Nigeria: Bringing COVID-19 Prevention Messages to Benin Market
On 2 June, a group of nine returning migrants led an awareness-raising session to share verified information about COVID-19 with shoppers in a busy marketplace in n Benin, the largest city of Edo State in the south of the country, and the main region of origin of Nigerian returnees.
The group shared official public health information with megaphones and spoke directly with traders and shoppers about ways to prevent transmission of the virus.
“Many people in our communities do not believe that COVID-19 is real and that it exists among us, because some of them have not seen a person who has contracted the virus, so this makes it even harder to urge them to adhere to preventive measures,” explained Mariam Ehiro, one of the volunteer. “But through this campaign, we have been able to douse their doubts on the existence of the virus, while informing them of ways to keep themselves and their families safe,” she added.
Migrants as Messengers (MaM) volunteers carrying out sensitization in a market in Benin City informing them on how to protect themselves against COVID-19. Photo: IOM/Elijah Elaigwu
In February, the Government of Nigeria reported the first COVID-19 case in Lagos State. Since then, the number of people infected has been steadily rising to just over 24,000 cases, including 1,100 in Edo State as reported in late June. The pandemic motivated Rex Ikpowosa, a returning migrant, to participate in the campaign. Ikpowosa, 25, runs a barbershop in Benin. With support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and funding from the European Union, Ikpowosa voluntarily returned to Nigeria from Libya in May 2017 and was assisted to reopen his business he used to run prior to his journey. “Participating in this campaign has allowed me to know more about COVID-19 and how everybody can prevent the spread and protect themselves. I will urge people to desist from spreading fake news and misinforming others about the virus because only the right information will help us contain the pandemic.”
“The training by IOM team has really improved my knowledge about COVID-19, the preventive measures and how to engage and inform the public in a way that our messages will be accepted,” said Ikpowosa.
The initiative in Benin is supported by IOM’s Migrants as Messengers project, which offers training to returnees to raise awareness of irregular migration. The objective of the project is to help the African youth make informed decisions about migrating and that they are aware of the dangers and risks. This growing network of more than 300 volunteers spanning seven countries in West Africa joined IOM’s COVID-19 response to bring verified information to people to counter harmful misinformation and rumours.
“The COVID-19 does not spread itself, people spread it, I am happy I got the opportunity to learn how not to spread it by properly washing and sanitizing my hands and how to correctly wear and dispose of a face mask,” said Eric Ogaga, an automobile mechanic and one of the volunteers.
The volunteers are leading a range of creative communication activities in Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone ranging from creating cartoons about preventing transmission of the virus to collaborating with local artists to produce videos on social media urging people to follow public health information and work together to tackle the pandemic.
Photo caption: Happiness Ehimen and Brown Okojie, two volunteers teach new volunteers on how to encourage the public to take preventative actions and follow official recommendations. Photo: IOM/Elijah Elaigwu
Despite the restrictions and economic challenges imposed by the pandemic, the volunteers continue to raise awareness, carry out community-based activities and disseminate information through social media about safe migration and information.
“Life has gotten a bit more difficult as prices of food and household items have gone up, but we are hopeful that these difficulties will soon be a thing of the past. That is why I am participating in this sensitization campaign, urging the vendors and clients to follow all the preventive measures we have sensitized them about, so that life can quickly return to normal,” said Iyke Osaretin, a MaM volunteer involved in the campaign in Benin.
Vendors of the Uwelu Automobile Spare-parts Market practicing how to properly use a face mask. Photo: IOM/Elijah Elaigwu
The market sensitization campaign reached over 90 vendors and clients, who attended a session organized by the volunteers on how to properly apply hand sanitizers, wash their hands with soap and water including how to wear, remove, and dispose of face masks as per the World Health Organization guidelines. The volunteers also gave out free face masks to some of the traders. Christian Igwe, who attended the session stressed that “with the enlightenment I have received through this sensitization, I will urge all my fellow traders and customers to keep themselves safe by wearing face masks and complying with other necessary protective measures,” he noted.