Action Program for Nigeria: How will the poor survive Covid-19?

As of April 14, Nigeria has reported 343 confirmed coronavirus infections and 10 Covid-19 deaths, although official figures may only be the tip of the iceberg. If swift action is not taken, this country of nearly 200 million people may emerge as a new epicenter of the pandemic.

According to a press release issued by the initiators of the Action Program to Contain Infections, “The Corona virus is turning the world upside down. The response from the corrupt elite is for a lockdown until the virus goes away, but it could be 12-18 months before a vaccine is developed and distributed.  Who can survive at home for that long?  The priorities for the poor majority remain the same – how to obtain food, water and housing for their families and friends.  We also need electricity and data to stay in touch with our 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.”

The following statement has gathered massive support and more than 50 organizations have added their names. It is just one example of workers and ordinary people all over the continent of Africa organizing in response to the pandemic.  No Borders News republishes the Action Program here in solidarity with its initiators as part of our ongoing international coronavirus coverage.

Action Program – How the Poor Will Survive Covid-19

Covid-19 or the Corona virus is turning the world upside down. The response from the corrupt elite is for a lockdown until the virus goes away, but it could be 12-18 months before a vaccine is developed and distributed. Who can survive at home for that long? The priorities for the poor majority remain the same – how to obtain food, water and housing for their families and friends.  We also need electricity and data to stay in touch with our 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. We are however amazed that the World Health Organisation has not recommended the Cuban drug, Interferon 2B, for the treatment of COVID-19 pandemic. It has so far proved to be the most effective drug in combating the virus. It  is one of the drugs approved by the Chinese Government in containing COVID-19 pandemic.

We need the power of the Nigerian Labor Congress/Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (NLC/TUC) to push for this 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 in from London, Paris, New York and other places.

We have a particular duty to safeguard those who are most vulnerable, those who are already living with hunger, weakened immune systems and poor access to healthcare. Greater restrictions and shutdowns may be necessary, but they will only work if full support is provided to working-class and poor communities. Comprehensive measures are needed if we are to avoid disaster. Each of us must act now with our workmates and in our communities.  In a society as unequal as ours, we must work together to ensure that all safety measures are shared equitably.  

Income security for all

In order for people to remain at home, there must be income security for all. Government and private sector employers must continue to pay salaries or grant sick leave. All retrenchments should be stopped during this time. Self-employed, informal workers and those whose income is suspended at this time must be supported by the government with cash grants. This is to prevent movement by job-seekers and to stop people having to take the virus back to their villages. 

Social protection must be extended to ensure the direct transfer of cash to households during this precarious time (with clear safeguards to minimise corruption). All defaults on rent, electricity and debt repayments should not result in penalties or sanctions. All evictions and electricity or water cut offs must be banned. A bold economic stimulus package will be required in the coming period. These measures must be developed in consultation with the NLC/TUC and other trade unions.

All households, residential institutions, the homeless and the informally housed must have easy access to water, safe washing facilities and sanitation

There must be an immediate mass-provision of safe water access points with unconstrained flow in areas where there is limited household access to water. We also need mass-distribution of safe washing facilities in community housing areas. All of these sanitation points must have access to free soap and information on the prevention of the virus. Where necessary governments should provide tankers with safe drinking water and to remove sewage. 

All households, residential institutions, the homeless and the informally housed must have access to food

If we are to stay at home during this time, access to nutritious food is fundamental. The absence of the School Feeding Programme due to the closure of schools will hit many children and their families hard. A coordinated and safe roll-out of free food packages directly to distribution points in food-stressed neighbourhoods must be implemented – as has been suggested by the Federal Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and for Lagos State.  Schools could distribute food parcels to their registered pupils. The poor and vulnerable, elderly, refugees, IDPs, persons living with disabilities, trafficked persons and petty traders should all be included.

Essential private facilities must be appropriated for public use to provide a unified and fair distribution of essential goods and services to all

Federal and state resources need to be focused and deployed in order to combat the epidemic. Essential services – health centres, food services, water and sanitation etc – should be identified for urgent support and extension. This may require the conversion of factories and other places of production to produce protective clothing, water tanks, soap, food parcels, ventilators and other essential medical equipment. The public and private health systems need to be regarded as one health system and coordinated in the national and public interest. This may require private facilities being taken over by the state, as happened in Spain. Finances may have to be mobilised through unconventional means. The rich may have to pay higher taxes and empty homes may have to be used to home the homeless or over-crowded.  Regulations to stop price hikes should be implemented. 

There are hundreds of thousands of unoccupied houses and other buildings. Internally displaced people (IDP) and homeless people should be resettled in these buildings.  They should also be made available for people living in over-crowded accommodation.

Most prisoners should be released.  All the cases that have been delayed must be hurriedly addressed.  All prisoners on remand before their trial to be released – they are innocent until proved guilty.

Community self-organisation and local action is critical, as it our representation in national coordination

Civic organisations, community structures, trade unions and faith-based organisations will be extremely important in organising on the ground during this emergency. We must all take action where we are. Local trade union structures must be engaged, supported and given representation on state and Federal planning bodies. The distribution of reliable information, essential services and care for our people will require a massive coordinated effort from trade union and community leaders. Volunteers must be trained and organised for safe, coordinated, campaigns at street-level and for those living in institutions. Middle-class and wealthy communities and organisations have an obligation to make resources available to poor and working-class communities. 

