COVID-19: DO NOT ENTRUST YOUR WELLBEING AND SAFETY TO CAPITALISTS!
WORKERS, TAKE CONTROL!!
Wole Olubanji (Engels)
Nigeria recorded its first Covid-19 case in March 2020. Since then, the country’s capitalist government has been unable to hide the full extent of poverty, inhumanity and gross failure of a system that seeks only to create few billionaires from the abundance of wealth and resources in the country.
On December 15 of last year, Resident Doctors at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) cried out about the new spike in Covid-19 cases, confirming the second-wave of the infection that had been forewarned by mid-2020. The doctors became tired of the spineless Covid-19 directory the government issues, with no supportive material infrastructure, such as a modern transport system that could make easier the compliance with Covid-19 preventive measures. But the doctors had hoped that talking directly to the people, over an administration blinded to the tasks of modern development, could slow down the spread of the virus, through measured human activities.
Needless to say that the LUTH doctors and their colleagues who have been outspoken about the deadlier second-wave are justified by the sheer number of medical workers lost to the battle against Covid-19. Barely two weeks after the LUTH announcement, the NMA reported that ten doctors that contracted Covid-19 on duty lost their lives to Covid-19 complications within a week.
Meanwhile, the government continues to treat health workers insultingly like it treats virtually other workers, despite their enormous sacrifices, especially those at the forefront of Covid-19 response (Doctors, Nurses, Cleaners, Ambulance drivers, etc.) Premium Times has this to say: “Speaking at a webinar recently, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Innocent Ujah, said all health workers are being paid N5,000 a month as hazard allowance, a sum he described as degrading and insulting (Premium Times, January 2, 2021).”
N5, 000 ($13) is a ridiculous sum to pay as hazard allowance to health workers of whom more than a thousand have tested positive to Covid-19 at duty during the pandemic. There is also an insufficient supply of Personal Protective Equipments (PPE)by the government, a situation that continues to expose health workers to the deadly virus. But crueller is the empty promises the government has made about providing the necessary facilities and raising the pay of the health workers after workers threatened strike action last year.
We have seen that not even the worst humanitarian disaster in 100 years could transform, or at least, humanise capitalism in Nigeria. It continues to cheat the working class to cut out chunks of public funds to be looted and shared as sinecures by political office holders and their big business friends.
The Movement for A Socialist Alternative (MSA) defends the right of health workers, and other categories of workers, to take the necessary action as a means of demanding the provision of modern medical facilities that will allow hospitals to effectively function, be accessible and affordable to the working masses. We call on the NMA, MWHUN and other health workers’ union not to stop short of a strike actions to wrestle from the Buhari regime their entitlements, sufficient supply of PPE and an improved pay conditions that are proportionate to the risk of their jobs and present rate of inflation. We also call on the NLC and TUC to effectively mobilize all Nigerian workers to actively give solidarity to the struggle of the health workers, since their demands, in the end, borders on our collective survival as workers.
WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE SECOND WAVE?
The government has tried to blame the people for the second-wave of Covid-19 unfairly and fraudulently. It insinuates that Nigerians caused the second-wave due to noncompliance with Covid-19 preventive measures. But the preventive measures are not limited to using nose masks in public places, which are after all unaffordable for the 82 million Nigerians that live below $1 per day and in poverty. The capitalist ruling elites simply turned around to make super-profits from the Covid-19 industry, monetising covid-19 testing and isolation centres that are even below the standard specified by the WHO, lacking the appropriate testing kits and equipment. An example is the huge shortage of oxygen, essential for Covid-19 patients with severe conditions, that fraughts some of these isolation centres. Members of the ruling elites have enjoyed and adapted to a situation where they travel abroad for medical care rather than employ the wealth of the country to improve and equip our health facilities to international standard.
As at press time, Nigeria has not tested up to a million people in a country of 201 million people. This situation invalidates the government’s pretence to battling Covid-19. Plus, there is the neglect of the country’s public health system that suffered inadequate funding in the 2021 budget, despite the looming presence of a pandemic. The fund allocation to the health sector in the 2021 budget at 7% is lower than the 10% recommended by the African Union, as minimum budgetary funding of the health sector. The situation shows a government whose expenditures and budgeting for the public health system does not indicate a sincere commitment to combating Covid-19.
