Nigerian Federation & JEI: Responses to COVID-19

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On behalf of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Nigeria.

Over a month ago, the Nigerian Federation with support of JEI, began rapidly preparing to address the impending spread of COVID-19. Through cancelling all meetings, creating handwashing stations, distributing flyers in multiple languages, Federation tailors sewing 2,500 face masks and producing hand sanitiser – a multi-scale approach was taken to address the critical needs of the most vulnerable while warning communities of the imminent crisis. Over 16,000 informational flyers were printed and distributed in communities across Lagos in English, Hausa, Igbo, Egun and Yoruba, with 7,000 across Port Harcourt.

Assisting those most at risk – older, immune-compromised, homeless, indigent, immigrant/migrant Federation members to clinics to get tested when symptoms appear, while ensuring that there are no barriers to access due to language, cost, nor demographic – remains of utmost priority to the Federation.


At this time, Lagos is three weeks into lockdown, food is still scarce and government programmes remain to be seen for 2/3 of the population living in informal settlements. Mohammed (Vagabond) Zanna reflects on the precarious position of Federations, and more broadly, the urban poor with the lack of plans and proper response.

“We are doing our best as the Federation, in Nigeria, as an affiliate of SDI. We are creating awareness, making face masks, sourcing food donations, but it is not enough. From our side, it is not enough, the government needs to do more. What they give, is not enough for that person, and their family to eat. It is not enough. We are caught between Coronavirus and hunger, if we stay home, we starve, if we go outside, we stand the risk of catching COVID-19, and spreading it to our families, and also our communities. This is the situation, and there is serious tension. Something needs to be done.”


The ongoing work of information dissemination is crucial and focuses on social distancing that is tailored to the realities of living in informal settlements, recognizing symptoms, contacting government hotlines, and pushing back on false & dangerous information that has been simultaneously spreading. The communications includes regular WHO updates & recommendations, health education talks, and WhatsApp information campaign. These information campaigns are crucial to ensure updated and reliable information is reaching those most at risk, and to guarantee Federation experiences are being accurately shared.

Corona Diaries of the Urban Poor (#C19DiariesOfTheUrbanPoor) is a citizen journalism series that details COVID-19 pandemic at the intersection of urban poverty detailing the lived realities of slum communities told by current residents across Nigeria & Benin. With a mix of audio and visual mediums, and data conducted by the Federation in Nigeria & Benin, real-time stories are being developed. To continue following their work please check out the following social handles, Facebook, and Twitter: @vagabonkingdom @NaijaFederation @justempower – all above media can also be found on the JEI website with continued updated on the Corona Diaries page.

Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.

SDI Rituals: Profiling & Enumeration through the Vusi Ntsuntsha Project


A piece written by Camila Yanzaguano, Erica Levenson, Manuela Chedjou, with photography by Ana Holschuch. 

Every year SDI hosts students from The New School, as part of their International Field Program. During the internship the students, alongside the SA SDI Alliance and Know Your City youth from the Western Cape, documented the data collection process and community organising of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project. 

Bridging the gap in data surrounding informal settlements is one of the main priorities of SDI. As the profiling process has developed SDI has relied more and more on the community participation of residents of informal settlements. The lack of data on informal settlements is a major issue, and speaks to a larger oversight of informal settlement residents. For this reason, community participation in the data collection process is crucial. Through SDI’s ‘Know Your City’ Campaign (KYC), this profiling and enumeration work is active across 32 different countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, serving as an engine for active community participation. The initiative’s main goal is to produce valuable data on informal settlements so that the data can be used to determine what and where service improvements are needed.

Settlement profiling and enumeration is a process driven by the community for the community. The process helps to organize communities and define the most pressing problems in their settlement, as well as provide a space for communities to discuss priorities while encouraging cross-learning. Through social interaction, residents of informal settlements learn from each other and give helpful suggestions regarding the implementation of development projects.

Informal settlements are typically built by the residents themselves, and the conditions of the construction are not always under local or national codes and regulations. In South Africa in particular, there has been a steady increase in the number and population of informal settlements in the last two decades. The lack of information and data on these settlements has made authorities’ attempts at improvements extremely prolonged. Thus, the KYC initiative aims to expedite slum upgrading projects by compiling crucial data, all the while engaging communities in the process.


photograph taken by Ana Holschuch at Vusi Ntsuntsha meeting.

Enumeration, settlement profiling, and mapping are some of the processes that KYC is involved with and led by slum dwellers. Gathered data has facilitated sanitation improvements as well as the construction of transportation infrastructure, such as the paving of roads within several informal settlements across the SDI affiliated countries. As a result, residents of informal settlements have received improvements in roads, potable water, and sanitation- improvements that they have needed for some time. In some cases, communities have been able to get access to health services, construction of community centers, and schools.  

Enumeration is a community-driven process that has been used by the SA SDI Alliance for years. Enumeration is essential to profiling residents of townships: how many residents per household, what resources they have and do not have, and so on. The data gained by enumeration is then presented to governments and used in requests for resource provisions. In other words, by having an exact number of people residing in each area, it becomes simpler and quicker for the government to budget, plan, and implement upgrading projects at the sites. 

