By Chinedu Bosah
A number of countries are dishing out social packages and palliatives to cushion the effects of the crises associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some level of social security was never the generosity of the bourgeois state, the working class fought for it in the past in some countries and one of it is the unemployment benefit. These rights are, however, currently under attack. The working class and the poor are yet to win such rights in a number of countries, prominent among which is Nigeria.
The Nigerian ruling elite is predominantly more backward, bankrupt, selfish and self-serving considering the fact that it is largely unproductive. The initiative to build industries has been surrendered to their senior partners in Europe, America, Japan, Russia and China due to their lateness to capitalism, hence they have emerged as bellboys whose preoccupation is to loot.
COVID-19 met us unprepared medically, economically and socially with poor infrastructure and in the absence of a concrete and sustainable social program, the masses are bound to suffer in the face of lockdown in Nigeria. The Buhari-led government announced to pay N20,000 to one million extremely poor people but was made to look as if it was a response to COVID-19 lockdown whereas it was part of tokenist social measures introduced since 2016. The government defaulted in paying the N5,000 monthly stipend since January 2020 and the 20,000 represents January to April 2020. Firstly, it is incredible how the government arrived at extreme poor persons out of over 90 million people living in poverty when data is as scarce as gold and the government would have possibly relied on corrupt soothsayers to arrive at the number of beneficiaries.
Secondly, the N5,000 for an indigent person monthly is less than what is expended to care for a security or pet dog in the house of the rich in one week. It shows how the Buhari-led government has debased Nigerians.
Thirdly, the N5,000 monthly stipend was for a period when the economic crises were not this pronounced and one would have expected a serious government to review upward the monthly stipend to N50,000 monthly and expand the beneficiaries to cover all poor people in Nigeria as the government is locking down.
What the government and establishment politicians are doling out as palliatives are less than what they spent to bribe voters and party bigwigs during 2019 general elections. In the last 12 years, the federal government has spent over N5 trillion to bailout greedy bankers, inefficient power sector companies and irresponsible and overfed capitalist elite but has found it difficult to bail out the poor.
The adage that ‘one cannot learn how to dance at old age’, best fits the Nigerian ruling elite who failed in normal period and will fail the more in an emergency situation. The relief materials being distributed to a very tiny part of the population cannot provide relief. The relief material that was sent to Akinola CDA in Alimosho by the Lagos State Government wherein 16 cups of rice (12.5 kg of rice) and six loaves of bread were expected to be shared by over 500 households and the community resolved to return the so-called palliative in spite of the prevailing hunger to avoid a stampede.
Even a genius mathematician will find it difficult to arrive at the sharing formulae of three kg of rice, six pieces of noodles to Benco Street in Alimosho made up of about 150 households! If Mr Mudasiru Obasa (Speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly) had known that the youths would convert the small loaves of bread (four per compound) he donated to some parts of Agege community into special-purpose football, he would have actually donated round leather footballs. No doubt the relief materials and palliatives from the state governments and the federal government are not only tokenist, but also an insult to yhe people.
The Nigerian government’s easiest response to COVID-19 is to lockdown and order the ill-motivated Police and the go-and-kill Military to enforce it. The most difficult is to ensure the lockdown does not affect the poor negatively, to carry out mass testing, equip the hospitals, motivate medical workers in the frontline, ensure that agricultural produce, drugs and consumables are distributed and subjected to price control.
Between February 2020 and March 29, 2020, it did not occur to the government to mobilize the populace for an adequate response, hold meetings with farmers and other essential workers at different levels and work out the free flow of essential goods and services. Government officials were preoccupied with the usual jamboree and grandstanding.
Less than five days after the lockdown, social crisis started rearing its inevitable, ugly head — street urchins mobilized for mass stealing, more beggars emerged on the streets, robbery and burglary are on the rise, women and youths protest the lockdown without support in Delta State.
Organised mass gangs like the Awawa Boys, One Million Boys etc., have become more daredevil in their attacks in Lagos and Ogun states, move around in convoys of over 200, stealing everything including bread, sachet water, biscuits etc. Nigerians have largely resorted to self-help in responding to the crises created by the bourgeois, community by community self-defenses have been formed to resist attacks while the Police Force has been reduced to background roles such as taking into custody street urchins arrested by community vigilance groups. To add salt to injury, the Buhari-led government and many other state governments have extended the lockdown by another two weeks without recourse to the socio-economic implications for the masses, without viable and adequate palliatives, an act that is insensitive and reckless.
The capitalist class only concentrates planning on their production on the basis of profit and relegates public interest to the background. This is the reason education, healthcare and other key sectors will continue to suffer. We need public planning of societal resources and to be democratic in the management of resources, to enable us produce and exchange what we all need and only a socialist mode of production and exchange can achieve that.
COVID-19 has further exposed the Nigerian government and the ruling elite as irresponsible, and more people are drawing the lessons that the only way out is to fight the small criminals (street urchins) and the big ones (top political office holders and the capitalist class) who created these socio-economic crises. Those who have ears, let them hear!