his close contacts by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) gradually gave way to the reality of community transmission that has been aggravated by the economic fall out of the lockdown, fear of seeking COVID-19 treatment from government facilities and a general distrust of the government led COVID-19 fight as a scam. Nigeria, as at 5th June 2020, had 11,844 confirmed cases during which Lagos State maintained epicenter status with 4,694 cases.

As a Health/Social Care worker in Lagos State, I am both a member of the public who is worried about the growing rates of community transmission and a member of the “frontline” who has to provide services to the general public within a health system that is in the beginning stages of  being overwhelmed. Prior to COVID-19, the health system had always faced the challenges of gross under-funding, inadequate staffing, brain drain and competition from traditional healers.

On a day to day basis our challenges mirror those of healthcare workers around the world. We worry about getting infected at work and taking the infection home to our loved ones, we worry about insufficient supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and how to safely reuse them.  Due to the shutdown of commercial transportation during the lockdown, if you did not own a vehicle, you worried about how you would get to work. As the lockdown eases and people resume their daily activities, you worry about community transmission in commercial vehicles as you make your way to work.

Normally in government hospitals, the number of patients that come in on a daily basis number are in the thousands, it is not unusual for a clinic to be run by 3 nurses with 150 patients waiting to see 10 doctors.  During the lockdown, most cases seen in the hospital were COVID-19 cases, emergency cases and a handful of other illnesses but nothing as overwhelming as pre COVID-19 numbers. Unfortunately, as the lockdown is being gradually eased open, the number of infections is rising, and the hospitals are opening to patients who have not been able to see their healthcare professionals in about 2 months for their regular appointments, this combination means that the number of people accessing healthcare services will outstrip the pre COVID-19 numbers. Hospitals and healthcare workers are bracing for the surge in patients with trepidation as we watch how the healthcare systems of ‘developed nations’ are being overwhelmed by treating and responding to the Coronavirus.

As the saying goes, behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. Our silver lining is the fact that since colleagues have been fighting the virus globally for over 6 months now, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from them. The digital age has made it possible for new information about how best to fight the pandemic become available in literally seconds from when the initial author posts the information on the internet. In Nigeria, we have used numerous virtual platforms such as Zoom to conduct trainings on experience learning and best practices for healthcare workers. We have also used the platforms to reach healthcare workers in locations of the country that are only just recording their first infection of the virus. The NCDC is working with affected State Governments e.g. the Lagos State Government, the Federal Ministry of Health as well as State Ministries of Health to ensure a coordinated approach to our Isolation and Treatment Centres and to shorten the timeline between testing of people to hospitalization of COVID-19 positive people. This doesn’t mean that everything works perfectly just yet, but we are learning, adapting, documenting and sharing the new information as we go along.

Everyone has been talking about the “new normal”, but what that is for us in healthcare in Nigeria is still being shaped. Everything from the way patients are booked to visit the hospital, to how healthcare professionals attend to patients will most likely change. These routine processes would now have to respect infection prevention and control measures, physical distancing and, rather harshly, be implemented with the assumption that everyone has the coronavirus until proved otherwise. It will take some adapting to the “new normal” for both healthcare providers and service users but it is a change we must embrace

So…

In Nigeria, we are adapting to these evolving rules for socializing and engaging others. We are adapting to wearing face masks anytime we are outdoors. We are adapting to the ‘new normal’. Being the resilient people that we are, we begun a trend, the fashionable re-usable face masks, which I think will stay, long after the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


Reflections on COVID-19 - who can be reached?

By Olúwafúnmiládé Eunice Ṣóbọ̀wálé, Ọláwálé Micheal Adébọ̀wálé, Grace Ìdòwú Awósanmí, ADÉYẸMỌ E.O and Samir Halliru

COVID-19 pandemic is a great peril, daunting and daring humanity by bringing extreme contrasts in relationships and communications in our present world. The patterns of communication engaged in the Global South are crucial to the social changes experienced by the population. The use of correct modes and methods of communication enhances participatory and mass communication, bringing about positive and unexpected outcomes. In the Global South, interpersonal relationships and social ties play a vital role in the cultural and traditional communities while embracing changes and developments. These age-old customs of cultural ties have revealed the sensitivity of the communities to spontaneous changes and developments. Perhaps this explains the poor compliance with the measures laid down to lessen the spread of the virus. Most of the traditional communities in Nigeria have found it difficult adapting to:

  1. The lockdown protocol or the restrictive movement order, which suggests everyone should stay home and only go out when necessary.
  2. Avoidance of social distancing or gatherings of large groups at burials and weddings, and also in market and worship places.
  3. No shaking of hands.

