COVID-19: Labour, 70 civil society groups unite to defend the poor
As the world marks the workers May Day, a coalition of labour movements and over 70 civil society groups have launched a new group to campaign for the protection of the interests of workers and the vulnerable poor against the background of the far-reaching economic and socio-cultural impact of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
The new coalition, Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) launched this week ahead of the historic Friday May 1 Workers Day has elected radical lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, (SAN) as its interim chairman. Other interim officers Deputy Chairman, Ms. Hauwa Mustapha, Secretary, Mr. Ade Atambi and Secretary for Publicity, Mr. Adewale Adeoye.
The coalition has an extensive network of participating organizations drawn from across Nigeria’s six-geo political zones. Some of the affiliates are members of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Nigerian Trade Union Congress, (TUC); Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) United Action for Democracy, (UAD) Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, (WARD-C) Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER),Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association Of Nigeria, Amalgamated Union of Public Corperation , Civil Services Technical And Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Bayelsa, COPEAIDS FOUNDATION, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, (CDHR) among many others.
“COVID-19 is taking a high toll on the beliefs, culture and economy of Nigerians. It is a threat to every household. The working class and the poor will suffer most. The State and Federal Governments’ responses to COVID-19 show the lack of the least preparation for any pandemic in Nigeria.. It has exposed the weaknesses and ineptitude of the ruling class. It shows they have no strategic response to an affliction of the COVID-19 magnitude”, ASCAB said in its mission statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Mr Adewale Adeoye.
ASCAB bemoaned the fact that Coronavirus is turning the world upside down and that responses from the corrupt elite is for a lockdown until the virus goes away without a short and long term strategic plan.
It said authorities in Nigeria have failed to link the spread of the pandemic to failure of an effective public health system, the absence of social security and health insurance for the masses, while governments have no preference for provision of the essentials of life like housing and food security. It condemned a regime of policies driven by investments in consumables rather than production.
It said the coronavirus has exposed the vulnerability of Nigerians to communicable diseases and has demonstrated the complete lack of creativity on the part of leadership. It warned on the consequences of neglecting indigenous alternative medicine by public health administrators. It said there are 72,000 doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) but more than half of the population have been compelled to flee the country for overseas.
The group said COVID-19 will have long and short term implications for the political economy of Nigeria and that only a leadership driven by common good can lead Nigeria out of the doldrums. It said that about 90 million Nigerians, half of the population live in poverty and are at greater risk of facing grievous COVID-19 impacts. ASCAB said it will work with local, regional and international organisations to ensure networking and collaboration for leadership responsibility in Africa and Nigeria.
ASCAB has produced The Action Programme drawn up in the wake of the break-out of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns, containing a wide range of demands and activities that will provide the necessary safety nets for vulnerable Nigerians. The Action Programme is anchored on mobilization of Nigerians to engage their leaders in an organized manner for good governance, effective and efficient service delivery.
Demands in the programme were that during the lockdowns, there should be provision of essentials of life like food, no water or electricity disconnections for non-payments, provision of water and electricity at government expense, all households, residential institutions and the homeless must have access to adequate food.
ASCAB also demanded for building of new public hospitals, existing health facilities to be upgraded, immediate stoppage of commercialisation and privatisation of services in public hospitals, essential private facilities must be taken over and organised for public use to provide a unified and fair distribution of essential goods, medical care and other services to all communities, and at government expense.
Others are that the homeless should be provided accommodation in empty houses, event centres, and at government expense while minimum income security for all, particularly for the unemployed and students should be guaranteed. The group said “The reality on the ground is that the lockdown is on in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States and some other states. Interstate travel is being restricted by the Federal Government and agreement among state governments.
However, the poor masses are suffering the effects of the lockdown, as governments have failed to address the welfare needs of the people. In some states the citizens have already come out to protest against the adverse effects of the lockdown on their lives. The people are hungry and as such cannot afford to stay indoors. In addition, other people have taken to crime and burglary as their income, mainly from the informal sector has dried up. This has caused greater problems for the labouring masses.”
“The government continues to be a recipient of knowledge and ideas from foreign countries shown lack of capacity to manage its own affairs. There are no plans to develop and distribute vaccines or contact a country like Cuba for help, yet we do not know when the crisis would end,” it said wondering who can continue to stay at home without a means of livelihood and access to water, food and drugs indefinitely?
It said the priorities for the poor majority remain the same – how to obtain food, water and housing for their families and friends, electricity and data to stay in touch with friends, families and colleagues. We need mass testing and tracing of contacts to contain the virus and free healthcare for all with protective equipment for all health workers.
It promised to use the influence of the social movements including but not limited to Labour and community-based organisations to push the Government to adopt the Action Program that will ensure that the poor majority of Nigerians do not suffer so much from a disease that was brought here by the corrupt elite flying across the world.
The group has the following sub-committees, Public Health, Gender and Persons with Disabilities, Civil Society Outreach Contact, Labour Outreach Contact, Strategic Response on Post pandemic Response and Recovery, Research and