Elizabeth Malumfashi already had a hard life but got no warning that a virus was going to make it harder. Her employers had to leave Nigeria before the airports closed. With that, her only means of livelihood was gone. Gone with the wind, as speedily as the flight that bore her employers out of Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport in Abuja.
Like other domestic workers whose employers shut their doors due to fears of the virus, Malumfashi is facing a new reality. It is a new reality of lack, of loss of confidence and of doubts that she would be able to find work again. Her fears may live long after the COVID-19 pandemic clears.
She told HumAngle that she struggles to feed herself and her family. They presently survive on one meal per day. These meals are cooked from the supplies she could put together from her last pay. While she hopes they last till April, Malumfashi is exhausted from thinking about the worst that could happen after that.
“I need about 25, 000 naira to survive on a regular month and could at least get more than that when I worked for my last two employers,” she said. That amount now seems far-fetched.
Usually, Malumfashi would begin working early at seven in the morning and split her time between the two families, which lasted until nighttime. She had built good relationships with her employers which gave her a sense of job security, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has come like an evil wind blowing away her job. That sense of security only now features in a retreating memory.
“Without work, I have no income. I cannot go out and look for a family to work for because everyone is scared of exposure to this virus. My own family doesn’t want me to leave the house. They are already worried because I used to work for so many internationals. So, I must stay home,” she lamented.
Malumfashi’s story reflects the crisis happening with the world’s most vulnerable populations—wage workers, women, the elderly and homeless people, among others.
There are several reports of the rampant layoffs of domestic workers around the world. Many of the workers have been released with no severance pay or financial package to aid them while they stay inside.
Many governments have provided a stimulus package to help corporations out of an impending recession. On March 18, it was reported that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will give 1 trillion naira (2.7 billion dollars) to aid key sectors of the economy because of the outbreak.
As of March 1, the central bank initiated a one-year moratorium on all principal debt repayments, reducing interest rates to five percent.
The CBN has also unveiled a 50 billion naira credit facility for small to mid-sized businesses and individuals needing relief. In his first official address to the nation since the virus’ outbreak, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that conditional cash payments would be made to the vulnerable members of the society.
Only time will determine whether workers like Malumfashi would receive the governmental support they need to fare through a difficult economic climate.
On March 25, Human Rights Watch released a statement urging the Nigerian government to make sure its “response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rooted in respect for human rights by ensuring access to standard healthcare services, clean water, and other basic necessities to the most vulnerable communities.”
With the dire situation staring her in the face, Malumfashi and others like her are placing their hopes on government disbursing emergency distress grants to the vulnerable members of the society.