For people in the Global South, the importance of complying with these measures has been questioned as a result of their disposition to their culture and traditions. This contrasts with those in the Global North, where the pattern of social interaction is more private. Assenting to the new rules stated above has introduced serious hurdles in stopping the spread, especially in Africa. This is connected to the fact that a large percentage of the population get their means of livelihood daily, which means following the stay-at-home order results hardship. Further conversations with some of the individuals on why they are not obeying the order exposed some pertinent factors that make staying at home problematic. Some of the typical responses are ‘What are we going to eat? and ‘Staying home does not feed my large family’. What is provided is not sufficient for all those in need when compared to the supplies available. Our government’s efforts should be geared towards providing information on the danger of breaking the lockdown.

Whenever the lockdown is relaxed, overcrowding occurs at marketplaces due to the influx of many people coming for supplies within the allotted time. The mingling by the people and the ineffective crowd control at such places raises alarms about the poor adherence to individual safety measures. These situations could be prevented with adequate education and public awareness to ensure the safety of everyone.

No shaking of hands is another measure used to curtail the spread of the virus. Handshaking is an age-old part of the culture of most communities in the Global South; it is used as an expression of gratitude, respect or agreement. The new rule of avoiding handshaking is causing individuals that obey or enforce the rule to face stigmatization and be looked at by members of the community with disdain. In the Global South, addressing this issue will require creative and sensitive local-based education strategies to ensure that everyone adopts this measure.

The communications on COVID-19 by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Nigeria are broadcast in the English language, meaning only the rich and educated receive the information and suggesting that that is the only demographic at risk. The crucial information needs to be translated into all the local languages and must be transmitted through local radio programs to educate the masses about taking the appropriate safety measures and how to contain the spread in local markets and places of worship. Also, engaging the use of different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and discussion groups (zauren hira) will help with compliance. The above strategies will increase public awareness and compliance with the guidelines and bring about a positive connection in moulding the lives of individuals or groups, thereby encouraging the adoption of the COVID-19 measures issued by the government.

In addition, recruitment of local ambassadors within the local communities is essential. Such recruitment will actively involve religious leaders who have influential bonds with their followers. This is important because many local people appreciate a closer link to their local perspectives rather than adhering to concepts that originate at a central

Nigeria hub members translated the information given by the NCDC in Hausa

COVID-19: Impact on Women in Rural Communities

By Kyauta Giwa and Grace Awosanmi, Nigeria Hub

 

Ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe and in Nigeria in February 2020, the effect of the different measures has taken its toll on the survival and livelihood of the rural population. Farming and small-scale businesses, which is largely dominated by women in agrarian and rural communities, have not been exempted from its effects. A large percentage of these women are not educated, and they earn their living through homestead farming/gardening or petty trading. Many of these women who survive on daily sales were shut out of business for weeks. The restriction of movement caused an increase in the cost of living and the prices of goods and essential services, thereby affecting household incomes. Moreover, the women who engage in daily subsistence businesses have found the situation especially difficult. Considering they cannot carry out their business activity as usual, they face a serious threat and a huge economic challenge to their survival and that of their families.

 

The women that are involved in small scale farming produce food for immediate consumption and sell the remainder to help meet their families’ other needs. Rural women are known for transporting goods and farm produce on trucks and pick-up vans when accompanying their goods to the various local markets. The closure of the interstate borders and the stay at home directives issued in the country affected the movement of farm produce from one part of the country to another, leading to an increase in the prices of staple food items. Most people have complained that their food produce is getting spoilt. Despite the lockdown, these women have still found ways of getting their goods to different neighbouring markets. They usually transport their farm produce to the market in groups by hiring vehicles and each person must accompany her produce, which does not permit adherence to physical distancing and thereby exposes them to the pandemic. Sales at the market during at this period were stated to be general low.

