Oke Ogunde, 14 April 2020.
It would be hell if the Covid-19 breaks out in Nigeria on the scale presently being witnessed in Europe and the US. Apart from the dire state of the healthcare system, 69 million Nigerians have no access to clean water. This invariably leads to water-borne diseases like cholera, which continue to break out as regular epidemics. Social distancing and self-isolation presuppose that people have enough space. In Lagos where we have over 100 slum areas, about 80 people can be found sharing a 10-room building with only two toilets and a bathroom being shared by all with no pipe-borne or treated water readily available.
Clearly the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) that started out as an epidemic in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and ended up as a pandemic (affecting the whole world) has thrown the whole world into a war-like situation. Scores of thousands of deaths have been recorded cumulatively for all countries across the world. Health systems in most countries are overwhelmed by the seriously sick patients in hospitals, many of whom are on ventilators and nursed in intensive care units (ICU). Global and local economies stand at their worst in decades; the world economy is now declared to be in recession by the World Bank/IMF, and could eventually lead to the deepest depression since 1929.
The price of crude oil (the mainstay of the Nigerian economy) tumbled like never before in the last 20 years. It went to as low as below $20 per barrel from above $60 just before the pandemic. It has never been this bad in the last two decades and this has made a mess of the Nigerian federal government’s budget estimates for 2020; making salaries payment, debt obligations and other projections uncertain. This is clearly so because the price of crude oil, which contributes over 90% of Nigeria’s externally-generated revenue, now hovers around $30 per barrel, which is far less than the budget’s benchmark of $57 per barrel, and this signifies tough times ahead.
Two Million Infections and Over a Hundred Thousand Deaths
By the early hours of 12 April 2020, the overall statistics of COVID-19 (Coronavirus infections) and associated deaths remain alarming and fearful. The viral infection continued to gallop; it is now over the 1.8million mark for all cases in 203 countries and territories across all continents of the world – Asia, North and South America, Europe, Australasia and Africa. The number of deaths related to coronavirus is now [at the time of writing] well over 120,000. The statistics are alarming because the rise to the 1.8 million confirmed cases took less than 4 months.
The capitalist leaders of the world, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, are particularly panicky because of the way the pandemic has quickly overwhelmed their health systems; glaringly exposing the decades-long short-changing of the health sector in the various countries and by extension revealing how fragile and interconnected the world economy is. This interconnectedness explains the current accelerated economic downturns in most countries.
Political office holders and health officials in many countries are crying out that the capacity to hold down the death rates arising from the virus is very limited, and in places like Europe and America the ratio of cases to fatalities continues to rise unabatedly. Patients are left to die unattended because of lack of ventilators and other equipment, whilst health personnel are daily being faced with the painful option of saving the young ahead of the elderly.
Overall death counts for the COVID-19 pandemic, within its short history, remain unpreceded in modern times since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that affected 500 million of the then 1.5 billion world population and led to millions of deaths including hundreds of thousands of deaths in the then Nigerian population of 18 million. But 1918 was more than a century ago; that was a period when the world did not have anything near the present level of sophistication of modern medicine and intensive care practice. As of 12 April 2020, the United States had become the country with the highest number of COVID-19 confirmed cases with an incidence of over 500,000 cases and more than 23,000 deaths. Italy has fatalities with about 20,000 deaths from 160,000 cases, Spain with 17,000 deaths from 170,000 cases. France had recorded almost 12,000 deaths from 118,000 cases while China had 3,339 deaths from 82,883 cases. Sadly, over the last one week the number in deaths and confirmed infected individuals have increased astronomically by every ticking minute.
Nigeria and Africa: Epidemics before Pandemic and Ill-Preparedness for All
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in 52 countries in Africa, as of 9 April 2020, is put at 12,368; a very small fraction (0.8%) of the world’s total. Africa’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll is put at 632 (0.7%) of the world’s coronavirus related deaths for the same date. South Africa accounts for the highest number of confirmed cases at 1,934 with 11 related deaths. On the other hand, African countries closest to Europe and the Middle East account for half of the COVID-19 cases on the continent. Most of the cases and deaths, however, occurred in four North African countries, Algeria (1666), Egypt (1699), Morocco (1374) and Tunisia (643) with 80% (4 out of 5) of the total COVID-19 related deaths in Africa.
