By Issa Aremu
Notwithstanding the commendable global efforts, the statistics is far from flatterring. On the contrary, in his Monday second broadcast on the pandemic, President Muhamadu Buhari disclosed a jump of Nigeria’s 323 confirmed cases in twenty States from 131 confirmed cases in 12 States on 30th March 2020.
We had two fatalities then. National fatalities had climbed to ten with Lagos State as epic center accounting for 54%. Both the FCT and Lagos according to Lagos represent over 71% of the confirmed cases in Nigeria.
With these statistics, it’s self evident that the President had little options than another extension of
restriction of movement in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT for another 14 days effective from Monday, 13th of April, 2020. Professor Oyewole Tomori is a globally acknowledged activist Nigerian professor of virology. Since the outbreak of COVID 19, the former vice chancellor of Redeemer’s University had urged for full discourses about the cases the cases, recoveries and deaths as announced by the Presidential Task Force (PTF).
If we dare to care to know the names and surnames, gender and fate as well as the unrealized aspirations of the “statistical cases”, we can just imagine the human tragedies at hands. I agree with the President that this pandemic is far from being “a joke. It is a matter of “life and death”. It is not a conspiracy from Afghanistan either. COVID-19 has infected almost 2 million people and killed at least 119,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Undoubtedly there have been remarkable concerted efforts to “flatten the curve” (i.e “reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases from one day to the next”). “Flattening” actually helps prevent healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed”. It’s time for global solidarity. The televised “friendly fires” between the Tetros Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian microbiologist head of the World Health Organization (WHO) and China-phobia American President Donald was certainly unhelpful. Trump true to character accused WHO of being “China-centric”. He even threatened “to cut funding”, (not the ever rising infection rates) in USA! But this global discomforting exchange only increases the noise level of the urgent need to get the vaccine and above all contain the coronavirus pandemic.
More than any other time, part of the job description of any state and non-state leader is to lead (and must be seen to lead!) both “from the front” and “from the back” to damn the menace. I once again commend the visibility of the members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF). The periodic painstaking briefings are take always (at least for those who are lucky to have electricity). Many are still “socially distanced” from electricity in 2020 Nigeria!
The robust Q and A sessions are simply good and better when they are done in mother tongues. The civil societies, trade unions, women and youth associations in partnership with governments must also be visible in confronting the Virus, to safe lives and guarantee livelihood for their members lockdown at homes. As the Vice President of the Industriall Global Union with 50 million industrial workers, I bear witness that trade Unions and union leaders around the world are responding to the rapidly evolving situation, defending workers’ rights and promoting social solidarity.
The Secretary General of South Africa Clothing, Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), Andre Kriel puts it better. Speaking to television news in South Africa recently, the general secretary said:“We can’t run to government for everything. We must look at our own resources. It is our duty to rise to the call of the nation and combat Covid-19. “So we said, let’s look at the institutions that exist in our industry and smooth some of the administrative problems.” SACTWU got a historic Covid-19 lockdown agreement for both the clothing and textile industry almost 100,000 workers. Precisely on the 23 March, the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry of South Africa, ratified South Africa’s first ‘COVID-19 Lockdown National Collective Agreement’. This unique collective agreement guarantees employees in the industry full payment for the duration of a 6-week lock-down period.
It provides for consideration of extensions of this 6-week period (subject to further collective bargaining), in the event that the lockdown is extended beyond a 6-week period. South Africa had indeed extended the lockdown until the end of April. On 26 March 2020, 3 days the SACTWU collective agreement was concluded under the auspices of the clothing industry bargaining council, the Minister of Employment & Labour, Minister ThulasNxesi, declared the collective agreement to be national law, published in the government gazette and extended to all companies and employees in domestic clothing manufacturing industry. SACWTU pact should be adopted by the Africa Union for member-states to guide labour relations in the continent as long as COVID 19 lasts. Nigeria, (more than South Africa) parades many labour market institutions that include NLC and TUC , almost 80 industrial affiliate unions, National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). NSITF specifically aims actually provide for an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for all employees or their dependents for any death, injury, disease or disability arising out of or in the course of employment. Others are Salaries and Wages Commission, National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Pension Commission ( PENCOM), Labour Institute and scores of Pension Funds Administrators ( PFAs). These institutions must buy in through direct immediate engagement in the struggle against the pandemic.
The Federal Government must urgently revive the tripartite National Labour Advisory Council ( NLAC) made up of workers, employers and government and constitute a Labour Market situation room with the singular task to safe lives and ensure livelihood through occupational health and safety for essential workforce and continuous protected work with pay.
Nigerian workers and indeed all Nigerians need protected rights not necessarily charity or palliatives under the lock down. Nigerians are citizens t deserving of rights not refugees in frenzy for palliatives. Unions and employers must also facilitate unconditional transfers of legitimate pay to workers and their dependents as long as this lock down lasts. International Labour Organization (ILO) has predicted some 24 millions job losses and sustained employment contraction. In addition, ILO says full or partial lockdown measures occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic are affecting almost 2.7 billion workers, representing around 81 per cent of the world’s workforce. Certainly the world of work cannot be the same again.
President Muhammadu Buhari puts it better “As a result of this pandemic, the world as we know it has changed. The way we interact with each other, conduct our businesses and trade, travel, educate our children and earn our livelihoods will be different”. Good that the President directed the Ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education “to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a “Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19”. However the composition is top- down. This policy initiative should be made more inclusive of organized labour, organized businesses, women and youth organizations.
The initiative should also draw on the enormous intellectual resources at the National Institute for policy and Strategic Studies at Kuru, Jos, National Defence College and Institute for Security Studies on management of epidemics and crisis management. Again Nigeria should find useful “key policy responses” proposed by the ILO that focus on two immediate goals: health protection measures and economic support on both the demand and supply sides.
*Comrade Issa Aremu is a member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru Jos and Labour Party ( LP) former Governorship Candidate, Kwara State.