 

For rural children, the means of getting an education during this period has been impossible. Most rural women are household heads, and most of them do not own internet enabled phones and therefore cannot afford data for internet connectivity to engage their children on online educational programs. Some of the children run errands or hawk petty wares, wander around or are at the mercy of the neighbours or elders within the communities during the lockdown. Information on the spread of the disease by the Centre for Disease Control was not relayed in local languages, thereby making it difficult for these women to access credible information. Most women lack access to basic information about preventive measures to ensure personal hygiene, thereby exposing them to infection. Poor responses have been seen in most rural areas where people do not believe in the outbreak of the disease and act ignorantly.

 

The low cost of living in rural communities makes it difficult for people to be able to afford hand sanitizer. Most people have never used hand sanitizer before, so many have resorted to producing homemade hand sanitizers using chemical products within their reach. These homemade sanitizers might be unsafe to use, or inefficient. The government should empower and protect the rural women and children in this time of coronavirus by ensuring that they are included in targeted information concerning COVID-19. They should also ensure the inclusion of the agricultural produce by the women in the palliative package as good source of income.


Think Piece - Building Resilience in Africa's Food Systems and Agricultural Value-Chains

By Professor Sola Ajayi, Nigeria Hub Director and Deputy Vice-Chancellor – First-Technical University, Ibadan

The responses of many African nations to curtail the spread of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic were largely copied from Asian and European countries without much reflection on the contextual relevance of these responses to their socio-economic and cultural realities. In the face of the prevalent weak social support systems across Africa, the imposed lockdown of entire or part of the respective countries has turned out to be  a lockout from basic needs and  life-sustaining services, notably health and food, for a majority of the citizenry whose livelihoods depend exclusively on daily scavenging and hustling activities.

On the average, it is unlikely that any sector of African economies will be impacted like the agricultural sector. More people derive their livelihood from activities that are directly or indirectly linked to the sector. Every citizen is also directly impacted in the same proportion and direction by anything that impacts the sector not only through livelihood engagements but more importantly through affordability and access to food, a basic and irreplaceable necessity.

The following are some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Nigerian agricultural sector with emphasis on agro- inputs:

  1. The growth being witnessed by struggling and fragile agro-input (notably seed) businesses in West Africa has been threatened not only by the inability to move and sell existing seedstock, but also by their inability to establish seed fields in this season. This is because the businesses in turn suffer from access to Early-Generation Seeds (EGS) and from labour scarcity.
  2. The exception of farming-related personnel and goods from the general movement restrictions nonetheless,
    • Farmers’ access to high quality and yield-enhancing inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, etc. have been limited. All actors in the value-chain; farmers, seedsmen, agro-dealers, seed production companies, have been affected by the lockdown and this has been exacerbated by the exploitative indiscretion of security personnel enforcing the orders.
    • Aggregators that serve as off takers and connect smallholder holder farmers to markets have been scared from freely moving thereby leading to massive loss of perishable produce, notably fruits and vegetables that are the primary sources of vitamins and minerals. This has led to a drastic shrinking of the meagre incomes’ farmers earn from their production activities.
    • Itinerant/seasonal migrant labourers who either farm large areas of leased lands through pooled efforts and/or who provide substantial labour services to other farmers have been locked down in their respective home states owing to the ban on inter-state travels and territorial protection by the lower arms of government.
  3. Food prices have soared as a result of shrinking supplies to markets on the one hand and illegal toll collections at the several security checkpoints set up to ensure compliance with the lockdown orders.

The stretch of the pandemic to this year’s planting season (May-June) and the lack of access to high quality seeds of improved and adapted varieties for crop establishment will lead to reduced harvest and limited agro-industrial raw materials at the end of the season, and invariably to food insecurity within national and regional boundaries.