On the other hand, Nigeria which is the most populous country on the continent with an estimated population of 200 million (15% of Africa’s 1.3billion people) has 323 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (2.5% of Africa’s) and 10 deaths as of 12 April 2020. These numbers are, however, far from the true reflection of the situation in Nigeria, based on the fact that testing is not being carried out on a large scale. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) stated earlier in the month that the present testing volume is 500 tests per day and hoped to increase this capacity to 1000 or more tests per day in the coming weeks. Thus far, less than 5000 tests have been carried out in a population of 200million.
It is pertinent to note that Nigeria’s prevailing situation is a case of an infectious pandemic overriding existing recurring and ongoing epidemics, especially of cholera, Lassa fever and yellow fever; these jointly kill thousands of people yearly. This is of course outside malaria-related deaths. Malaria fever is an endemic disease that kills tens of thousands of Nigerians (especially children) yearly. Nigeria accounts for up to 25 percent of the global cases of malaria and up to 110,000 deaths yearly especially among children under five (WHO, 2015). Although malaria is a preventable and potentially eradicable disease, the complacency of the capitalist order in protecting the interest of multinational drug companies, over and above that of the populace, has seen the persistence of the disease in Nigeria and some other parts of the world. The ongoing outbreak of Lassa Fever and Yellow Fever, terrible hemorrhagic diseases with symptoms of fever, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes bleeding through body orifices – mouth, nose, anus etc., is a case of great concern being overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of lives have been lost to these epidemics, including recent cases of doctors and nurses who got infected and died in the process of treating infected patients. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 cases of Lassa Fever and 5,000 related deaths occur annually in West Africa alone (source: NCDC), and Nigeria accounts for 50% of the region’s estimated population of 401 million and a significant number of these cases.
It is now very evident that there was really no preparation to arrest the earliest cases of importation of COVID-19 into the country which could have been done at the points of entry into the country, especially at the international airports. Effective quarantine of travellers coming into the country, since the Chinese outbreak became news in January could have been done. It was not until much later, by 18 March 2020, that Nigeria eventually placed a travel ban on 13 countries with high incidence of the disease namely the United States, United Kingdom, South Korea, Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, China, Spain, Netherlands, Norway, Japan and Iran. The regime later banned all international flights into and out of Nigeria effective 23 March 2020. This knee jerk, uncoordinated approach came rather late. By then, many returnees had already melted into the communities.
The regime later banned all international flights into and out of Nigeria effective 23 March 2020. This knee jerk, uncoordinated approach came rather late. By then, many returnees had already melted into the communities.
Early Faces of Coronavirus in Nigeria – President’s Chief of Staff, Atiku’s Son and Governors
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on the 27 February 2020 in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital with a population of 21 million. The index case arrived from Milan, Italy, then the fourth country with high incidence (371 cases), and came into the country via Lagos Airport on 25 February 2020 where nothing serious was on ground to check or track new entrants into the country from suspected places with acute infections. The fellow, who works with the multibillion dollars multinational, Lafarge Cement Company, went for a meeting at the company’s factory at Ewekoro, Ogun state, an adjoining state to Lagos. It was at the Lafarge’s medical centre in Ewekoro that the case was flagged when he presented sick, and was sent for testing and confirmed COVID-19.
More cases were thereafter discovered, a number of them being high ranking politicians and senior government officials. Among these were President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; the Governors of Bauchi, Kaduna and Oyo States; the nation’s Comptroller General and Head of Immigration; Deputy Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly and son of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (the main opposition party’s presidential candidate at the 2019 elections). What was also revealed was that these political elites clearly shamefully refused to follow the public health advice of social distancing and a minimum of 14-day self-isolation expected of all recent travellers, which invariably led to infection of their contacts, and of course their contacts’ contacts. This stupidity no doubt contributed to the leap in COVID-19 cases from less than 10 in two weeks to over 300 confirmed cases now.
