PRESIDENT BUHARI’S ADDRESS ON THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: ALL MOTION, NO MOVEMENT
* LOCKDOWN WITHOUT PROVISION OF ADEQUATE RELIEF FOR WORKERS AND THE POOR MASSES WILL LEADTO A HUMAN TR
* SPN CALLS ON THE NLC, TUC AND ULC TO TAKE THE LEAD IN ENCOURAGING DEMOCRATIC SELF-ORGANISATION TO ORGANIZE SUPPLIES AND THEIR DISTRIBUTION – INCLUDING ACTION AGAINST PROFITEERING AND BLACK MARKETS AGEDY
(1) President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the Nation on the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday 29th March 2020. This was after days of public outcry by members of the public calling on the President to lead from the front. Prior to now, his spokesmen and supporters had all gone to extreme and in most cases ridiculous levels to justify why the President did not talk to his people even in a period of national calamity.
(2) Therefore, when the time of the Presidential address was eventually announced to a beleaguered nation, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians if not millions, provided they had electricity, stayed glued to their television screen, or monitoring on social media, with bated breath and in high hope and expectation. Unfortunately, the address was not only disappointing, it has added very little to the efforts already being taken by the states in the frontline of the pandemic.
(3) In the entire speech which lasted for over 15 minutes, the most significant step announced by the President was the “cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States”. This effectively means a lockdown of the two states and the FCT. However, even this step adds very little to what is already being enforced in the identified states and the FCT. In the 3 identified states as well as 11 others, some form of movement restriction, boundary closures and curfews are already being enforced.
RELIEF: THE MORE YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE
(4) Despite containing so many fine words and a recognition that we confront both “a health emergency and an economic crisis”, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) finds this presidential address shorn of any serious and concrete steps to assist the workers, the poor masses and even small and medium scale businesses all of which would be the hardest hit by the time the storm blows over.
(5) According to the address, the President announced that for residents of satellite and commuter towns and communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods will surely be affected by some of these restrictive measures, the Federal Government “shall deploy relief materials to ease the pains in the coming weeks”.
(6) Also, the president directed that “conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately” to the most vulnerable in society. But this is not a new project. The conditional cash transfer has been in existence before now. It is part of the Social Investment programme of the Buhari government kick-started since the first term of the administration which contains provisions to give N5, 000 per month to the aged and vulnerable in society. By directing the immediate payment of the two months value of this cash transfer, all the Buhari government is giving out as cash payment to the aged and most vulnerable to assist them to stock up in order to survive the current period of lockdown and severe movement restriction is a paltry N10, 000 – an amount that cannot buy a bag of rice! More so the aged, even though only a few of them are beneficiaries, are a tiny fraction of our population. While we support every measure to care for our aged, we ask: what happens to the able-bodied who are about 80% of the total population i.e. workers families and the families of the poor and unemployed? Furthermore, the president announced “a three month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect”. The relief announced by President Buhari is like a drop in an ocean.
(7) In all of these, the Federal government did not take account of how the dislocation of economic activities consequent upon the lockdown would adversely affect workers in the public and private sectors, the informal sector workers, the poor and the unemployed in a country that lacks social security. These are not just located in “satellite and commuter towns”, in fact, the working population and poor masses are more concentrated in the inner cities of Lagos, Ogun and FCT than the outskirts. As the SPN has consistently argued, any lockdown effected without providing adequate relief for workers, the poor and unemployed will lead to a human tragedy as a result of hunger. Riots may break out while burglary, armed robbery and other violent crimes may rise exponentially. The daredevil house-to-house robbery in Ibadan, Oyo State in broad daylight on Sunday 29 March 2020 which left many injured is an indication of what could happen over the course of the 14 days.
(8) Our position as a political party is that the relief promised in the presidential address is inadequate and skewed towards bailing out big business and the rich while leaving the workers and poor with nothing and therefore we reject them. For instance, while not giving anything significant to the workers and poor, the President directed “development financial institutions to engage development partners and negotiate concessions” for on-lending facilities using capital from international and multilateral development partners in order to “ease the pains of borrowers”. We support state intervention to prevent economic collapse but a big chunk of those who access capital from international and multinational development partners are big businesses and the rich elite. The highly publicised donations from the rich businessmen and politicians will not hide the fact that they are being bailed out or financed by the state while tens of millions of Nigerians are left to look after themselves and their families. Instead we demand that companies threatening redundancies are nationalised with compensation paid to their owners only on the basis of need and then run under the control of the workforce and the wider community.