Arising from the foregoing, the need to support smallholder farmers and agri-businesses, is imperative and compelling. The following are some policy options that may be directed towards mitigating the enumerated impacts:

  1. Just as it has been declared for the health sector and its workers, there should be a protectionist proclamation by which the agro-input sector and agrarian communities in particular will be granted a special exemption status for as long as the pandemic lasts.
  2. In view of the weight of the pandemic on governments, their agencies and available resources, interventions in the agricultural sector should be handled by an Emergency Action Committee comprising public and private sector members but largely driven by the private sector.
  3. Public and private organizations responsible for the production and distribution of EGS should be mobilized and well-resourced to guarantee adequate production. Notably, Universities with Faculties of Agriculture have unutilized capacities that could be harnessed.
  4. As part of emergency response to the pandemic and as palliative to resource-limited farmers, it is imperative for Governments to provide seed subsidy to farmers by buying off existing stocks of improved seeds from accredited and registered companies and distributing them directly to farmers for the current planting season. This should be for at least two years to allow seed businesses recover and stabilize. There are existing structures through which this could also be scaled up as a regional or continental intervention.
  5. Similarly, the distribution of other agro-inputs should be handled centrally in order to eliminate delays that will inevitably arise from logistic challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions on movements.
  6. Central collection or aggregation points for farm produce should be established very close to agrarian communities and, where possible, in-situ value-addition of perishable farm produce should be developed in partnership with private sector at such aggregation points.

** Think piece presented by Prof Ajayi during the e-Policy seminar on Building Resilience in Food Systems and Agriculture Value Chain: Agricultural Policy Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa held by the African Development Institute (ADI).


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

When we start a new project with partners in a different context, it is never truly a “new start.” Historically it has been experts from the Global North who have studied and interpreted the South. This means that international research partnerships are inevitably imbued with power relations and possibly the assumption that it is northern knowledge that will lead transformations of in the South. Without a clear recognition of that context, it is inevitable that existing inequities, injustices, and imbalances of knowledge and power, will continue to pervade our work.

We designed this resource to help make explicit the practices and dynamics that underpin partnerships, to support the development of more equitable working relations.

DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/DJTN4

Download the resource >

The Life of an Artisanal Miner

By Grace Awosanmi

Artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) accounts for more than 90% of solid mining in Nigeria. The sector is informal and serves as a means of livelihood for more than 2 million people in Nigeria, including women and children. There has been a recent upsurge in workers in this sector as a result of unemployment and poverty. Artisanal miners are uneducated and unskilled, with no legal permit or qualification to work in the mines. They employ crude methods, using local or household implements for mineral exploration. For their daily sustenance, artisanal miners depend on the minerals they find, such as gold, tourmaline, silver, tin, dolomite, emerald, topaz, columbite etc.

The cool breeze brushed my face as I approached an open shed to wait for one or two miners to speak with. It was almost sunset and most miners were returning to their homes. I observed several bag-packs hung on the wall, the bare floor littered with debris and long benches that serve as beds for the miners. Then I noticed Abubakar Mamuda, a 29-year-old artisanal miner from Kebbi State in the Northern part of Nigeria, sitting on a slab of one of the stores in the market. Speaking his local dialect, I greeted him: ‘Ina wuni, yaya aiki,' and he replied, ‘lafia.’ We further exchanged pleasantries as I enquired  and chatted with him about his activities as a miner.

Below, in his own words (minimally edited for clarity), is what he told me:

I had been a farmer all my life before I ventured into mining about 6 years ago. I stay with five other miners in a room rented for us by our Oga [meaning boss]. I leave the room at 6 a.m and it takes me about 25 minutes to trek to the farmland where I work. On getting there, I change into my working clothes, which l always leave at the site. I start digging and keep digging for at least four hours, after which I pack up the soils I have dug up to wash in the river. If I notice any gold deposit in the soil as I wash it, I go back to dig some more. But if the soil is washed and there is no gold deposit, I move to another spot to start the digging process all over again. Since we are into illegal mining, we go into farmlands within the community unlawfully to dig for gold deposits. Whoever is caught by the landowners is charged and sentenced to days, months or years in prison unless help comes from a dealer who’s willing to bail him out.

Before now, miners used to pay a fee of ₦200 to enter anywhere in the town to mine, but that has been cancelled. However, when we find a mineral deposit without getting caught, we inform our Ogas. Then the Ogas look for the owners of the land and buy it off them. Wherever land is bought from the owners, we are hired to sample the land for gold deposits. We are paid enough to feed us for each day of work: an average of $2.86 per miner. I have many Ogas. I was paid ₦200,000 when I found a gold deposit some time ago.

