A COALITION of about 56 progressive civil society organisations has appealed to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) to take the lead in the build up to push the federal government to adopt a programme of action as a template of strategies to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.

The appeal is contained in a revised summary of the full statement made available to National Record on Saturday evening, April 11, 2020.

We need the power of the NLC/TUC to push the Government to adopt 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,” the CSOs stated in the revised summary, which maintained the same title; “Action Program – How the Poor Will Survive Covid-19” as the full action program released penultimate week.

On the list of CSOs that endorsed the Action Program,  include the African Action Congress (AAC), African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), All Workers Convergence (AWC), Ambassadors of Change Nigeria (ACN),  Automobile, Boatyards, Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE), Center for Awareness Reorientation and Empowerment (CARE), Africa and Centre for Human Rights and Social Advancement (CEFSAN).

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Others include  Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International in Nigeria, Centre for Labour Studies, Centre for Peace Across Borders (CePAB), Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Bayelsa State Chapter, Civil Rights Council (CRC), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Development and Female Gender Initiative (DEGENDER), Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria (FIWON), Freedom Charter Campaign (FCC), Human Rights Agenda Network, Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER), Lawyers in Defence of Democracy, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) and Nigerian Human Rights Community (NHRC), as well as some state chapters  of affiliate unions of the NLC and TUC, among others.

Also included as individual signatories are Femi Falana (SAN), Comrade Femi Aborisade, coordinator (Ibadan) and Comrade Atambi Ade, coordinator, Abuja.

While underscoring the dreadfulness of the novel coronavirus 0n how it is “turning the world upside down,” and in the face of gaps in the current response, the CSOs in the Action Program called for intervention in a number of areas to address some immediate challenges facing poor and vulnerable Nigerians literally trapped in their homes; going by the rhetorical question by the CSOs.

“Who can survive at staying home without a means of livelihood and access to water, food and drugs, indefinitely?,” the statement enquired.

To better appreciate the predicament of the poor and vulnerable, and to succinctly draw attention to its argument on how the poor will survive covid-19, the CSOs proceeded to highlight that “[t]he priorities for the poor majority remain the same – how to obtain food, water and housing for their families and friends.”

In addition to the above triple essential needs, the CSOs added that electricity, internet data and recharge card must be provided free of charge to the poor and vulnerable to enable them to stay in touch with friends, families and colleagues.

Mass testing centres, rapid tracing of contacts, availability of personal protective equipment for all health workers and free healthcare for all, the CSOs maintained, are principally compelling factors that are noted to have helped, for instance, China, in effectively containing covid-19, in addition to the proficiency and sufficiency of medical personnel, including their motivation and technology-driven facilities.

Taking the above into context, the CSOs listed the actions or steps required to be adopted by the federal government as combat strategies against coronavirus.

Housing and utility issues

The CSOs, for instance, identified the primacy of “households, residential institutions and the homeless” having “access to safe drinking water, either through public pipe borne water or water tankers, public or private, at government expense.” This takes into consideration washing and sanitation facilities and safe waste disposal arrangements for everyone including the homeless.

Secondly, the CSOs argued that there must be no water and electricity disconnection for non-payment of bills, at least for the period of lockdowns and that these utility services “must be provided free at government expense, at least for the periods of the lockdowns.”

Health and food issues

Thirdly, the CSOs argued that all households, residential institutions and the homeless must have access to adequate food just as public hospitals and other health facilities must be directed to provide free medical care for all. In addition, the CSOs template includes government-funded arrangements with private health providers to attend to the sick in their homes and localities where such people cannot reach public hospitals.

Other aspects that deal with medical infrastructure include the urgency for emergency construction of new public hospitals and rehabilitation of existing health facilities. Under this recommendation, it is further argued that commercialisation and privatisation of services in public hospitals should not only cease, but also that “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.”

Under the health category of strategies is the argument that rather than self-isolation in the homes, public-funded isolation and quarantine facilities should be provided in order to avoid or prevent the likely incidences of tension and domestic violence in our homes.

Economic matters

Another fundamental strategy is the question of income security, which the CSOs argued, should be provided “for all, particularly for the unemployed and students”. The idea here is that this should be done through “[d]irect cash transfers into bank accounts rather than cash distribution.”

Crucially too is the argument for continuous or non-stop payment of salaries to workers and pensioners while “loan arrangement without interest should be provided for the self-employed and small scale businesses to retain their employees.

Management, governance issues

For the CSOs, the management of the response, being the engine room of the battle, should not be operated solely by government officials as that is bound to naturally generate public suspicion on account of their lack of transparently and accountability. Rther, there should be a mechanism for key organs of civil society such as mass organisations, trade unions, professional bodies, the mass media, religious and community associations to monitor funds and other activities of the response team. It is argued that this setup should be cascaded to all levels of governance, down to local government and community structures.

Given past experience where government usually used economic crisis to impose unpopular neo-liberal policies, the CSOs asked government to desist from using the looming economic crisis to push for the sale of the refineries or the yet to be privatised of public assets.

Confronted by the impending economic crisis, the CSOs urged the government to call for the “[c]ancellation or suspension of repayment and servicing of government debts” so that resources could be freed to address the compelling emergencies created by the coronavirus.

Among other issues on governance that the CSOs felt are critical and shouldn’t be allowed to be grounded by the lockdown are the courts, which are to operate so as to hear bail applications and other urgent matters either through Skype or Zoom, and the legislature, national or state, “to pass appropriate laws to give legal effects to Covid-19 focussed and dictated measures.”

The CSOs cautioned against what they described as slide into “a nationalist, authoritarian and security-focused approach in containing the virus,” a scenario that is now the reality in the ongoing enforcement of the lockdown in a number of states.

Others

There are a number of other arguments advanced by the CSOs such as the need to facilitate free, open and democratised communication; free online learning arrangements, planned in a way that eliminates unequal access to such services.

In the context of stiff decisions and measures currently being taken and initiated in literally every part of the world due to the pandemic, the program of action by the CSOs is not only doable, it deserves further refinement for translation and activation into implementable and tangible projects capable of transforming Nigeria’s political economy into the serious society that it ought to be in relation to its resources – both human and material.

If prisoners, many of whom have been awaiting trial for years that have stretched beyond the stipulated penalties for their alleged offences, are now being frantically set free, then, free citizens do indeed deserve the CSOs action plan. In every part of the globe at the moment, desperate and unthought-of policies are being wrought overnight as strategies for covid-19 containment.

There shouldn’t be any reason or excuse why these actions which are ordinarily within the purview of social justice and human rights cannot be facilitated under the emergency, life-and-death situation that we are now confronted with in coronavirus.  

Under the frame of this narrative, the NLC in particular must be fulfilling its historic duty in taking up the challenge of the CSOs to own, mobilise and push the government to adopt the ‘How-The-Poor-Will-Survive-COVID-19 action program.

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