BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
It has come to pass that clairvoyants could not predict Anno Domini 2020, the year the world changed beyond the imagination of most people.
A year ago, coronavirus was still a distant piece of news. At least, it was not yet in the headlines in this clime. Not many were aware of the pathogen or what it portended. Even development strategists and other experts did not give prominence to the possibility of a pandemic in their projections.
Yet the year that ends tomorrow (thankfully, as many would probably say) has been defined by virulent public health and socio-economic crises.
In Nigeria, in particular, the matter has been worsened by crippling insecurity.
For many countries, it would require a leap of imagination to design policies to end the crises definitively. Nigeria is definitely one of those countries.
What has happened this year should humble even the most brilliant experts; this is certainly not the time to make extravagant projections into the future. Plans should be based on a sober thought-process. So, armed with a periscope of analysis the starting point from which to look into the future is to ponder some of the lessons of the outgoing year.
The point at issue could be briefly illustrated by random takeaways from the year that mankind would not forget in a hurry.
The events of the year have been a bitter reminder about our common humanity. The year has been a rebuke of the mindless individualism already turned into a virtue by neo-liberals across the world in the last few years. It has been demonstrated again that the rich are not insulated from the troubles of the poor as it was probably imagined.
In terms of the realities of our common humanity, nations are not as distant from each other as geography makes it to appear in another context. The human proximity here is more than the interconnectedness brought about by technology. Within weeks of the outbreak of a virus being reported in China, the whole world is saddled with coping with the consequences of its spread. Aviation and hospitality sectors virtually collapsed. Supply chains got devastatingly disrupted. The solutions would not come from unbridled competition for profits alone. The spirit of cooperation and collective action cannot be discounted for the sake of human progress. Planning for human development should take a pride of place in economic management.
The inherent contradictions in the society and the complexities of human life have been poignantly brought to the fore. In the pandemic that happened a century ago, mankind did not have the advantage of today’s phenomenal advances in medical science. In the 1918 influenza, members of the public were advised to wash their hands, wear masks and keep physical distance as preventive measures while scientists thought of how to combat the pandemic. Public health experts have said that if only most people in the world keep the same age-long precautions it would be easier, cheaper and more effective to tackle the spread of coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. The headache of public health managers across the world is how to deal with the human nature that generates revulsion against these steps meant to avoid infection. You wonder why it is so difficult for people to be persuaded to wear masks and avoid crowds. The matter becomes more bewildering when coupled with the burgeoning industry of conspiracy theories about vaccines and fake news about the pandemic. The solution to that aspect of the problem is beyond virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists. It’s a morally malignant aspect of the crisis. It is for sociologists, psychologists and philosophers to ponder why simple solutions are shunned. Worse still, this happens especially in places like Nigeria where medically sophisticated approaches are not even readily available to most people.
The debate on funding public health and the provision of universal primary healthcare would probably be shaped henceforth by the turn of events in the last few months.
In a humane society, healthcare should be a socio-economic right. Coronavirus has shown that a public health crisis requires more than private solutions. This is more so in a society where the poor majority cannot afford the cost of quality healthcare. It should be delivered as a public good and not as a commodity. You don’t ask a poor COVID-19 patient questions about private health insurance. Neither is this a season to give the neo-liberal lessons in health economics that “nothing of value” is free. When the post-mortem of the COVID-19 crisis is done especially in developed capitalist countries currently overwhelmed by the spread of the virus, the factor of inadequate investment in public health as a common good would certainly crop up for analysis.
It’s expected that those who see development of vaccines only from the binoculars of profits and nationalism would learn the lessons. They are dangerously myopic. It is counterproductive to be selfish in matters of our common humanity. Formidable moral voices around the world including those of Pope Francis, the WHO, civil society forces and others have been warning about the vaccine nationalism and profiteering. It’s a microbiological axiom that as long as coronavirus infection remains prevalent in any corner of the globe humanity cannot be said to be outside the perimeter of danger of the virus.
It is socially foolish to blindly subject matters of vaccination to market forces. It is irresponsible to undermine the World Health Organisation (WHO) as President Donald Trump has done. Instead the body should be made stronger while correcting its organisational faults for the good of mankind especially the people in poor countries. It’s hoped that when Mr. Joe Biden becomes president, reversing the American policy on global health issues would be part of the necessary moral repairs he would have to embark upon in the interest of America and humanity.
While experts advise members of the public to mask, coronavirus has unmasked the scandalous inequality plaguing societies around the world.