Life as a miner is full of risks and very challenging. A single mistake can end the life of a miner and those of his colleagues at the site; for example there could be a sudden fall of pits as we dig, and other times it could just be part of the pit caving in and causing serious injuries to some part of our bodies. We have lost many miners as a result of this.

There’s no rest for me; rest comes when I sleep in the night. The motto here is ‘until you get money, no rest’. I only rest when I go for lunch since I don’t take breakfast.

Sometimes I don’t go home but sleep on the bare ground at the farmland when l have a lot to do. Some of us spend days and nights on the sites while using burning wood to scare away animals at night. The last time I saw my family was a year ago.

I am not at work today because I am not feeling good.

As we interacted further, many of his friends came around to contribute to our discussion. I realised that it was getting late and I had to be on my way home. But before leaving, I asked if I could take a picture of Abubakar and his friends who had just returned from work. It was then that I noticed Abubakar’s swollen feet and a sore on one of his toes.

‘I have been carrying this wound around for the past three months,’ he lamented.  He remarked that he had no money to go to the Community Health Centre for treatment. It wasn’t part of my assignment, but I couldn’t just leave him the way I met him. I offered to pay for his treatment, which he accepted joyfully. We made our way slowly to the Health Centre, where he commenced treatment after the payment of his bill. I then headed home knowing that he was in safe hands.

The story of Abubakar reflects the lives of over 2 million artisanal miners in various mining communities in Nigeria. Interventions on health and safety issues will be the key to help save people like Abubakar from danger and untimely death.


A Cry from the Wetlands of Africa

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student and SFA member

Wetlands oh wetlands! Here we are, the wetlands of Africa, hear us on our World Wetland Day - https://www.worldwetlandsday.org

God created us to serve the needs of humans and their surroundings. We meet almost all their needs: Fresh drinking water we give, food we give, clean air to breathe we give. This enables them not only to live healthy, but happily as well.

We have given that and more forever, diligently and without complaining. But humans seem not to value and appreciate the goods and services derived from us.

‘Why, why?’ we ask ourselves.

Humans started by encroaching on us because they wanted to expand grazing land for the domestic animals, and we accepted. We supported seasonal vegetables such as cabbages and rice which do well in our fertile soil and conserved water, now we have been over-harvested over the years. We have endured the shame of being stripped naked until it’s too much for us to bear. That was not enough to satisfy the needs of human beings: Oh, who will ever satisfy human needs?

Because of your need to expand housing and factories, we have become the first victim and now we are being denied our original role and reason for existence; you are filling and dumping  in us soil and other debris as if there are no other places left for that. You don’t show any care or respect to us!

With your increased greed you have now decided to eliminate us! Completely ignoring the rights of the other peaceful and harmless organisms that live in us by directing your industrial wastes to us which chokes us badly. Oh, what did we do to you to deserve this?

Because of the pressure and burden you have placed on us, we have had to let go of some of our functions such as controlling floods, and now humans are crying that we no longer care. Harmful weeds and pests have occupied us because we can’t fight them as our capacity has reduced to fight for ourselves. However, we are blamed for that as well and some even suggest to completely do away with us in order to protect humans from vectors that cause disease, especially malaria.

We still want to exist and serve you as we have done before – you and your generations to come. All we are asking is that you show some care for us, help us to regenerate and use us wisely. Do not over-harvest us and leave our surrounding environment bare as this makes us too weak to defend ourselves and to support you well. Help us to restore and we will forever be your obedient servant, offering you your essential goods and services. Hear our cry, oh humans of Africa.

 

Anthony Kadoma is a University of Glasgow PhD student focusing on Environmental Sustainability and a member of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.


Impact Story from Nigeria: Policymakers Engagement on Artisanal Gold Mining

By Grace Idowu Awosanmi and Deepa Pullanikkatil

Dr Sola Ajayi, a Professor of Agricultural Science in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, got interested in agriculture through his experiences and observations growing up in a farming community. He is now the Director of the Nigerian hub of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network, a global network comprising members from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana. “Being auniversity teacher and a Professor of Agriculture gave me the desire to understand communities in a holistic manner,” says Ajayi. “I look at the issue of community development more than just that of agriculture because I know that the development of communities is a result of so many interwoven factors. This was my attraction for joining SFA.”