The Truth, the Farce and the Science of the Pandemic
Contrary to the many spurious unscientific explanations and conspiracy theories on the origin of the disease being peddled on social media and by some religious personalities – including the notion that the new non-ionisation radio wave 5G technology is linked to the origin of Coronavirus – the truth is that Coronaviruses are not strange to the medical world and they have been studied in the past. The name Corona has to do with its appearance under the electron microscope, it has a fat layer envelope which is shaped like a crown (‘coronam’ in Latin means ‘crown’). It should be noted that one of the germs that cause the common cold (catarrh) is a type of Coronavirus which affects many people but soon resolves on its own.
In other instances coronaviruses have been known to jump from some animals and infect humans (a phenomenon called zoonotic infection) and then spread further via human to human transmission such as the case with the coronavirus that caused the 2012 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS Coronavirus or MERS-CoV) and the one that caused the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS Coronavirus or SARS-CoV), thought to have come from bats. The present pandemic is caused by a virus whose genetic content mapping is very close to the genetic map of the virus that caused the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome – it is this similarity that earned the new coronavirus similar nomenclature, SARS-CoV 2. It was also previously referred to as 2019-nCoV or Wuhan Coronavirus.
Towards the end of December 2019, this novel coronavirus was identified as the cause of the sporadic severe respiratory tract disease cases in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province, China. It rapidly spread, resulting in an epidemic throughout China and then moved to other parts of the world like wildfire, affecting every continent on earth, except Antarctica. The World Health Organization (WHO) later designated the disease COVID-19, which stands for corona virus disease 2019, and declared it a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
However, a major undoing of the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria is the fact that a large number of people at first did not believe the ‘novel coronavirus story’; these layers were not won over by the propaganda of the government about the reality of the pandemic and steps to take to limit its spread – understandably as the government has failed them in all facets of life. Many believed it was just another ploy to siphon money from the nation’s coffers and deceive the people. At the very best, they reckoned that even if the disease was real, it was for the rich and maybe a punishment for those in power going by the first Nigerian faces of the disease. More so, at this stage the number of those infected, or the number of deaths (6), was in no way alarming.
The truth however, as enunciated above, is that the science and manifestation of the new coronavirus disease is real, predictable and reproducible. Moreover, in other parts of the world where it has affected close to 2 million people and killed some 120,000, it is obvious now that COVID-19 does not discriminate; it affects the rich, the poor, workers, political leaders, whites, coloured people, blacks, the elderly and the young.
What has been reproducible about the Coronavirus pandemic the world over is the high rate at which it spreads among clusters of people and close contacts; and the fact that it does not kill evenly among all age groups. About 80% of infected persons may actually show mild (low fever, dry cough, runny nose) or no symptoms, while about 10 to 15 per cent would develop moderate to severe symptoms that need hospital admission cum treatment, with many recovering fully. However about 5-10% of COVID-19 patients develop serious complications of severe breathlessness and hence need incubation and ventilators and management in intensive care units (ICU); many of whom usually die. Most people in this category are individuals with underlying medical issues such as cancer patients, those with kidney disease, diabetics and the elderly; the older the person, the worse is the likely outcome.
Here lies the essence of the great concern about Nigeria and most countries in Africa: it would be hell if the disease breaks out here on the scale presently being witnessed in Europe and the US, where we have hospitals and isolation facilities over-filled, people admitted on hospital corridors and horrendous scarcity of life-saving machines like ventilators.
‘A Country of the Young’ May Just Be Lucky
Nigeria has been described as a ‘country of the young’ with 80 per cent of its population currently under the age of 45 (UNICEF). So far, most of the infected persons in Nigeria have been on the mild to moderate end of the symptoms’ spectrum, unlike the pattern seen in Europe and America. A scientific postulation at this end is that Nigeria might not have the disease so widespread among the population and may not have a high number of deaths recorded in the last analysis. This would probably be because of the unfortunate reality of not having many of its citizens living to old age like we have in the advanced capitalist countries. For instance, the average Life Expectancy in Nigeria is 54 years while that of China is 76 years, Italy is 83 years and US is 78 years (WHO data).
It is ironic to note that the relatively low numbers of old people, especially the 70-80-year olds, at the apex of the Nigerian population pyramid which contrasts with the wide youthful population (0 – 40 years) at the base could turn out to be an advantage in this situation. Necessary individual immune response (better in the young) to fight the disease and hence better community (herd) immunity may be developed by the populace.