In Nigeria, for instance, the sordid cumulative effects of decades of policies of social exclusion and socio-economic injustice have been sharply reinforced by the enormous consequences of the disruption caused by coronavirus. Lockdowns are not sustainable for long in a society in which the otherwise scientifically reasonable precautions easily translate into a choice between death by hunger or COVID-19. This was dramatised by the spectacles of looting of warehouses in which food items meant as palliatives for the poor during the youth protests in Nigeria. You can talk of relativity as you move from one country to the other, but the economic consequences of the pandemic have proved that inequality is a dangerous blight on capitalist development. Right-wing ideologues are quick to point to how wrong Karl Marx was about revolution. At least on issues of inequality , poverty, social injustice and cyclical crises, capitalism is yet to prove Marx wrong 172 years after the Communist Manifesto was put together for a movement. The underlying systemic roots of the crisis are worth examining. In many respects, coronavirus has only compounded the crisis of global capitalism. For one, it has halted what neo-liberals like to call globalisation.
However, on a remarkably positive note, 2020 has also brought out the inherent good in human nature contrary to the postulations of cynics, sadists, nihilists and their social mutants. The year has proved that life is not about the self alone. The story of the selfish society was rewritten for the good of all.
Take a sample.
Internationally, countries demonstrated solidarity with one another other even while they are all affected by the crisis.
With its obvious limited resources Cuba gave helping hands to countries of Europe and Latin America as it collaborated with China on some medical efforts.
In Nigeria, private sector players came up with a coalition to tackle the consequences of COVID-19. The CACOVID and several other non-governmental organisations (including religious bodies) and public-spirited individuals mobilised resources to support government’s response to the crisis. Residents in middle and upper-middle class zones fed their less-endowed neighbours. Other provisions were generously and cheerfully made for the succour of the poorest segment of the society. Amid the pervading gloom of COVID-19, it is good news that the philosophy of social Darwinism (survival of the economically fittest) has not come into play.
The reality of 2020 is that the economically unfit would make it extremely difficult for the economically fit to survive, much less enjoy life. The interventions from private sources have been significant and timely in the precarious circumstance. In the emerging sociology of Nigeria, such a culture should endure. By the way, it’s strange that with the billions generated by the private sector, the government has not thought of a collaboration for the establishment of well-equipped public health facilities as salutary monuments of the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences.
Nigeria has had its own share of the destructive impacts of public health crisis on the economy and society in 2020. In addition, lessons in governance abound. The most tragic of these lessons is the incompetence so far displayed by the Nigerian state in tackling the festering sore of insecurity. Yes. the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari inherited insecurity as a problem. In fact, not a few must have voted for Buhari in the presidential election of 2015 because they considered him suitable for the job of keeping the nation secure. Five years later, scores have been killed by terrorists. Hundreds have been abducted by bandits. Kidnappers and armed robbers now make travelling on the highways a nightmare. Yet no one seems to be accepting responsibility for this unacceptable state of affairs. The President and his team should consider moral accountability as central to the strategy to combat insecurity in the new year. The matter goes beyond the naira and kobo spent on security. Beyond financial questions about budget deficits, there should be worries about moral accountability. The government owes the people explanations on why the armed forces and security agencies cannot stop the killings and kidnappings. Parts of Nigeria are now ungoverned spaces.
Those who advised Buhari not to address the parliament on the deteriorating security situation have done the President and the nation a terrible disservice.
The protests of the youths coded as #EndSARS should be another takeaway for those responsible for governance in Nigeria. The protest against some bad eggs in a special unit of the police turned out to be a protest against bad governance, social injustice and assault on human freedom.
Attempts to clampdown on the heroic citizens who participated in the popular protests would suggest that the Nigerian state has not learnt the lessons of the protests. No matter their tactical errors, the protesters justifiably brought out the grievances of Nigerians to the streets. The lesson will only be learnt when the government engages the people to improve the character of governance.
As the year draws to a close identity politics continues to assume a bitter tone. The 2020 takeaway for Buhari in this regard is that he should change course on the management of the otherwise enriching diversity of Nigeria. Buhari should be a unity president and must be seen to be so from all parts of the county.
In the grim circumstance, it is important to have an optimistic outlook about the future.
For those who might think that it is utopian to suggest these takeaways, the words of the Uruguayan leftist journalist, Eduardo Galeano, could be apposite.
“Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon turns ten steps further away. As much as I walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is to keep walking.”
“Beyond financial questions about budget deficits, there should be worries about moral accountability”