(9) Therefore, as a party and in concert with other pro-working peoples groups, the SPN shall use every means at our disposal to sensitise, organise and mobilise Nigerians to demand a humane lockdown that recognises that whilst the health emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic requires the most drastic measures, the working class and poor masses are human beings who must eat, drink and satisfy basic human needs even while on a stay-at-home.
ALTERNATIVE ACTION PLAN FOR LOCKDOWN
(10) Dissatisfied with the puny and inadequate relief provisions promised by the Federal Government, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) call on all trade unions, pro-masses organisations and civil society to join us to demand the following set of alternative demands as the conditions which the Federal government in conjunction with state governments must meet before any lockdown is enforced:
(a) A special grant of nothing less than N50, 000 per month to working-class households and the poor to ensure Nigerians are able to stock up in order to survive the lockdown.
(b) This to be combined with setting up of public kitchens and relief distribution centres at community levels for distribution of foodstuff, drugs and other essential supplies. Control and distribution of this fund to be in the hands of democratic committees set up at communities and composed by elected representatives of trade unions, community associations and pro-masses groups etc. in order to prevent fraud and other sharp practises.
(c) Regular payment of salary to all categories of workers in public and private sectors. Before the lockdown commences, the Federal and state government to pay all pending salaries and pensions including the backlog owed to workers and retirees.
(d) For payment of nothing less than N100, 000 COVID-19 special hazard allowance to health workers and all workers at the frontline of the war against COVID-19. This must be combined with life insurance for all these workers as well as adequate Personal Protective Equipment.
(e) Setting up of more testing facilities, increase in the numbers of people tested per day, free distribution of hand sanitisers and face masks, and provision of quarantine and isolation centres at every local government.
(f) For all workers in the itemised industries and sectors considered essential and who are thereby exempted from the lockdown and are expected to report to work daily, the SPN demands a special COVID-19 hazard allowance alongside with provisions of on-the-site safety procedures including temperature monitor, handwashing facilities, hand sanitisers, nose masks and protective clothing.
(g) The procedure of work at these factories to be altered to accommodate social distancing. On-the-site clinic to be immediately equipped to be able to attend to any health needs that may be required. A democratic committee compromising elected representatives of workers to be formed at shop floors to take charge and enforce these arrangements and also fight for workers’ rights.
(h) Given that the lockdown will also affect commuter transportation, buses must be provided to convey essential workers from home to work and back while maintaining social distancing on the buses.
(i) For cancellation of all working-class and poor household electricity debts. For a moratorium on electricity bills, housing and shop/stall rents. Slash in the cost of phone call tariffs, data, DSTV and GOTV subscription cost to aid working and poor people to be able to communicate and access vital information or reach out to first responders in case of emergency.
(j) No to job losses on account of the COVID-19 virus. End casualization now. For the government to guarantee all employment and nationalize any company that retrenches or fail to pay its workers.
(k) All fees to be stopped at all public hospitals. The State to declare free health care including free tests and treatment in order to ensure that the poorest of the poor are not afraid of reporting to the hospital if they feel sick.
(l) No to arbitrary arrests and destruction of people’s wares by law enforcement officers. End attacks on democratic rights. Free all detained activists and reverse all politically-motivated sack of workers and suspension and expulsion of students.
(m) For freedom of the press and the right to freedom of expression and association. Respect for the fundamental rights of citizens even while battling the virus.
(n) The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) to take the lead in encouraging democratic self-organisation to organise supplies and their distribution– including action against profiteering and black markets.
THE LABOUR MOVEMENT MUST END ITS INACTIVITY AND TAKE THE LEAD
(11) In addition, we call on the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) to organise to fight for the above demands. Aside the capitalist orientation of the ruling parties and governments, the silence of these platforms or their inability to fashion and campaign for a clearly independent working class programme over the health emergency and the economic crisis, is what is behind the current audacity of the capitalist ruling elite to not even attempt to do one per cent of the kind of massive state interventions and relief programme that are taking place in other capitalist countries. Should the labour movement back the above-listed demands and organise to pressure the government to fulfil them; some crucial concessions can be gained.
(12) After all is said and done, the presidential speech has confirmed what the SPN has been saying all along which is that the Buhari APC capitalist government has no effective and far reaching answer to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must remember, it is their destruction of the healthcare and other public sectors by the capitalist ruling class due to age-long imposition of capitalist policies of underfunding and privatisation that has made Nigeria prostrate in the face of the rampaging pandemic.
(13) COVID-19 pandemic is an indictment of the capitalist system. It has shown that a system built on profit and not human need will fail humanity when it matters the most. Now more than ever, we need to begin to fight for a different kind of society – a socialist system under which the commanding heights of the economy is nationalised under democratic workers control and management, and the needs of the vast majority, not profits and greed of a few, form the basis of governance and economy.
Acting National Chairperson