Recently, I picked up Lenin’s “Imperialism…” for re-reading. Expectedly it has come with fresh insight; the outbreak of coronavirus has lent to that insight.
Capitalism has greatly expanded since the end of the 19th century. In the profitable areas where the multinational combines are conducting their business, we have seen advances that belonged only to the realm of imagination some 100 years ago. The war industries have honed the death machines to near perfection, for example – an unmanned drone can now cause as much devastation as a troop on the ground. We have highly developed technology that yield huge profits for a few billionaires, some of which are responsible for the degradation of our environment. I don’t think it has ever been clearer that profit comes before humanity under capitalism, despite the high technical capacity we now know society possess to eliminate poverty or increase life expectancy across the globe. However, what is not profitable is not worth the devotion of capital, labour (which capitalists have appropriated for the expansion of their capital) or researchers (the best of whom are properties of the big capitalist establishment.)
The outbreak of coronavirus has exposed the backwardness of health institutions globally in comparison to other branches of industry, like mining, war etc. Foreign media have reported that the belated response of the health institution in China might have contributed to the spread of the virus in Wuhan. You can imagine that humanity is still as much as vulnerable to the blind forces of nature, in the 21st century, despite the technical capacity it has built up over the centuries. The governments are capitalist, they support capitalists, share same philosophy that what is not immediately profitable is not worth investing in.
In Lenin’s Imperialism, he made the point that capitalism was once progressive, but its tendency to accumulate finance capital and concentrate it in branches of industry selected for their profitability has transformed it into a threat to the survival of humanity. Under the present system, while enough capital are diverted to the heavy metal and mining industries, agriculture would continue to lag behind. In Nigeria, we face such reality in a stark way. The international division of labour and industry has allotted us the responsibility of supplying crude oil to fuel manufacturing abroad. The consequence is the abandonment of socially necessary sectors like healthcare, agriculture, transport and education. These sectors operate just for the purpose that a country must have hospitals, schools and produce some of its food. There are limited concern about raising their standard technically, in order to raise the standard of living or of the people. After all the ruling class is contented with its humongous share of the crude oil returns; diversifying the economy has become a sing-song of almost every administration in the last two decades.
In comparison to Europe, our situation is worse off. While Europe may not have developed its health sector to the point expected of it on the basis of its wealth, Nigeria is running a ghost system, with terrible facilities and depleted workforce (healthcare professionals are wont to seek greener pasture abroad.) I recall participating in civil society programmes over our healthcare troubles. The story is always similar: Nigeria has never met the 15% benchmark to the health sector; our health system has relied on donations from international organisations. In reality, for many people in the country, any ailment that cannot be cured by herbs is as good as a death sentence. Many ailing people don’t even use the health system before they pass away. Before now, the searchlight has not been focused on our health care system to understand the extent of the crisis facing the sector.
The Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, asked Nigerians not to panic because malaria and Lassa fever kill quite a number of us everyday; saying this in the wake of the first positive case of corona in the country. More reason we should panic, and be very afraid for ourselves and our loved ones. Lassa is a round the year disease in Nigeria, which has been around for quite sometime, yet I have never heard of any concerted effort of the state to create a vaccine. Malaria kills about 200 people per day; should that not worrisome on the thought of fusing these monsters with corona?
Many of our friends have argued that we possess a special gene that would protect us from coronavirus, a claim that is more wishful than scientific. Some have argued that the hot temperature would hold the virus at bay; but the devastation it has caused in Iran, an equally hot clime, should knock the life out of such claim. Our reality is different. It says that any major outbreak would have a devastating effect on this country, aside the economic problems that would arise from the shutting-down of European and American economic activities, and other areas we depend on for the importation of food and medicines.
When the news was broken about the rising cases of positive coronavirus patient in Ghana, it became clear to me that we are not invincible. Ghana to Lagos is a road trip made everyday. if Ghana is beleaguered by corona, Nigeria is threatened by it as well. As well as other African countries. There’s the need to supplant psuedo-science and wishful thinking to serious scientific measures to stave off the ailment, and to prepare for a serious containment in a country of 200 million (and 90 million exceptionally poor people) in the case of a major spread.
Then, it won’t be business as usual. Nigeria can’t fight this ailment on the basis of our present capitalist principles, operated on the starvation of sectors necessary to the survival of the people. The government has indicated by its handling of Lassa fever that it could leave patients to chances, and allow a pathetic survival of the fittest. Every human being deserves a chance at life, and we must be ready to fight for that. The medical personnel that would be in the frontline of response to the disease must be provided for and adequately protected; one ailing personnel would further deplete an inadequate staff and could cause further devastation.
In the event of a lockdown, how to enforce such lockdown without meting untold hardship on the mass of the poor is a point to reckon with. Many Nigerians live on daily wages (60% or so of the Nigerian work workforce come from the informal sector.) To effectively enforce a lockdown requires the guaranteeing of materials for basic survival for these people, food especially. There’s also the looming threat of austerity measure on account of the plummeting price of crude oil in the international market. These scenarios once again require radical actions that I doubt the Nigerian elites would take without an external impetus, the readiness of the people to force the regime to make radical changes that it would normally never attempt to make. There’s is no justification for politicians and their appointees to continue drawing their present wages; they have to cut it, and devote the difference to funding an emergency and humanitarian response to an outbreak. Billionaire businessmen who have profited from the nation’s dearth situation should now be heavily taxed; workers who fell sick must take sick leave with full pay. These are the least we should demand and be ready to fight for as temporary measures. I use ‘fight’ deliberately, because we are not in the best of time. Our population is threatened by forces of nature that we can collectively defeat; this requires that the individualistic, ‘man-eat-man’ way society has been previously organised must change. It is the responsibility of all to take a stand when we still can take it.
This is one of the many times in history that socialists are strengthened in their ideas that society must plan its resources, labour power and technical capacity to improve humanity, to save humanity. The weak capitalist system in Nigeria must be uprooted, and not only because of coronavirus, but for the development of this country.