Kogi Health Workers Strike Against Repression & COVID-19 Denial

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credits: Vanguard News

The health sector in Kogi state was shutdown on Wednesday 1 July, as seven unions in the sector commenced indefinite strike. This was an immediate response to attacks launched against staff at the Federal Medical Centre Lokoja that same day, by armed political thugs working for Mr Yahaya Bello, the state’s COVID-19-denier of a governor. SWL fully supports the strike and calls on all well-meaning persons and organisations to rally round the workers and demand action against the governor and his dangerous antics.

Mr Bello is one of the most vicious right-wing authoritarian governors in the country. In a manner characteristic of many a fascistic politician in power across the world like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the United States, he has downplayed the spread of COVID-19. He even goes a step further with his stubborn insistence that there is no such thing as COVID-19 in Kogi state.

Unions in the federal health facility in Lokoja had come together under the banner of a Joint Action Committee to draw attention to the true situation of things, regarding the pandemic in the state. Three weeks earlier, the state government shutdown the accident and emergency unit of the hospital after some staff tested COVID-19 positive, in a boldfaced attempt to cover up the fact that the state is not “COVID-free” as the governor often claims.

But such actions, apart from making it impossible to respond to the pandemic, put the workers health and lives at stake. That is why they issued a notice to management on 26 June, that they would organise a peaceful protest within the hospital premises on 1 July. The armed attack was aimed at scuttling the planned demonstration and to strike fear in the workers’ hearts.

Bello has gone to great lengths to present the disease as nothing but an artificial creation which a few people want to use to stoke fear and panic in the people. And to boot, he has also made it clear that he would not take lightly to anyone spreading such “lies” and fears in the state.

When Nasir Ajanah, the state’s Chief Judge died of COVID-19 complications at an isolation centre in Gwagwalada, Federal Capital Territory on 28 June, Mr Bello denied the cause of death. Mr Ajanah contracted the disease in Kogi state. But he could not seek treatment there because of the governor’s stance, and had to travel to the nearest isolation centre, some 150km away.

The governor’s statement during prayers for the repose of the chief judge’s soul would have been comical, were the issues at stake not so worrisome. He contended that Judge Ajanah did not die of the coronavirus. He argued, like the worst parody of Don Quixote anyone could imagine, that, COVID-19 “is a disease that has been imported, propagated and forced on the people for no just cause”.

The governor has repeatedly obstructed efforts of the National Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) to ascertain the state of spread of the coronavirus in Kogi. NCDC officials on a mission in this direction at the beginning of May were roundly embarrassed and sent out of the state with their tails between their legs.

The governor accused them of a so-called “unholy conspiracy” to import the virus into “his” state, which, according to him “has had 100 percent recovery rate of all infectious diseases since 2017 owing to measures put in place by the squadron committee” set up to fight diseases like malaria and Lassa fever, so there was no basis for thinking there was a place for COVID-19.

By the end of May, health workers raised the alarm that there were at least two COVID-19 cases in the state. The state government’s response was swift. With the most profane of words, it vilified the health workers, describing their diagnosis as fraudulent, and reasserted its questionable claim that Kogi was “COVID-free”. The Nigeria Medical Association condemned this position to no avail.

The 1 July attack must be the final straw that breaks the back of the fascistic ass that Yahaya Bello is turning out to be, and its load of drivel. In his bid to look “beautiful” in his emperor’s new cloth, Mr Bello has been putting the lives of health workers, and indeed all Kogites, at risk. To buttress his “COVID-19 free” lies, adequate personal protective equipment has not been made available for the health workers.

The Joint Health Sector Unions at FMC Lokoja raised their fears of exposure to the disease in May and threatened to go on strike at the time. This was called off as they still hoped he would somehow get to pick up his senses from the dust of drug-induced megalomania. But alas, has not been the case. Several workers sustained machete injuries on 1 July, while the thugs also looted computers, laptops and phones.

The federal government must put its foot down against Bello’s nonsense in Kogi and call its rabid APC dog to order. The trade union movement and civil society organisations must be loud, clear, and persistent on this matter. Health workers in Kogi must be provided with PPE immediately, wounded and robbed workers must be compensated and the COVID-19 situation in the state must be ascertained whether or not the deranged executive in Lugard House likes it or not.

by Baba AYE

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