Hence, if the Nigerian situation develops in such a way that the disease rises to a low peak and gets curtailed sooner than it did in Europe and US, with minimal fatalities, the postulation above would largely explain why. It wouldn’t be because of a pre-existing good health system, or due to government preparation for the virus curtailment, or to prayers answered by a benevolent God somewhere. Even Buhari’s highest ranking cabinet member and Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha, confessed to this reality before the National Assembly Leaders’ forum on 9 April 2020 to “never known that it has been this bad with our health sector until my present task as Chairman of Presidential Task Force on Covid-19” (paraphrasing him).
Poor Health Facilities, Sanitation and Accommodation
Nigeria has an estimated population of 200 million people, a very poor doctor to patients ratio of 4 doctors to 10,000 patients, worsening daily because doctors, including the newly graduated ones, continue to emigrate to Europe, North America, the Middle East, etc. at the slightest opportunity (compare this to the UK – 26:10000, or the US – 24: 10,000). The scenario is even worse for the nursing workforce that requires less stringent professional requirements to work in the aforementioned countries.
The truth is that if COVID-19 breaks out in Nigeria at even a quarter of the scale seen in Italy, the entire health system would go under within days. According the WHO (2004), there are approximately 5 hospital beds per 10,000 people in Nigeria, 12 times less than what used to be the case in 1988. The University College Hospital, Ibadan with the highest bed spaces only boasts of about 900; most other Teaching and General Hospitals (mostly public) have less than half of this capacity.
The overall intervention on health in Nigeria has been recurrently unimpressive and in a constant free-fall, usually below 5% of total federal government’s budget and far below the WHO’s recommended 15% of the budget. Nigeria’s 2020 health budget is a paltry N427 billion, equivalent of $1.18 billion, in a country of 200 million people. Even at that, N336 billion (70%) of this is budgeted for recurrent expenditure – medical staff salaries, office running, among others. Only 46 billion naira is earmarked for capital expenditure on medical infrastructure and equipment while just 44 billion naira is set aside for actual service delivery which comes out to N220 ($0.6) per citizen per year. In comparison, South Africa with a population of 56 million has a healthcare budget almost 12 times that of Nigeria, at $12 billion. Other African nations like Ghana, Angola, Egypt, Gabon, Morocco and Tunisia, according to World Bank records, also spend more per capita on healthcare than Nigeria.
All these are pointers to the fact that Nigeria’s health sector has suffered from gross underfunding that has led to the poor state of the infrastructure, lack of equipment, scarce and inadequate protective gear for health personnel, poor remuneration and avoidable brain-drain (over 5,000 registered Nigerian doctors practice in the UK alone). The thought of the horrid state of Nigerian hospitals sends jitters down the spines of the ruling class; now that they, like the masses, would have to contend with this reality on the ground, especially with the option of medical tourism closed to them for now.
Very closely related to this is the issue of lack of pipe-borne water, sanitation facilities and decent accommodation for most people in Nigeria. This fact alone constitutes a major hindrance to the attempts at containment of the pandemic. Regular hand washing under a running tap presupposes that people have clean and running pipe-borne water. About 69 million Nigerians have no access to clean water (UNICEF). This lack of access to water invariably leads to water-borne diseases like cholera, which continue to break out as regular epidemics in Nigeria. Social distancing and self-isolation presupposes that people have enough space to practice that. In a city like Lagos where we have over 100 slum areas, about 80 people can be found sharing a 10-room building with only two toilets and a bathroom being shared by all with no pipe-borne or treated water readily available.
The Nigerian Economy and COVID-19
In 2018 Nigeria climbed out of the recession which had been triggered by the sharp drop in crude oil earnings in 2015-2017, but low economic growth rates were recorded subsequently, 1.9% in 2018 and 2.3% in 2019, and was projected to rise to2.9% in 2020and 3.3% in 2021. The estimated growth rate for 2020 has, however, now been shattered by the ongoing meltdown in the world economy which is presently in recession, a development accelerated by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The first casualty of Covid-19 was the Chinese economy, where the pandemic first broke out; it instantly applied the brakes to production in most factories in China, which led to the disruption of the supply chain of both finished and semi-finished products for direct consumption and raw materials for other factories elsewhere in the world. Expectedly, when the world’s second largest economy, China, stopped production, a sharp reduction in the demand for crude oil also occurred. This sharp reduction in demand from China and others, the pandemic panic-related crude oil supply war between two major crude oil producers in the world, Russia and Saudi Arabia (leading to a supply glut), and speculators’ activities all led to a sharp drop in the price of crude oil from above $60 per barrel to less than $20 per barrel in the last days of March 2020 before it started rising again.
