Around the world, the COVID pandemic has strained health systems. A global recession is taking its toll, pushing millions of people into poverty and putting immense pressures on public budgets. As a major oil exporter, Nigeria has lost billions in state revenues, hampering the government in its efforts to fight the pandemic and deal with its consequences. Although the state is spending considerable resources on emergency measures, the money will be lacking in other areas.
For young Nigerians, the COVID pandemic has compounded an already difficult situation. Too many of them are unemployed. Feeling powerless and frustrated, young people took to the streets in mass demonstrations in late 2020, calling for better governance and an end to police brutality.
Amid this challenging situation, one network has set out to show how young people can make positive change happen. Run by the Nigerian Youth Network, the #COVIDPositiveStories campaign helps entrepreneurial young adults share stories about their work to fight COVID-19 and bring the SDGs back on track.
Readers can learn about a wide range of inspiring initiatives. Elizabeth Aladelokun leads a project that, during the lockdown, delivers food to families living in slums. Doyinsola Ogunye and her team provide water storage facilities for communities to facilitate hygiene. Aminat Ibrahim set up an organisation developing and producing face shields for health workers. Oluwafunmilayo Oni created an organisation to raise funds for families who have lost their incomes. Adeyemo Oluwabusola and her team started a project to educate teenage girls online.
In each story, the young activists describe the problem they want to solve and the solutions that they have put in place. They also try to inspire their readers, pointing out why it is important to get active and what young people can achieve.
#COVIDPositiveStories uses a proven technique in reaching young audiences: presenting them with role models from their peer group. It also seeks to reverse the crisis narrative. Contrary to accustomed media practice, the authors do not present COVID-19 as a catastrophe, but as an opportunity to get involved personally in building a better society.
The hashtag is a clever play on words. Reading “COVID positive”, readers might expect to find yet another dreadful story about people testing positive for the disease. Instead of despair, they find stories of empowerment. This switch in framing attracts readers’ attention. It shows how communicators can handle bad news, inspiring hope rather than discouraging people.
The Nigerian Youth Network is an umbrella organisation for more than 200 civil society youth organisations in Nigeria. Its focus is on spreading information about the SDGs, sharing best practices and encouraging young people to commit to sustainable development. The campaign team estimates that about 100,000 people have read one or more of the #COVIDPositiveStories, which one can also find on twitter.
Nigeria’s 2020 Voluntary National Review explains how the COVID crisis has affected progress towards the SDGs. It also explains the government’s response, with funding for the health sector, a fiscal stimulus package to boost the economy, and cash transfers for over 10 million people who have lost their incomes. The private sector has also played a role: telecommunication companies, for instance, sent out text messages stressing the importance of handwashing.
Even so, a second wave of the disease has hit the country hard. As of 12 January 2021, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control confirms more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,361 related deaths. Many experts believe the real numbers to be considerably higher, as comparatively little testing has been done. Even before the latest aggravation of the situation, the World Bank expected the worst recession in four decades for Nigeria, fearing that the pandemic and the related collapse in oil prices would push 5 million more Nigerians into poverty in 2020 alone.
In Nigeria like in many other countries, the increasing strain on state resources has thrown the spotlight on civil society initiatives to fight the pandemic and its consequences. To mobilise citizens, communicators need to offer narratives that empower people and promote personal growth. This is what inspiration is all about: helping people trust in their abilities and building hope for the future.
This post is published in partnership with Engagement Global, a German service agency working on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage civil society on issues of development co-operation.