BUHARI GOVERNMENT INDECISION AND CAPITALISM RESPONSIBLE FOR COVID-19 SPREAD IN NIGERIA
* SPN Demands emergency measures for mass testing, safety and quarantine to stop the virus spread
* NLC, TUC AND ULC must commence preparation to protect jobs, wages and welfare of workers in order to ensure that COVID-19 spread is not used at the long run by the anti-people government to attack the interest of poor people
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) puts the blame for the spread of novel Coronavirus in Nigeria on the indecision and lethargy of the Buhari capitalist government. Despite the ravages of the virus globally and the near-certainty that it could affect Nigeria, the Federal Government did not take serious action, beyond screening at international airports and self-isolation advisory, until late hour on Thursday, 19th March, 2020.
Even when the index case tested positive on February 27, the federal government still did not roll out effective actions that could have arrested the virus’ spread. It was only when the virus had gained a foothold with the possibility of local transmission that flights to heavily affected countries were stopped and schools, public institutions and religious worship centres closed.
SPN frowns at this and believes that the lethargy and indecision of the Buhari government in the crucial weeks before the virus took hold highlights how much priority capitalism places on the profit concern of the big business over safety and health of workers and poor people. Stopping international flights, closing land borders, banning movements and public gatherings and locking down society will disrupt business as usual to the detriment of the rich. Therefore, the delay in the decision by the Buhari-led government like other capitalist governments around the world to take bold actions in this respect is a deliberate effort to protect the profit interest of the rich and big businesses even though we are aware that lockdown and restriction will also affect poor people.
Apart from the Buhari government, the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is to be blamed as well for the virus spread. It is no more a secret that members and key leaders of another pro-capitalist party PDP in south west were led on Wednesday, 18th March, 2020 by Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State to organise a political rally despite the severity of the situation. Capitalist politicians in Nigeria, like most counterparts globally, are usually a bunch of self-serving crooks who only think of short term interests instead of the welfare of society. One of the musicians at the rally, who is an aide of the governor, was said to have just returned from the UK and attended the rally without having observed the prescribed 14-day self-isolation measure.
Coincidentally, a day after the PDP rally in Ibadan Oyo State, a resident of that State who had just arrived from overseas tested positive to COVID-19. Due to the indiscretion of the Oyo State governor and the PDP, the health and safety of residents of Oyo State and other states from which participants at the unfortunate rally came from may have been compromised. It is for this reason that we in the SPN argue that, all the pro-capitalist state governments across the country and the Buhari APC federal Government must be held responsible for the spread of the virus.
We recognise that the Federal government and some state governments have now directed schools, public institutions, airports, religious centres and bars to be closed. Public gatherings exceeding 50 has been banned in many states. In some states, workers have been asked to work from home. Sadly, all of these measures may not be enough to prevent spread of the disease. The pre-existing social conditions (e.g. mass penury, homelessness, slum housing, weak health infrastructure, inadequate doctors and other health professionals, casual and precarious jobs, inadequate sanitation, running water and electricity infrastructure etc.) which the capitalist system has created mean that even the best of emergency measures may have little effect in containing spread of the virus. For instance, handwashing, the most basic measure to check the spread of the virus, is not within the reach of many as millions of homes in urban and rural areas have no access to running water!
Also the destruction of the health sector through implementation of pro-capitalist policies of underfunding, commercialisation and privatisation is the greatest chink in the armour of the Nigerian nation to combat the spread of Coronavirus. During an outbreak of Lassa fever last year, Doctor Chioma Nwakanma who lost a colleague to the disease complained in an interview with BBC of lack of equipment “as basic as oxygen tanks. Protective equipment like gloves, we have to borrow from patients,” (BBC Africa, 24 April 2019).
Asides the problem of inadequate and poor facilities and equipment to combat the outbreak of the virus is also the problem of inadequate medical personnel. Latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that Nigeria’s physician-to-patient ratio is four doctors per 10,000! (BBC Africa, 24 April 2019). They, alongside nurses, radiologists, laboratory attendants and other health workers are relatively underpaid and under-resourced leading to mass emigration out of the country! Little wonder that on the eve of the Coronavirus outbreak, doctors at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Gombe, Enugu, Kaduna and Cross Rivers went on strike in protest at government failure to pay backlog of salaries and meet other demands.
The brutal truth is that unless the virus spread is contained, Nigeria’s health sector is too weak and backward to confront an outbreak of COVID-19. Therefore to curtail further spread of the virus, it will require immediate and adequate provision of facilities for mass testing and quarantine of suspected cases in every local government across the country. Government must also make available hand sanitizers, temperature checking equipment and hand watching materials like soup, bow including water to Nigerians at all motor parks, bus stops, taxi parks, motor cycle parks, markets and informal clusters across the country and must also be distributed within the communities, schools including religious centres free of charge through democratic committees of public safety comprised of elected representatives of trade unions, market associations, artisan groups and community associations.
Beyond these is the need to ensure that all the general hospitals across the country to be well-equipped and more health workers are recruited and provided with adequate protective gears with special allowances for an effective handling of patients with critical cases of Covid-19. Government must make an order or law that mandates sick leave with pay and without loss of job for every worker including casual and contract staffs with suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19. This order must also include provision that will empower Government to take over any private company or organisation that rationalises/retrenches its workforce or fails to pay workers during this crisis.
In a situation of general lockdown, the question of how food, water and other essential provisions gets to the population will be a life and death matter. Otherwise a riot would ensue. A majority of Nigerians are poor and cannot stock up like the rich. The SPN demands for a state-funded emergency relief programme under the direct control of non-sectarian democratic committees of public safety established at streets and community level whose membership must be drawn from trade unions, community associations, medical workers unions and artisan groups to distribute food, water, drugs, clothing and other essential provisions free of charge to the population on a daily basis and for as long as the lockdown lasts.
The SPN therefore calls on the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress, TUC and the United Labour Congress (ULC) to adopts these demands as battle cry to rally round the working masses and youth in preparation for general strike and mass action to ensure that jobs, wage, welfare and the overall interest of the workers and poor people are adequately protected in the event the anti-people capitalist government will like to offload the consequences of the COVID-19 and that of the economy which already treading on the fast lane into recession on the back of the working people.
Ultimately, what the COVID-19 has revealed is the inability of capitalism to truly protect the rights and safety of the working people. A different kind of society is urgently needed which can only be ushered in through sustained and organised mass actions led by the working class. The SPN calls on the labour movement, while fighting to defend the interests of the working people against the anti-poor assaults of the capitalist government, to build a mass workers party in order to overthrow capitalism and enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies.
Acting National Chairperson