Even long before the announcement of lockdowns across countries, immediate job and income loss was on the order of the day for Nigerian small business owners occasioned by the pandemic in the earliest days, showing the inter-dependence of the world economy at all levels even in backwater town and villages. A typical example here is the effect of the pandemic on the sporting world and the spiraling effect on the owners of the ubiquitous soccer leagues viewing centres across Nigerian cities, towns and even villages where sport fans pay to watch these matches. With the suspension of the various leagues, it has been zero income for this sector.
Another example is the aviation industry which has witnessed an unprecedented suspension of its activities and led to loss of millions of jobs around the world. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on 3 April stated that 91,380 jobs were at risk in Nigeria’s aviation industry due to the travel restrictions imposed by several countries to control the spread of the coronavirus which led to a revenue loss of $760 million. The body further projected that airlines across Africa and the Middle East have lost about $23 billion to the pandemic. Many airlines have announced various measures, from outright lay-offs to stoppage of workers’ salaries to cuts in in wages.
Workers’ Burden and Post-COVID 19 Perspective
In any crisis of capitalism, the ruling class always acts in a way as to shift the burden of the crisis onto the working class, and this case is not going to be different. They again want the masses to pay for the mess. The toiling workers, whose sweat and labour create the wealth of the corporations, will not only be the first to be affected, but they will also be the ones that are hit hard, while top management and parasitic board members’ profits and privileges remain intact. This is the fate of working people even in Nigeria. While the ruling class uses the left side of their mouth to tell people to stay at home, they are equally busy using the right side to tell the workers to keep going to work: production must not stop. These workers are given no compensation for risking their lives; they are neither provided with personal protective materials, nor given easy access to COVID-19 tests.
The post-COVID-19 era is going to be tough on the Nigerian economy. The world economy, and by extension the Nigerian economy, is already in recession while the pandemic lasts, and would likely enter a full-blown depression thereafter. The capitalists and their hangers-on want us to believe that the recession was caused by the pandemic. This is absolutely untrue. In Nigeria and internationally, the capitalist system was already on the edge of a cliff; the pandemic only served as a catalyst that hastened the rate of collapse. The price of crude oil will not get significantly improve even after the pandemic. The impact of this drastic reduction of crude oil prices on the Nigerian economy will be far-reaching.
For starters, Nigeria has carried out a downward review of the budget benchmark of crude oil per barrel from $57 to $30. Budgeted revenue from the Nigeria Customs Service, has been reviewed downward to 40 per cent of the initial expectations from import duties, from N1.5trn to N943bn in anticipation of a reduction in trade volumes. Furthermore, a 50 per cent cut on privatisation proceeds from the sales of the Independent Power Projects and other assets has already been proposed by the Finance Minister as the best offer likely. This of course is bad business for Nigeria but good business for private entities (most often fronts for the thoroughly corrupt politicians and their cronies), who get to buy these facilities at ridiculously cheap rates. As Marxists, this underscores our timeless demand of a stop to all moves to privatise government companies and properties and our demand for the takeover of the previously sold ones, renationalising them under democratic control and management of the workers, for the interest of society as a whole.
In this period, in the offerings of the ruling class would be delays in salary payment, pay cuts, retrenchments and casualization on a scale which would make the experience of the 2016-17 recession seem like child’s play. These far-reaching effects would cut across both the public sector and the private sector. Thus, a cycle is about to be completed four years on. The trade unions, under the aegis of the central labour centres (NLC, TUC and ULC) at the national level, must come out decisively and mobilise their ranks against this threat to workers’ interests.
It is in this vein that the leadership of labour must come out in defence of the workers on the issue of lockdown. As parts of the efforts to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government ordered a lockdown on Lagos, Ogun and the FCT Abuja, for an initial period of two weeks starting 11:59pm, 30 March 2020, now extended by another 2 weeks from 13 April 2020. Many other states are already applying one stay-at-home rule or the other up to state boundaries closure.
