What COVID-19 is Telling Us About Right-wing Populism, By Jibrin Ibrahim
The problem about right-wing deniers is that they not only do terrible harm to their own people but also to others who become collateral victims of their senseless acts. For them, human lives have no value, what has value is their image and the imperative of forcing everyone to accept their lies as gospel-truth.
This terrible disease, COVID-19, has hit the world with a bang and it has one clear message: It is here to teach the world about ideology and governance. Its core message is universal and simple. Right wing populism is the recipe for irresponsible governance, mass death and social crisis. In the United States, Burundi, United Kingdom, India, Brazil and Tanzania, right-wing populism has been creating a world that is hell on earth. The United States and United Kingdom are powerful and rich countries but their governments performed terribly on the COVID GOVERNANCE INDEX. Both produced massive deaths and suffering, not because they could not combat the disease as well as New Zealand, China and Singapore did, but because they have built their governance models on lies and the automatic denial of any bad news. Of course they catalogued COVID-19 as bad news, so rather than accepting it as a governance challenge and devising a consultative strategy to combat it, they took their normal governance approach of spinning false stories, rather than looking for solutions. The message is very clear: Right-wing populism kills.
The famous Indian author, Arundhati Roy has described how the far-right Hindu nationalists rebranded COVID-19 as a Muslim plot, rather than a disease that needed to be addressed, and lost the script that would have allowed for the search for solutions. She points out that in December, while China was fighting the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, the government of India was busy exporting protective gear and respiratory equipment, instead of keeping it for Indian health workers and hospitals. We should remember that the United Kingdom was also exporting PPE while its health professionals were dying, due to inadequate supplies. When the pandemic spread in the country, the Indian government imposed a total lockdown without warning or preparation. Roy explains that: “Many driven out by their employers and landlords, millions of impoverished, hungry, thirsty people, young and old, men, women, children, sick people, blind people, disabled people, with nowhere else to go, with no public transport in sight, began a long march home to their villages. They walked for days, and many died on the way”. A few days later, worried that the fleeing population would spread the virus to villages, the government sealed state borders, even for walkers. People who had been walking for days were stopped and forced to return to camps in the cities they had just been forced to leave. It is the story of cruelty. The Brazilian president is now contesting for the champion of cruelty title as he supretends over the death of tens of thousands of Brazilians.
Right-wing dictators are so focused on their narratives of lies and deceit that they cannot even help themselves. He was not there to handover to Evariste Ndayishimiye, who he had rigged the election for. His spokesman had told the BBC that: “Burundi is an exception among other nations, because it is a country that gave God first place, a God who guards and protects him from all misfortune.”
Just over a week ago, the president of Burundi became the first head of State in the world to die of COVID-19 and his case illustrates the reason why right-wing populism is so bad for governance. They create a world that is removed from reality and use both manipulation and brute power to impose it. When the disease came, he was organising elections and did not want his plans to be disrupted, so he decided that the country will be spared because: “Burundi is a country that has signed a special pact with God” and there was no COVID-19 in the country. He organised rallies and forced people to turn up to listen to him. He organised elections and when the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned him about the risks, he gave them 24 hours to leave the country. A few days before his death, he was at a rally making fun of people who were wearing face masks. When President Nkurunziza died of COVID-19, the authorities declared it was a heart attack because Oga said COVID-19 cannot kill anybody in such a God-fearing country. The world knew what happened because his wife was in intensive care for the same disease in a Kenyan hospital and had appealed to her church to pray for her. Then his mother died of the disease and his sister also got it. Right-wing dictators are so focused on their narratives of lies and deceit that they cannot even help themselves. He was not there to handover to Evariste Ndayishimiye, who he had rigged the election for. His spokesman had told the BBC that: “Burundi is an exception among other nations, because it is a country that gave God first place, a God who guards and protects him from all misfortune.” They were using God to tell their stupid lies.
Here in Nigeria, the God-fearing governor of Cross Rivers State decided that there will be no COVID-19 in his State because he is such a good governor. The Nigerian Medical Association in the State have said that they are seeing cases, so he shut them up. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) went and insisted that they must test for the disease, so the government selected seven cases for test, and they were all negative, so he asserted the absence of the disease in the State. It was the Bauchi State government that finally blew the whistle after they found 15 security personnel that had just been transferred from Calabar to Bauchi who tested positive for the disease. The problem about right-wing deniers is that they not only do terrible harm to their own people but also to others who become collateral victims of their senseless acts. For them, human lives have no value, what has value is their image and the imperative of forcing everyone to accept their lies as gospel-truth.
Just as I was concluding this piece, breaking news from TheCable newspaper reported that Godwin Akwaji, the lawmaker representing Obudu constituency at the Cross River State House of Assembly, has died after showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was said to have died at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) isolation centre around 12:30 p.m. yesterday. The report added that some persons who visited the lawmaker at the hospital are already showing symptoms of COVID-19. Cross River is allegedly the only State where any case of COVID-19 has not been confirmed in the country.
Nigerians must assess their governors and respond appropriately. Now that we know COVID-19 is a GOVERNANCE PERFORMANCE INDEX that reveals irresponsible governance, let us all focus on what our State governments are doing, assess them and act.
When NCDC officials turned up in Lokoja to encourage the State governor to allow testing for COVID-19, they were seen as a threat that would reveal the truth that with borders with ten States, Kogi State, like every other State in the country, had been undergoing community transmission of the disease. The governor threatened them with a 14-day quarantine and they had to run to Abuja with their tails between their legs. Meanwhile, the Kogi State Branch of the Nigerian Medical Association is categorical that people are dying from the disease. The image of the government, it appears, is more important than the lives of the people of the State.
Except in a few States, Lagos and Kaduna being the best performers, most State governors are actively interfering with COVID-19 testing and the number of tests conducted are being reduced, instead of increased, for the sake of “good image”. They reason is simple, they know that increased testing would reveal the fact that the disease is increasing not reducing. They are making the choice that people should continue to die QUIETLY, while faked lower figures will give the false impression that government measures are leading to lower incidence of COVID-19 in the States. Nigerians must assess their governors and respond appropriately. Now that we know COVID-19 is a GOVERNANCE PERFORMANCE INDEX that reveals irresponsible governance, let us all focus on what our State governments are doing, assess them and act.