Nigerian authorities reported the country’s first confirmed coronavirus case on February 28, the first in a sub-Saharan African country, according to Associated Press. The outbreak is now feared to have spread to the region with the world’s weakest health systems. Nigerian “patient zero” is in fact an Italian citizen who had travelled from Milan to Lagos, Africa’s most populated city with more 20 million people, on a business trip. The Health Commissioner for Lagos said the authorities were working to identify all of the man’s contacts since he arrived in Nigeria in an attempt to contain further contamination in the fourth-most densely populated city in the world.
According to the Associated Press, Nigeria is among the African countries that the World Health Organization classified as high priority in this outbreak. The country was praised for its response to Ebola, specifically for the effectiveness of its public awareness campaigns. Such focus on raising public awareness has been particularly visible in the authorities’ coronavirus response, with social media serving as a key tool of engagement.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have been particularly active since the first #COVID19 case was reported, demonstrating preparedness at the local level for “risk reduction”. Through the Centre’s Facebook account, for instance, we learn that the authorities have established a National Rapid Response Team and an Emergency Operations Centre at Ogun State. The page also regularly posts “UPDATE” vignettes linking to official communications in English from the NCDC’s website with further updates and details. Similarly, NCDC’s Twitter account has ramped up its activity over the last few days with links to official government statements and guidelines, and communicating on its director general’s media appearances where he addresses latest developments on the authorities’ response to a potential outbreak.
An analysis of the NCDC’s recent Twitter activities using a publicly available social media analytics tool shows that the NCDC’s official account has posted more than 1,100 unique tweets and retweets over the past five hours, with the majority of which (more than 300) linking to the NCDC’s official website, ncdc.gov.ng.
The NCDC’s Twitter account was further boosted following a Tweet by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari commending “the excellent responses of… Nigeria Centre for Disease Control… to the Coronavirus situation in Nigeria” while directly linking to a tweet from the NCDC account.
Nigerian authorities overall should indeed be commended for their social media engagement on the coronavirus situation. In a space that is oftentimes dominated by conspiratorial accounts, NCDC appears to be fulfilling its key function of mainstreaming fact-based narratives on an unfolding situation that is likely to get more critical by the day.