However, locking people down at home in the Nigerian context is like asking people to go hungry for the duration of the lockdown. More than 60 per cent of Nigerians survive on daily pay from menial jobs and petty trading. A lockdown means their means of daily livelihood have been locked down. The plight of private sector employees is no better. Many private employers have maintained a ‘no salary during lockdown’ stance, or at best a 50 per cent pay cut. Some have even completely laid the workers off. Labour must agitate for full pay for workers, whether private or government employed, for as long as the lockdown lasts. Government must also distribute foodstuff and domestic essentials to the poor masses to cushion the effect of the lockdown.
Pangs of hunger will lead to widespread anger. Protests in different forms are already being seen within the communities. People are protesting against a lockdown without palliatives, against the high-handedness of law enforcement agents, and even rejecting all manner of palliatives that smack of insult to their intelligence, such as packs of food that are not enough to feed a family of six in 2 weeks being distributed to be shared among 60-80 families in a cluster. This protest mood that is brewing has the potential to transform into a movement that would pose a serious challenge to the lockdown if the hunger question is not resolved. It could also get a lot worse, as we are beginning to see in some places in Lagos and Ogun States where a layer of lumpen youth, pushed to extreme hunger by the lockdown, go on mass looting of shops and houses, carting away ordinary people’s food and belongings.
The necessity for the labour movement to be visible on issues that concern the workers and poor masses cannot be over-emphasized at this moment. Labour must organize and harness these pockets of protests and demand adequate food distribution to all households in need. In the same vein, labour must also expose the hypocrisy of the politicians in government and their deceitful billionaire cronies. Their donations of billions to the COVID-19 containment fund should be noted as deceitful; it is borne not so much out of altruism but as a way of paying back little from the multibillion naira milked off government in the past by way of inflated contracts, heavy tax holidays and other huge concessions that they have received in the past.
Hypocrisy of Lockdown and the Need to Ensure Workers’ Safety
While the poor masses, a majority of whom are informal workers, are asked to stay off their businesses and sit at home, exceptions are proudly being granted to members of the ruling class and the billionaire class. In Ogun State, for example, Dangote trucks have been exempted from the lockdown order by the state government. These trucks, by the way, are mostly conveying non-essential products like cement. So much for lockdowns and Coronavirus prevention. Dangote is the richest man in Africa and thus the message is clear; one law for the rich and another for the poor.
A number of workers are compelled to go to work at the moment in spite of the lockdown; some, like the health workers on the front line and rearguards at the hospitals, through a sense of duty and the imperativeness of their job. Also there are some, whose work cannot be allowed to stop because it would hit the profit base of the bosses and the economic preserve of the ruling class. Among the non-health workers that are still working are those in the oil and gas sector, electricity generating and distributing companies, Dangote Cement workers and other factory workers in similar industries.
For these categories of workers to keep working, we call on the labour leaders to demand that all non-essential work must stop. For those on essential duties, appropriate safety measures at the workplaces, including social distancing, protective gear and appropriate hazard enumeration must suffice. The leadership of all unions of health workers must, as a matter of urgency, find a common ground to unite so as to appropriately safeguard the interests of their members, particularly in respect of provision of adequate and quality Personal Protective Equipment to protect them from contracting the dreaded COVID-19.
We therefore call on workers on the factory floors to organize themselves into safety cells and elected safety committees that would coordinate the demands and implementation of all relevant safety measures at workplaces before any work commences.
Socialism Guarantees Order, Jobs and Safety
The ongoing crisis of capitalism is a development in permanence in all continents of the world; it is characterized by structural unemployment, underemployment, mass hunger, homelessness, mass illiteracy, poor healthcare, lack of adequate clean water for human consumption and a very gloomy future for the youth and the poor working masses.
It is high time the workers and other oppressed layers in Nigeria, and all over the world, united to change the course facing humanity, from the present hopeless capitalist chaos, which puts maximum profit-making from ventures ahead of people’s needs, and represents mass misery and a bleak future for most people living in the world.
