The first recorded case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in Nigeria was reported on 27 February. Since then 29 other cases have been reported bringing the recorded cases in less than four weeks to 30 persons. Increase in the number of confirmed cases has been at geometric progression in recent days.
Most of the confirmed cases are travelers that came in through Muritala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), exposing the failure of the Federal Government and Lagos State Government to make necessary arrangements for testing and quarantine for travelers particularly from the most hit countries.
But, at the heart of this outbreak in Nigeria and globally is the nature and dynamics of the capitalist system, which puts profits first over and above any concern for the lives of the working people. Over the last few decades of neoliberalism which started as structural adjustment programmes in several countries, social services such as healthcare delivery have been privatized. And what is left of the public health sector has been underfunded.
Considering the severe lack of crisis preparedness in Nigeria due to gross underfunding of public healthcare over the years, and the lack of seriousness of the government in taking measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic into the country, it can be very well assumed that the number of persons infected in the country much higher than the number of reported cases.
There are only 5 testing centres in a nation of 36 states with over 200 million people. The testing will not just inaccessible, it is also unaffordable to millions of persons in a case of an outbreak in the country.
It was gathered that a lady who returned from the United Kingdom on 13 March felt she was symptomatic and asked to be tested. The Infectious Disease Hospital informed her she would be approached for testing soon. For a couple of days, she was not contacted.
It was her friend that eventually took drew case to the attention of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Lagos state government via a Twitter thread which went viral. She was subsequently attended to and the result confirmed that she is indeed infected. With the rate at which new cases are springing up, many will not be able to get tested in the coming days especially in the remote areas of the country if the status quo is maintained.
The current situation of the pandemic is very serious. And it can get even worsen in the coming days, as we move into the cold and wet raining season, if no serious measures are put in place. With hospitals across the country ill-equipped and understaffed it will be impossible to control spread of infection in the event of an things continuing to spiral.
If there is any lesson we can draw from countries that have record high cases -such as Spain which recently requisitioned private hospitals- it is that only radical programs and policies that put collective wants over the interest of a few profiteers can be effective in combating the pandemic. Based on this, we urge the labour movement; NLC, TUC, ULC, FIWON, JAF, CORE and other workers’ organizations in Nigeria to begin mobilization in earnest and put forward demands such as:
- Increase the number of test centres across the states of the federation, make adequate provision for test kits to be fully available and make testing for Covid-19 free of charge.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be made available to safeguard the health of all health workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 response.
- There are hundreds of thousands of unoccupied buildings across the nations. The internally displaced people (IDP) and homeless people should be resettled in these buildings.
- The prisons and detention centres must be decongested, all the cases that have been abandoned must be hurriedly addressed and justice settled for the detainees who are largely innocent of the crimes alleged against them.
- The government through the Ministry of Labour and Employment must ensure that no worker in the public, organised private or informal sector loses her/his job or remuneration through this period.
- The government should prepare for a lockdown and that a commensurate intervention fund is immediately set aside to cater for the rents and general upkeep of all working masses, youth and other vulnerable segments of the society that would be affected by such a necessary step. These include formal and informal workers, pensioners, students and people with disabilities.
This period demands the unity of working-class people for action. We must all lend our support in every means possible to each other, particularly to the health workers, nurses, caregivers, teachers, janitors, cleaners and retail shop workers who are on the frontline of combating this pandemic.
This moment also shows the need to do away with capitalism. At moments of crisis, as we can now see, it is not the billionaires with their wealth which comes from our labour and the exploitation of nature that save society. It is we the workers, who are exploited and oppressed by the capitalists.
As we battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, we must equally stand to fight to build a new society built on the basis of democracy from below by we, working-class people. Only in such a society, a socialist society, where health is indeed a right for everybody and not just for a few rich people, can necessary measures be put in place to avoid the kind of catastrophe we are now immersed in.
We shall win!