Nigeria in west Africa is emerging from lockdown in a climate of authoritarian state rule and continuing fears about coronavirus.
Lai Brown, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers and Youth League in Nigeria, said, “The lockdown was eased across much of Nigeria this week. Although an 8pm to 6am curfew remains.”
Nigeria, a country of 200 million people, has officially reported fewer than 120 Covid-19 deaths. But, said Lai, “In Kano, the most populous state in the north, scores of people have died in uncertain circumstances in the last week. The cause of their deaths remains to be established.
“This is one indication that many more people have contracted Covid-19 than the reported cases.”
The World Health Organisation said this week that the virus could “smoulder” in Africa for several years. And it could kill as many as 190,000 people in the coming 12 months.
Lai said, “Health workers are among the confirmed cases. They include staff of the National Centre for Disease Control in Kano state, in what might soon be the epicentre of the emergency in the country.
“The health system is unprepared, due largely to years of underfunding.
“The health sector is grossly understaffed and unequipped. There has been resistance by workers. In April, nurses in Enugu State University Teaching Hospital protested at the lack of PPE.”
This week doctors launched a three-day warning strike at Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital in Ogun state.
Lai added, “The reactionary responses of the government and the social reality of working people in Nigeria had made a terrible situation worse. On 16 April the Lagos State Government demolished an informal settlement, worsening an already terrible housing situation for the poor.
“This insensitive act further exposed working class people to risk of contracting the disease.
“Similarly, the lockdown was ineffective because of the government’s failure to provide social support for poor working families. Some 80 percent of the workforce in Nigeria are informal workers who have to work daily to meet their basic needs such as food.
“Thus, the lockdown translated to cutting many people off from their means of sustenance.
“There was a geometrical rise in hunger and state violence. By 18 April deaths due to police killings in maintaining the lockdown were higher than Covid-19 related deaths.
“Working class people realise the need for measures such as lockdown to break transmission of contagion. But they need the government to provide for their needs for this to make sense. The government failed woefully.
“So the Coalition for Revolution organised a ‘Pots and Pans Protest’ from 25 April to 2 May. It was a demonstration against hunger, the insensitivity of the government and state violence.”
Such mobilisations will be crucial as the pandemic continues, the price of Nigeria’s crucial oil exports plunges and economic crisis grips the world.
Lai said, “The pandemic erupted when the Nigerian economy was already in bad shape. Oil provides 70 percent of the government’s income.
“The global collapse in demand for oil meant the state cut its 2020 budgetary expenditure.
“It has now had to seek a £2.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Conditions for receiving this include hikes in prices of fuel, value added tax and electricity.
“The bosses intend to make working class people bear the burden of this crisis. It is essential to build resistance now. The trade unions’ response has largely been hinged on ‘social partnership’.
“However, the pressure of rank and file anger is growing. Explosions of mass struggles are clearly on the horizon.”