We must identify strategies to calm tensions and divert violence in our homes

Corona virus mainly kills the old and the ill. The death rate for those with the disease is probably around one in 500.  We do not need to panic. But home-based quarantine will escalate family and relationship tensions, and may likely lead to more violence against women, children and others most marginalised in our families and communities including non-indigenes and foreign nationals. We need to identify strategies to calm tensions and divert violence in our homes and communities over this time. We need a strong education campaign against all forms of violence, especially domestic violence. We need to strengthen safe responses from existing neighbourhood, regional and national organisations supporting women and children. 

We also need to ensure that existing ethnic and region tensions are addressed and minimised.  It is all too easy to blame the foreigners and non-indigenes but we all need to work together to address this crisis. 

Communication must be free, open and democratised

There must be an immediate distribution of free phone data to all, so that people are able to receive good information, contact loved ones during isolation and quarantine, and understand the measures that are in place to create safety. Access to the best international research should be free and public. There must be daily national press conferences from government leaders alongside scientists and professionals who can keep all of our people informed about the emerging situation. 

The inequalities within our educational services need to be carefully considered, and mitigated, when moving to remote learning

Data and free website content must be made widely available by educational institutions for continued learning. However, there is massive inequality of access to resources such as computers, electricity, wi-fi and learning space, as well as difficult home situations that disproportionately affect poor and working-class learners, students and educators. The move to online learning should be made carefully, and as a temporary measure. We should not extend the inequalities in the education system by affording remote education to the few. Schools and universities should consider their collective role as community educators and developers facing an unprecedented shared experience. Schools, residences and dormitories should be understood as a public resource during this time, including for the safe distribution of food and other essential services interrupted by school closures. 

We must prevent a nationalist, authoritarian and security-focused approach in containing the virus.

We must guard against the quick deployment of the military and police that may create insecurity in our communities and would spread the demanding of bribes.  We must also prevent creating scapegoats to blame for the current crisis. Instead, we must ensure that care and resources are provided for the safety and protection of all who live in our country and in our communities.  

How each of us responds to the Covid-19 pandemic will determine who we are as a society. The better we respond now, the better we will be after the pandemic. We must follow international best practice and the science that we have available to us to build an assertive response that works for the context of our own history and society. Our response must be just, equitable, and redistributive if we are to meet the needs of all our people. In times of physical distancing, social solidarity is key. 

This Action Programme is being supported by the following organisations and individuals:

  1. African Action Congress (AAC)
  2. African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
  3. Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN)
  4. All Workers Convergence (AWC)
  5. Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Oyo State Chapter
  6. Ambassadors of Change Nigeria (ACN)
  7. Automobile, Boatyards, Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE)
  8. Center for Awareness Reorientation and Empowerment (CARE), Africa
  9. Centre for Human Rights and Social Advancement (CEFSAN)
  10. Centre for Labour Studies
  11. Centre for Peace Across Borders (CePAB)
  12. Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Bayelsa State Chapter
  13. Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Oyo State Chapter. 
  14. Civil Rights Council (CRC).
  15. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/ Transparency International in Nigeria
  16. Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) Oyo State Chapter
  17. Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR)
  18. Development and Female Gender Initiative (DEGENDER)
  19. Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON)
  20. Femi Falana, SAN
  21. Freedom Charter Campaign (FCC).
  22. Global Relief and Empowerment Initiative, Akwa Ibom State
  23. Green Peoples Environmental Network (GREPNET)
  24. HipCity Innovation Centre (HipCity Hub)
  25. Human Rights Agenda Network
  26. International Centre for Grassroots Research and Development Initiative (InterCEGRADI)
  27. Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) Oyo State Chapter.
  28. Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER)
  29. Lawyers in Defence of Democracy
  30. Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP)
  32. Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MEHUN), Oyo State Chapter
  33. National Conscience Party (NCP)
  34. National Union of Agricultural and Allied Employees (NUAAE) Oyo State Chapter. 
  35. Neighbourhood Environment Watch Foundation
  36. Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association (NATA)
  37. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Oyo State Chapter 
  38. Nigerian Human Rights Community (NHRC)
  39. Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Oyo State Chapter
  40. Peace Point Development Foundation (PPDF)
  41. Pegarsus-Zion Community and Environmental Health
  42. Peoples’ Alternative Front (PAF)
  43. Praxis Centre
  44. Radio Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU) Oyo State Chapter 
  45. Social Accountability & Environmental Sustainability Initiative
  46. Social Rights and Leadership Forum (SRLF)
  47. Social Security Network, Imo State
  48. Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL)
  49. Socio Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDEC)
  50. Take Back Nigeria
  51. The Movement Against Unemployment and Destitution (MUD)
  52. Tubali Development Initiative
  53. United Action for Democracy (UAD), Kano
  54. Working People and Youth Alliance (WPYA)
  55. YES Project Initiative

[For daily translations and international coverage of the coronavirus, workers’ struggles, and the socialist movement, read No Borders News.]

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