COVID-19 Must Not Push Nigerians To Mass Uprising, By ‘Tope Fasua
…I ponder whether this COVID-19 will bring the revolution. If people are unable to feed, and stare despair in the face daily, what do they do? If social capital – which still upholds many souls as we share the little that we have from one to another – dries up, what will be the response of our people?
To get a clearer picture of the eventual effects of COVID-19 and any successor virus or pandemic, sometimes it pays to consider the fact that this phenomenon will affect countries differently. The global effect is difficult to figure out – especially the human angle. We know things have changed. Lives have changed. Economies have changed. Technology has taken over and will take over some more. Everything has become digitised. Things are being created anew. And there are new protocols everywhere.
It is easy to begin to imagine a cyber-world of flying machines and gadgets untold, with incredible things happening just as we have sometimes seen on television. Fiction is meeting reality eventually, as it has always threatened. Even if COVID-19 clears out millions or billions, the emerging picture looks idyllic in a postmodern way. A world with less filth and inefficiency, where we can finally deal with a growing climate crisis. But how long do we need, and how much destruction to lives before this picture emerges? Will the eventually manifestation be pyrrhic, with the ruin and destruction leaving such a horrible and lasting taste in the mouth? And will we be happy if after the promise of a ‘new normal’, COVID-19 disappears and the world is not as fresh as we expected, save for the paranoia that will last for much longer? I just saw a friend’s post on Facebook that the welcome pack in hotels has transformed from cute biscuits and fruit juice or a glass of wine, to gloves, masks, sanitisers and more things to sterilise oneself with. I must quickly add that the epidemic of mental problems, depression and so on, is riding the wave on the back of COVID-19. At best we should say, COVID-19 ought not have happened at all. It is a great curse to humanity, no matter the upsides; after it may have blown over. But will it? When?
Now let us zoom the picture somewhere closer. Bring it to Nigeria. As I type, the businesses of most of Nigeria’s 20 odd million ‘entrepreneurs’ have been destroyed. This means tens of millions of people have been laid off, who are now firing calls to friends and family, just to survive. These calls will take on a more desperate tinge in the coming days, even as the privileged few get tired and stop giving. Nigerian businesses were always fragile, most of them built on the importation of machines, merchandise and equipment. Their unraveling was equally fast. The few who could still open up daily and show some signs of life, found out that no one was buying anything. The purchasing power has collapsed. A few bold and monied people are continuing with, say, building projects or something fanciful, but I suspect that even they may soon get tired. Cranes are not going to be up in the skies anywhere in the world soon. That means fewer and fewer things will get built and therefore there is less investment in hope for the future. In Nigeria, the reality already is hollowed out high streets, even more desolate malls, as many companies earlier playing on global fringes are on life support right now, or just dead.
The danger of COVID-19 is enhanced by the fact that no one is sure about the horizons. We could weather this current malaise if it clears up in say, three months… but in a country like ours, with the non-investment in primary healthcare and now the community transmission of the disease in full swing, who knows where our luck will swing to for 2021?
So I ponder whether this COVID-19 will bring the revolution. If people are unable to feed, and stare despair in the face daily, what do they do? If social capital – which still upholds many souls as we share the little that we have from one to another – dries up, what will be the response of our people? Are the poor going to be able to organise the way they have always been encouraged to do, and this time, perhaps just to survive? Will we see real advocacy on the streets? I mean will Nigeria finally get a chance to close this income gap? Will the rich understand the need to give up something for the poor? Do we even have enough of rich people to make reasonable sacrifices? What form will these sacrifices take – direct cash transfers or investment in infrastructure, which impacts the people indirectly but for the creation of jobs while projects last?
Will we have an opportunity through a mass uprising induced by the extremities foisted by COVID-19 and the concomitant lockdown, shutdowns, bankruptcies and meltdowns, to finally deal with the corruption question? We can see that the top news in Nigeria right now continues to be about corruption. Even the chairman of the anti-corruption house was locked down in jail for 10 days. Well that is how it is seen elsewhere in the world. It shows that the whole war may be a ruse, when the man in charge has question marks around him. There is the roiling drama at the Niger Delta Development Commission, an entity which has only ever developed the account balances of its executives; a thoroughly and perennially corrupt organisation that is a sore on the conscience of the Niger Delta and Nigeria. Will Nigeria be ready for a total smackdown of anything called corruption as a result of a people’s uprising induced by mass hunger, poverty and despair imposed by COVID-19? Or will the people be too tired to even try, or to come together?
The danger of COVID-19 is enhanced by the fact that no one is sure about the horizons. We could weather this current malaise if it clears up in say, three months. Six months will be already too long but with everything surrounding this phenomenon, this year is certainly gone. COVID is likely to eat into next year, but in a country like ours, with the non-investment in primary healthcare and now the community transmission of the disease in full swing, who knows where our luck will swing to for 2021? Even elsewhere, everything points to a scenario whereby the panic around COVID-19 will be impossible to reverse for the whole of next year. The focus will remain on the number of those infected since the beginning, and how many have died. This is why I argue that there may never be a good time to push back and try and rescue some of our normalcy. The figures will never look good, as it keeps going up and up. What happens if this confusion eats up the entire 2021?
I am truly afraid. Afraid because very few people that I know appear to be able to appreciate the enormity of what stares us in the face. Maybe my imagination is too wild. A lot of what is happening today are what I had agonised about as I threw tantrums at the beginning of this crisis. We need to be able to imagine it like a chess game…
I have just looked at a document listing the number of bankruptcies in the U.S.A since this started – Hertz, Brooks Brothers, Zara, Gold’s Gym, JC Penney, GNC, Nieman Marcus, Aldo – many companies that have been around for decades are gone. In a country like Nigeria, no one documents it when a company padlocks its main entrance and the owner walks away with the keys. If we bother to do the statistics, already millions of companies have closed up here, and tens of millions of our people are just aimlessly roaming about, jobless. God help us
Two things: Revolutions are easy to speak about, but in reality they are extremely messy. Second, they say a revolution throws up new oppressors. So it is important to consider what might happen if indeed we get to the point where people have to go on the streets. The situation is likely to get quickly out of control because of the prevailing circumstances with hunger and poverty – which will get worse. Government is also likely to respond very harshly as its available resources keep thinning out. It must be conceded that government is throwing out some initiatives to help the people through this period, but many will argue that there initiatives are way too small, in comparison to the problems at hand. We need a big meeting or a continuous conversation on this. We have never needed to put on our thinking caps and come together for our own survival than today.
I am truly afraid. Afraid because very few people that I know appear to be able to appreciate the enormity of what stares us in the face. Maybe my imagination is too wild. A lot of what is happening today are what I had agonised about as I threw tantrums at the beginning of this crisis. We need to be able to imagine it like a chess game, where a phenomenon is leading us to. I charge those in government with this. In truth if they are honest, they will almost all resign because this is a huge blackhole. However, they can also dig in and buckle up. All of Nigeria’s resources must be mobilised from wherever they may be, to try and tackle this major crisis. If we sit idle, or act tentatively, and watch events morph the way they would naturally, then the above is the likely trajectory. If this happens it will not be ugly. But it has already happened. There is poverty, despair and despondency upon the land. Many more are dying of COVID than being reported, but many are also saving themselves at the grassroots. As we pursue the health challenges, we have developed a raging economic cancer. Will it eat Nigeria to death? Or will we be lucky and have remission?