The South African (SA) SDI Alliance has been working in informal settlements for years and has come together with communities to develop the Vusi Ntsuntsha project through community participation. The Vusi Ntsuntsha project was stalled for twenty years, but with leadership commitment and contributions from members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha community, the project was recently re-established. The ultimate goal of the project is to build affordable, proper housing for community members using subsidies from the South African government. With the help of community leaders and the Alliance, the Vusi Ntsuntsha project is making impressive progress. 


photograph taken by Ana Holschuch around profiling and enumeration of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project.

Community members have to be ‘visible’ to the government in order for any project to be planned. Profiling and enumeration create an undeniable visibility of residents and their needs. Through enumeration many important questions are answered: how long respective people have lived in their respective settlements and how they make a living. The data collected is ultimately used to ensure that all residents’ needs are accounted for in planning and service delivery. The data collection work of communities has gained organizations such as SDI and the SA SDI Alliance worldwide recognition. By collecting necessary information, the Western Cape Provincial Government was able to screen all Vusi Ntsuntsha beneficiaries and to provide a response about members who qualify for grants, and set new options for those households who do not qualify. Today, at least half of the 800 beneficiaries have been enumerated and verified, becoming formal members of the Vusi Ntsuntsha project. 

Vusi Ntsuntsha’s process of profiling and enumeration has been crucial to the projects movement and success. Community members not only created valuable data but also gained knowledge during the process. Today, new projects, such as Mossel Bay, are starting with the support of the SA SDI Alliance. Vusi Ntsuntsha leaders and members are exchanging their knowledge on enumeration with Mossel Bay members. Community participation emerges as a key way to give power to the people within informal settlements. Communities are becoming more visible,  capitalizing on their rights as citizens. 


Botswana Know Your City Enumeration Exchange


The federation of Botswana was mobilized by the Zimbabwean federation and established in 2011. Because of the challenges faced in their communities, the Botswana federation identified SDI’s data collection tools to be a necessary weapon for them to ascertain their socio-economic profile, level of services as well as development aspirations.

Botswana Federation and the Francistown City Council signed a MOU on the 19th August 2016 to work together to do development including the Know Your City Campaign (KYC) in Francistown. The exchange undertaken between the 21st and 28th of May 2017 was an opportunity to share information, experience and skills relating to data collection between urban poor communities from four SDI affiliated countries: Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. The exchange was hosted by the Botswana federation in Francistown with the aim of building capacity for the Botswana Federation to collect their own data. In support of the programme, and fully participating in the process, were various government stakeholders, including: The Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Statistics Botswana and The Department of Community Development.

Objectives of the Botswana Know Your City programme, as identified by the Botswana federation: 

  • To document informalities that exists in the formal settlements.
  • To empower the community to be able to collect their own data to use to develop their livelihoods.
  • To use the data as a strategic advocacy document in building partnerships and liaising with government and development partners.
  • Mobilise more members to join the Federation to build a strong social capital.


During the exchange planning meeting on the first day, Botswana indicated that Boikhutso Ward – particularly Somerset West settlement – was selected for the KYC learning exchange. Below are some of the reasons that were given as to why the Botswana federation was interested in enriching themselves with knowledge of how to gather information:

  • The federation would like to unearth some of the major community related challenges that their government has not been and is still not paying attention to.
  • They want to use the tool in order to help them in prioritization of projects.
  • They want to showcase their ability of being part of the development of their communities
  • They would like to demonstrate to stakeholders how inclusive the process of development has to be.

The team agreed that profiling should be the starting point for the data collection exercise. It was agreed the same settlement which was going to be enumerated would be profiled first. The next day consisted of presentations by the Namibian, South African and Zimbabwean teams, followed by a review of the profiling and enumeration forms and mapping methodologies.


The following day and a half were spent profiling Somerset West settlement, followed by multiple days of house-to-house enumeration and structure mapping. One of the enumerators reflected the following during the end-of-day reflection session:

“I am proud to be part of the process because I have just realized a lot of things I did not know about my own community.”

Some other reflections from exchange participants are below, and the full exchange report is available here.

Ms Karabo Ramontshonyana, Physical Planner from Francistown City Council: “Wow!!! The exercise is a great benefit to Botswana. We have challenges in our neighbourhoods and therefore this learning exchange will assist the government and the community especially the federation to work together for the common good and to solve challenges together. The inclusion of professionals in this exercise is important as it helps both community and government more on the government side for inclusive development. The selection of the Somerset West is also a good thing since this area is a gate way to the City Centre. The exercise has made us to see that though Government has upgraded the place there is a lot that needs to be done by the professionals and the community. There is lots of informalities or rather the Building acts were not followed when houses were constructed, with that the exercise is very important and of benefit.”

Ms Tamara of the South African SDI affiliate puts it this way: “It is an experience to find out that in Botswana the structures are different from where we come from. But we discovered that the municipality does not understand why we do mapping, enumeration and profiles since they have plots numbers and upgrades but as field workers we found that there are lot of backyarders (people living in informal shacks in backyards) in one plot which is informality in formal settlements.”