It is time to replace this with a socialist order for humanity, where the means of production and society’s wealth is utilized for the needs of the people. Where the fight against natural occurrences like the present pandemic will be seen from the onset as everybody’s problem and resources – both human and material – would be pooled together to nip it in the bud.
If this were to be the case today, the course of this pandemic would have been limited to a mere epidemic in one country in the first instance. Instead of this, all nations of the world saw the outbreak as China’s problem; President Donald Trump of USA even publicly referred to it as the ‘Chinese virus’. Notable, in most countries, economic consideration and potential profit loss for the ruling class impeded timely critical public health decisions. It is highly likely that if such decisions had been taken when due, the world would have been saved a great number of deaths that have been witnessed in the last 4 months.
Capitalism Hampers Humanity’s Progress
The major features of the present capitalist order as outlined above – the limiting nation-state and the dictatorship of profit-driven privately owned means of production – are in apparent conflict with the progressive course of humanity. Thus, the main task before Marxists, class-conscious workers and the revolutionary youth today is to link up with the great reawakening of billions of people in the world to the reality of the horror of the present pandemic; and to expose the reactionary shortcomings of capitalism in all facets of life. This is the time to emphasize and develop transitional demands, relevant to different places, which would lead to the overthrow of capitalism by a new international socialist order where societal wealth is used for the progress of all.
The forces of Marxism in Nigeria must begin to link up with radical minded individuals critical of the degenerating capitalist chaos and revolutionary layers in the working class and among the youth. The next task is to channel this current to a campaign for democratic participation of the rank and file in trade unions activities that would hold the leadership of the unions accountable to their members. An inevitable radical current within the working class movement would lead to the formation of a trade union-based mass workers’ party with a socialist programme and the capacity to contest for power towards the formation of a workers’ and poor people’s government.
Class Solidarity and Safety
Across the board, this is time for undiluted working people’s solidarity. Workers in the health sectors must shelf the blinkering of the past and build a united front of all health workers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory scientists, technicians and other members of the Medical and Health Workers Union, community health extension workers, health assistants and other members of NASU in the health sector must forge a united front of Nigerian Health Workers. This solidarity front must coordinate, through national and hospital unit safety committees, the safety measures on ground at the health facilities and insist that health workers must be protected with proper personal protective equipment. The same measures should apply to all non-health workplaces that are presently at work.
Lockdown to Prevent Virus Spread vs Unlock to end Hunger and Spread Virus
Furthermore, it should be stressed that what confronts us is not either lockdown for health security as a prime feature of social distancing to prevent deadly spread of coronavirus or end lockdown for people to get food and end hunger with the potential to spread the virus. Our concrete demand is: there should be adequate food, appropriate housings and other essentials for all while we keep safe at home to keep the virus at bay. The concrete reality is that the resources available in society are enough to cater for food and the essential needs of everybody if equitably distributed.
- No to lockdown enhanced hunger – lockdown must come with adequate provision of food and essential household requirements for all in need.
- For Community Mass-defence Committees to coordinate the Communities Security from rampaging looters.
- Liberalise mass testing for COVID-19 in the communities to ascertain the prevalence and prompt containment of the disease. No to privileged testing.
- Safety measures must not be compromised – adequate and appropriate personal protective kits for all health workers.
- All workplaces, including non-health sector, such as food processing factories, oil and gas, the power sector, Dangote and other cement factories, etc. where workers are presently working in spite of lockdown should provide appropriate personal protective kits for all workers.
- Workplace worker-formed safety committees to coordinate all safety measures and insist on the best procedure before work commences, including special risk allowances for all workers.
- Health workers unions and the NMA must build intra-sector solidarity among doctors and other health workers, form cohesive safety committees at all health facilities to coordinate and insist on best safety measures.
- Special hazard allowances for all health workers – no to the present paltry monthly N5,000 ($13) hazard allowance for doctors and lesser amounts for other health workers. At least N100,000 as a baseline for all categories of health workers.
- Guaranteed salary for all workers in the period of lockdown; No Job losses.
- Building working class solidarity, for a mass trade union-based working masses’ political party with a socialist programme – full employment, free and universal healthcare, free education at all levels, food for all, stop privatization, for a nationalized and democratically planned centralized economy
- For a workers and poor masses government that would carry out the outlined socialist programme.