Yet, the government appears to be hiding behind a disaster to further indebt Nigeria, as it recently procured a $1.5 billion loan to procure vaccines. Previous loans taken by the administration has yielded little in terms of infrastructures and material benefits for the masses. There is no doubting that this present loan is another ‘food for the boys’ who will handle the vaccine project. It is only capitalism that can hide behind grief and disaster to enrich the elites ruling society.
Recall that after the Lekki Massacre and the attendant mass anger, Nigerians discovered hoarded palliative items, including food items, meant for distribution during the nationwide lockdown last year. Capitalist politicians, to the amazement of the masses, kept these items for their greed and glorification. (Meanwhile, no member of the ruling elites has been arrested or prosecuted for hoarding these items, instead, it has gone ahead to arrest youths and Nigerians who partook in liberating food to assuage their hunger.)
It is not only big businesses that are profiting from Covid-19 in Nigeria; politicians are also using the pandemic as a pretext to steal public funds. It is the insincere commitment of the government to public health, which Nigerians bear witness to, that is the cause of the widespread doubt about the existence of Covid-19 in the country. Such display of insincerity practically makes the regime the biggest super-spreader of Covid-19 in the country, because it is hard for the masses to believe in the existence of a disease that the government’s efforts to fight it bear visible marks of fraud and insincerity.
The regime is currently priming the public to accept that trillions of Naira will be required to acquire Covid-19 vaccines. No acquisition of vaccine in the near future promises the masses a respite from the disease, because the inequality in the country will rear its stinking head, as the billionaires and politicians will be the first recipient of such supply. Pfizer, one of the companies that produced the Covid-19 vaccine, has promised the entire African countries 50 million doses before March. This is not in tandem with the image the Nigerian government is painting about procurement of vaccines in January if about N400 billion is immediately made available.
We do not doubt the existence or deadliness of Covid-19. The youth-dominated population of the country might have aided the rate of survival. And this is still in line with Science. But this is not a basis for the government to play “a survival of the fittest” with the rest of the population. As socialists, we hold the lives of the working people and poor as equal and similarly important, with no variation. Hence, a socialist government, led by the working people, would have mobilised and re-tooled industries to produce materials like nose masks, hand sanitisers for the whole population, instead of making survival the privilege of the rich as Nigeria’s capitalism does.
The MSA fully supports the trade unions in their actions to protect workers from exposure to Covid-19. These actions are necessary and justifiable. They should also insist that employers and governments must provide all that is necessary to stay safe. We give them our unflinching support and solidarity in this regard. We also do not think workers should be sacrificed for the ego of the ruling class, in its desperation to keep the doors of profits opened for their billionaire friends. ASUU, for example, has maintained a refusal to resume work if the campuses are not refitted to meet the universal standard of Covid-19 preventive measures. We agree with this. Four lecturers in the University of Lagos died within a week from Covid-19 complications! The working class must not continue to put its life on the line to create normalcy in society while the ruling class continues with its abnormal looting and misappropriation of public funds.
If the spike in infection and death from Covid-19 continues to grow, there is a possibility in the coming days for the government, against its instinct of continuing with business, to lockdown society a second time. We do not think Nigerian working people have to choose between hunger and death, not with the enormous resources this country is endowed with. The people must be protected from the second-wave, but do not have to go hungry. This will require an enormous struggle of the working class that political office holders cut their allowances and salaries and spend directly on the welfare of the people during the period of a lockdown. Learning from the hoarding of last year’s palliative items, the working class must democratically (through their representatives elected for this purpose) take over the acquisition and distribution of palliative items than leave it in the hands of Nigeria’s discredited capitalist elites.
The handling of the Covid-19 in Nigeria has proven again that capitalism in neo-colonial countries is a stumbling block to development. Despite deindustrialisation, despite a pandemic, society still has to pay for the luxury of a class of few billionaires in politics and corporate businesses. But a redirection of public funds towards public health materials and infrastructures will require that no greedy interest of profit or corruption stands in the way. It is only a democratic government led by the working class and the oppressed people that can bring about the reorganisation of society for the creation of happiness and vitality for the people. Such a government will take over the banking sector from private hands to directly lend credit for the creation of infrastructures that will aid social transformation; such a government will need to be a socialist government. We call on all to join the MSA in pursuit of a different Nigeria where the wealth and resources of the country will be managed for the health and all other essential needs of the working masses.