ON COVID-19; STOCK TAKING AND DEEP REFLECTION: A CALL FOR RESOLVE BEYOND BUDGET EXPENDITURE REDUCTION

 

We of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights consider the unfolding worldwide experience with Coronavirus as one that should provoke stock-taking, deep reflection and one that should evoke a solemn resolve.

It is truly a case of how are the mighty fallen, a humbling experience for many countries particularly the government of the United States of America that before COVID-19 was erecting walls, physical and legal, around America, now faced with a situation where the U.S. cannot boast of enough test kits, face-masks and ventilators. Following the advent of COVID-19, the U.S. is now openly inviting medical personnel from all over the world to head to the nearest U.S. Embassy for entry visa.

We have seen how well different countries have coped or failed to cope, internationally and on the continent of Africa, depending on the country’s level of social organization and the values that undergird its foundation and system.

In Nigeria we are saddened by the emptiness of the Nigerian government telling Nigerian People who do not have access to water free of contamination, to wash their hands with soap, which is not a regular item in the households of the poorest in our midst.

We are concerned that till date, there could still be residents of deep rural Nigeria, long cut off from civilization, who may completely be unaware of the pandemic, having no electric light, no television, no radio and of course to whom the concept of running water is strange. We are not so sure that those Nigerians are completely insulated from the pandemic as will make the Covid-19 challenge, a purely urban phenomenon.

But what is indisputable is the fact that all strata of our society are faced with the issue of survival in an era of lockdown, the termination point of which remains indefinite. For the wealthy, even with their huge savings, they may sooner or later have to contend with scarcity and with time, exhaustion of goods and services. For the working people, both in the public, private, formal and informal sectors, how sustainable is the expectation of continued payment of salaries in the absence of production and wealth creation?

Obviously the same scourge confronts the self-employed and the artisans. Those who before now earn on a daily basis, whose customers have disappeared on account of the

lockdown. It certainly does not require the imagination of a genius to appreciate what the situation holds in store for the unemployed and those who in normal times are compelled to live a life of dependence on the goodwill of others by begging on street corners. 

When the streets become bare on account of the lockdown, from whom do the beggars beg, and in which homes are the homeless to be locked?

As stated above, there is no doubt that the ability of various countries to contend with these challenges is a reflection of the level of social organization of the different countries.

In Nigeria we have been witnesses to the embarrassment of the distribution of cash to persons on queue, the criteria for the eligibility of which is undefined, and in some instances, the distribution of a cooked meal by the Governor in person. As a mirror of the poor level of social organization and underdevelopment of Nigeria, there is no speaking with any form of certainty about the percentage of the Nigerian People who have bank accounts, and how many of the most vulnerable fall in that category. This challenge permeates through ownership or lack of it, of Drivers license, National Identity Card and the Voters cards, all of which has been shoddily managed over the years. Forget passports. The consequence of all of this is that even where the various governments at all levels are being pressurized to do something, the institutional frame work for ensuring that the truly most vulnerable in our midst, who are human beings by virtue of which are vested with the plentitude of human rights, cannot as of today be confidently targeted and their most basic needs met to the extent of available capacity, those who on account of historical neglect, the institutional avenues for being reached by government remain bleak.  

Over the years, huge sums of money have been expended in and out of the budgets without the nation being able to boast of the establishment of institutions as basic as assuring the provision of potable water in all parts of our dear country derivable from public works.

The long and short of this, is that by and large, we the Nigerian People have been on our own; dealing with most existential problems ranging from water supply, power supply, infrastructure, education, health care, and security, without a decisive role successfully played by government at all levels and over the years. The law enforcement agencies have by and large existed to prevent the masses from revolting against a self serving ruling class.

The 1917/1918 influenza pandemic is not within living memory of most of our People: in the year 2020, our continuing grossly poor level of social organization has been exposed. There is no assurance how many years would elapse before Nigeria is faced with another

calamity, be it medical, economic, social or environmental, confronting us with the possibility of mass extinction. It is what we do or fail to do, beginning, from now that will determine Nigeria’s ability to cope with such eventualities, if we survive this.

The long and short of it all is that the COVID-19 experience ought to be a major reason why the struggle for good governance, anchored on the meeting of the basic needs of the most impoverished strata of our society should take centre stage in our National life.

We believe the time to commence that journey is now. Rather than a mere reduction of the National budget from N10.94 trillion to N10.2 trillion, we call for the commencement of the process by which the 2020 budget ought to be reconfigured; after all, the 2020 Budgets at all levels were not democratically arrived at, in the sense that the Nigerian People in our Trade Unions, Professional groups and civil society organizations were not given the opportunity to make input in the setting of priorities which the budgets represent.

We call on the President, General Muhammadu Buhari to set the machinery in process for engaging nominees of trade unions, Professional groups and civil society groups in Nigeria to engage his cabinet, in the reformulation of Budget 2020, being guided by the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 experience so far, and anchored on the spirit of self reliance and the most efficient use of available resources. 

This process undoubtedly will harness the creative energies of the Nigerian People across board and focus our minds on the challenges confronting us all, rather than the divisions that have predominated for some time now.

It is our belief that the starting point for such a body is the equitable and corruption free utilization of the resources already gathered to meet the basic needs of our people engendered by the ongoing COVID-19, and the harnessing of more resources for that purpose.

This to us is the sure footed democratic way forward, consistent with the safeguard of all fundamental rights of all of our People.

We document our abhorrence for the violation of the rights of our People in these difficult times, and call for the prosecution of all members of the armed forces who wantonly took the lives of our people in Warri, Delta State, Kaduna and all other places, where arbitrary taking of lives have taken place, since the commencement of COVID-19.

We call on the Nigerian People at this time to responsibly take charge of our neighborhoods and the Country as a whole.

________________________

Dr. Osagie Obayuwana,

National President,

CDHR.