Since 2014, Ajayi has been researching the nexus between artisanal gold mining and agriculture. He has conducted several field visits and partnered with other universities (notably Goethe University in Germany and Murdoch University in Australia) on issues relating to mining, community relationships and social engagement. So at the inaugural SFA meeting in Botswana in 2016, where hub countries were offered seed grants and asked to come up with projects, Ajayi presented the idea of ‘Prioritizing developmental needs in agrarian and mining communities’. The research question was: What is the priority for artisanal mining communities in the face of limited resources? A variety of methods were used by Ajayi and his interdisciplinary team, which included Prof. Akande from Adult Literacy and Lifelong Education and Prof. Torimiro from Agricultural Sociology.

Ajayi recalls, “As we progressed, there came an escalation in the problem of artisanal mining per se, which also extended to both my immediate environment at Ile-Ife and to the community where I was born. The issue of artisanal mining in Nigeria spiralled to become a security issue that was also threatening the social fabric of communities where these issues were taking place. Therefore we decided to narrow it down and then look at it in context.”

Prof Sola Ajayi meeting with youth

Mining in Itagunmodi

About a year after the start of the SFA project, the government of Nigeria came up with the idea of changing its developmental paradigm to focus on agriculture and mining. They wanted to reduce the dependence of the Nigerian economy on oil, targeting other aspects of the economy instead. This prompted the SFA team to ask, “If the government considers mining and agriculture to hold the key to economic diversification, why are the communities where these activities take place poor?”

Their interest in this question led them to the village of Igbojaye, located in Oyo State.  The community is strategically located within a strongly traditional institutional environment. Itagunmodi is less than 20 km from Ile-Ife, which is regarded as the source/origin of the Yoruba race. However, with the rise of mining and the influx of migrants it brought to the area, the Itagunmodi Kabiyesi (king) had been displaced and had to leave the community. The Yorubas are predominantly farmers, traders and learned people. Therefore, migrants from the north of the country came for the jobs, displacing the original members of the community. Two in every three occupants of the community is a migrant Northerner who does not speak the local language. Prof Ajayi recalls an instance in Itagunmodi when the Jumat prayer was spoken in the migrants’ language. “The migrants were no longer learning the native language. Rather the few natives that were there were learning the language of the migrant miners. We also saw a shift in the kinds of business activities, in the kinds of food in circulation, culture and even the music played on the street. All these no longer reflected the culture of the people.” It was alarming to the locals that Itagunmodi was now being taken over by people of another tribe, and it was seen which was now a major security concern.

As tensions rose in Itagunmodi, Prof. Ajayi spoke with various concerned parties, including the Honourable Commissioner for Environment and Community Leaders and Traditional Rulers, the Deputy Governor of the State and the Chief of Staff of the State. The Chief of Staff was very glad that the SFA team had come to provide research-based perspectives and to draw the government’s attention to the issue, and eventually some of the information they provided led to the convening of a security meeting.

Ajayi also spoke to the Commissioner of Police for Osun State, who was not aware of the security implication nor that the situation had degenerated so much. The Commissioner later informed Ajayi that there would be a Security Summit, which was widely covered in the national dailies. Ajayi also spoke to a very significant and influential indigenous personality, who is presently the Director-General of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (and was previously Nigeria’s ambassador to Australia), whom he had met during a research project collaboration. This led to the SFA group being put in charge of mining-related issues for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

At that time, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, a group tasked with the sustainable development of the predominantly Yoruba-speaking southwest region, asked the SFA hub to prepare a presentation that would inform the policy of the commission on the issue of mining and artisanal mining. Ajayi is happy that through SFA, he has been able for the first time to engage with policy makers and provide empirical evidence that can form the opinions and positions of both government and traditional institutions. He says, The goal of the project is not just research. The way I understand it, research is not an end in SFA, research is a means to an end and the end is the development of the community. We want to facilitate development not just as an academic exercise but as a daily experiential activity. So research is only a component of it to the extent that it serves to provide solutions, understanding and index analysis that will bring out solutions to problems. The development will involve members of the community, whether they are natives or migrants. Everyone that lives, everyone that transacts, everyone that has a stake in the community is a stakeholder so they need to be actively engaged. It will involve regulatory authorities, government authorities, traditional institutions and the people. It is important to engage people since the facilitation of development is something that can not be done alone.”