The media space has been awash with news about the COVID 19 Pandemic since December 2019 when it first broke out in Wuhan in China. And while much of the news have been about transmission and spread of the disease, as well as about challenges with testing and treatment, and the rising fatalities; nevertheless, some of the news have also been about the responses to the huge challenges posed by the pandemic.
Much of the discourse and news about the response have focused on the impact of the pandemic on healthcare delivery, as well as on the economies and livelihoods of nations and peoples. More recently however, after the wave of fake news about novel treatments and cures, there have been more news and discourse about ongoing efforts to creatively and innovatively tackle the various dimensions of the existential challenge posed by this pandemic to humanity.
And our country, Nigeria has not been left out in any of these phases. Of recent, our media space has been inundated with news of developments with respect to production of categories of sorely needed equipment to address the pandemic. Universities, research institutions, private sector business operators, the military corporation – Defence industrial Corporation (DICON), and the central Labour center – the Nigeria labour Congress (NLC) have all announced either breakthroughs in relevant equipment fabrication – from sanitisers, through personal protective gears to ventilators; as well as the production from local materials of face masks. What should we make of these developments? And how might we make the most of the opportunities being presented?
But first, as a prelude to responding to the question of seizing the time, let’s examine the complex, dynamic and interconnected character of the impact of the pandemic.
There is obviously a gargantuan public health burden placed on the broken neck and dislocated shoulders, atop the wobbly legs of a nearly non-existent and comatose healthcare delivery system, that like the rest of our systems is quite dysfunctional.
And within this we can talk about absence of equipped functional medical facilities, poor incentive for medical workers, among others. But directly related to public health and to effective tackling of all infectious diseases, are also the issues of access to potable healthy drinking water, access to public hygiene and sanitation facilities and services – including toilets. It is important here to very quickly point out the direct connection and dialectical relationship between safe potable drinking water, good public and private hygiene and sanitation, and toilets on the one hand; and access to humane and habitable housing on the other hand.
From this it can be seen that access to portable drinking water, to good public and private hygiene and sanitation facilities and to toilets are all functions of access to humane and habitable housing for all.
Again, we are seeing that not only important to maintain good hygiene and sanitation, but also that to contain and prevent occurrence and spread of infectious diseases, the quality of housing, and the access to it are fundamental. So for instance as we are finding out in this war on the poor that the lockdown and economic shutdown has become, it is difficult to ensure self isolation or even social distancing, as necessary as these are in these times, in a context of overcrowded, poorly ventilated, slum housing conditions of the poor without access to potable drinking water, and with poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
Again, the public health impact of the pandemic on agriculture – the mainstay of rural economy, food production and food security is also humongous. This is so not only because farmers and farm hands may get sick, but also because the lockdown and shutdown impacts hugely on the ability of farmers to farm, and thus undermine the food production capacity, which may likely engender food insecurity. The media space has also been awash with news of rising insecurity and crime due to the desperation of the poor deprived of their ability to earn their daily living from their now disrupted livelihoods, and the consequent lack of capacity to feed themselves and their families.
And by the way, are we imagining and assessing the impact of the disease, as well as the impact of the social distancing requirement on the ability and capacity of law enforcement and security agencies and the military to perform their constitutional duties in enabling security of citizens and safeguarding the territorial integrity of the country? But of course there is also the impact on education at all levels; the interruption without a sustainable alternative of the education and training of our young, the pupils and students? Including the development of human capital for industry, the economy, healthcare delivery?
So yes, the dimensions of this crisis are multifaceted, and impact all facets of our existence. It is this character that qualifies it as an existential threat. These impacts have been amplified and excessively enhanced by the preexisting dysfunctional nature of governance and our socioeconomic systems prior to the pandemic. It also reflects the inherent inequality and exclusionary character of the current global and national capitalist free market system. But the crisis presents an opportunity, and we can seize the moment.
What is being done now for instance to channel funding support to the various industrial initiatives in order to ensure scalability, and mass production of these new fabrications and products? What is being done and can be done to use the opportunity of this crisis to establish the sort of relationship that should exist between the Gown and the Town? What is the synergy between the universities, research institutions and the industry and public sector? What is the nexus between research and development on the one hand, and the economy on the other hand to ensure that we build capacity for structured and planned local manufacturing and production, as well as distribution and exchange of the goods and services that we need to ensure our survival and enhance our existence?
How can we draw the appropriate lesson of the necessity for planned national and human development, along with conscious of state intervention and public financing?
Going forward, building on the lessons learnt from the obvious gaps we are witnessing, and harnessing the emergent shoots of opportunities, we must redesign our economy to support and promote local production and manufacture of goods and service; while ensuring equity, social inclusion, and equitable access to societal wealth through the retooling of the state and governance to deliver effective, qualitative, efficient, and accessible social services in housing, health, education, basic infrastructure, primarily as public services.
To achieve these, policies must not only be developed, as we have seen with the interconnectedness of the crisis; these policies must be mutually reinforcing of one another. So, the monetary and fiscal policies (of the CBN), the investment, trade and procurement policies, as well as industrial, and social capital development policies (in health and education), must all be retooled and redesigned to mutually reinforce one another.
To be clear, we can begin to lay the foundations for such a new society within this crisis. And those of us passionate about the radical transformation of our country to make it fit for human and humane development must begin to utilise the current disenchantment with the situation to organise and mobilise for popular action to transform our reality.
Again, the lesson, taught over and over again is the central and urgent necessity for a biometric and developmental state; one that plays the driving role in national and human development, one that can guarantee the provision of the security and wellbeing of the people as envisaged by the constitution.
Jaye Gaskia Is Director, Praxis Center & Convener, Take Back Nigeria Movement (TBN).