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Coronavirus diary – Part 31

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#ENDSARS protesters and Nigeria Air Force at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

When people take waste, or surplus amid want, they are filling up a vacuum in nature.
The wasters and the hoarders call it a crime —Akhaine
The mass of the people struggle against the same poverty, flounder about making the same gestures and with their shrunken bellies outline what has been called the geography of hunger—Frantz Fanon.

It is all gloom and grim in the world of COVID-19. On Thursday, November 29, the U.S. reported 1000 deaths, and on Friday, November 30, reported 90,000 plus new coronavirus infections bringing the number of infection to 9 million-plus cases. In India, it has also climbed to 8 million-plus. This is sad. Someday, the touted vaccine will come to avail. However, this installment surveys the geography of hunger in times of COVID-19. Some have realistically called it COVID-Hunger (CH) with emphasis on the mismanaged palliatives in Nigeria.

A major concern at the outbreak of coronavirus was how people would survive the lockdown in countries with a huge population of the impoverished who subsist within the largely unprofitable informal sector. Nigeria, my country belongs to this bracket. Even the first world did worry and have continued to worry about the impact of lockdown on the people and more about profit realisation. Indeed, many countries have invented an ingenious way to dole out some reliefs in cash and kind. For example, Albania voted billion of the country’s currency to support self-employed outfits forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic by paying the minimum wage as well as doubling the unemployment benefits and social assistance. In a manner worthy of note, it reallocated its defence spending toward humanitarian relief for the most vulnerable.

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Algeria enacted a law to disburse $20 billion for allowances to the unemployed because of COVID-19 and $11.5 billion for transfers to poor households. Argentina government supported workers and vulnerable groups through increased transfers to poor families, unemployment insurance benefits, and payments to minimum-wage workers and a forbearance policy that included the continued provision of utility services for households in arrears with market repression policies such as price controls for food and medical supplies and ring fencing of essential supplies through export restrictions. The United States has steps to ameliorate the impact of the virus on the people and economy through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act (CARES Act) with a financial component in the region of $2.3 trillion. It comprises one-time tax rebates to individuals; expansion of unemployment benefits; provision of a food safety net for the most vulnerable. This was further boosted with US$8.3 billion Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that provides for 2 weeks paid sick leave; up to 3 months emergency leave for those infected (at 2/3 pay); food assistance; and transfers to states to fund expanded unemployment insurance. It was thoughtful of governments to do so and the state was fulfilling one of its raison d’être—to protect lives. In other words, the state was simply saving lives and being responsible (for countries’ details, seehttps://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19).

There were many states which betrayed the ‘general will’. For example, Bolivia under the right-wing government of Jeanine Anez that replaced President Evo Morales’ refused to pass bills engrossed “to provide health care (Bono Salúd), support to the elderly and the infirm, and a Hunger Bond (Bono contra el Hambre) that would give a fixed payment to every Bolivian”. Thanks to the return to Power of Morales party, Movement for Socialism (MAS), these have now been passed by the MAS-dominated Senate last September.

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Also, Nigeria keyed into the business of easing the difficulties of COVID-19 in form of palliatives. Coalition against COVID-19 (CA-COVID) was even sired, and well-meaning Nigerians, the government of the day, and the international community donated cash and material to ameliorate the plight of the Nigerian people. For a country so tainted with corruption, it was predictably going to be a different ball game. Officialdom set in and took charge of the distribution of the palliatives to the people. Palliative went with the noise with which it came. The corrupt elite could hardly get things done properly. As it has turned out, much of the palliatives were hoarded by those whose task is to ensure the wellbeing of the masses of our people. The hen would soon come to roast.

Between, October 8 and 29, 2020, a misruled population, embark on a nation-wide protest. The people chose the most symbolic face of our national perfidy as the anchor of the protest—police brutality, and was rightly hashtagged #EndSARS and with a five-point demand. the demand included: “Immediate release of all arrested protesters; justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a period of 10 days; carrying out psychological evaluation and retaining of all disbanded SARS operatives before they can be deployed, which should be verified by an independent body and increasing the salary of policemen and adequately compensating them for protecting the lives and property of citizens”. A flag-waving sea of youth was broken up by the military in a morbid display of naked force. When they unleashed what is now known as the ‘Black Tuesday’ the world already in the known of the happenings in Nigeria by its globalised nature shuddered in horror by the perfidy of a neo-colonial army under the leadership of generals without battlefield experience and answerable to a neo-colonial elite that Kwame Nkrumah qualified in his magnum opus, Neo-colonialism, the Highest State of Imperialism. The phenomenon of neo-colonialism is “power without responsibility and for those who suffer it, it means exploitation without redress.”

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Shooting at flag-waving Nigerian youth by the neo-colonial army, itself a crime against humanity woke the ire of a much-maligned population who demonstrated the fact that they are the embodiment of sovereignty. Aware of the antics of their class enemy, they went for what belongs to them. Despite the denials by the Governor Forum of Nigeria (GFM) to the contrary, an impoverished population united by the geography of hunger went into warehouses in locations like Abuja; Adamawa, Cross Rivers, Edo, Osun, Plateau, Kwara, Kaduna, and Taraba state among others to access the stolen palliatives. Reportedly, some kept them for their birthday and new electoral cycles as bait to buy votes. These ruling cliques that loot and misappropriate public funds, that the French would call grand voleurs have labeled the masses, the veritable repository of power as ‘hoodlums’ relayed by the media which they control. The Governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, took the matter to a ridiculous point by giving an ultimatum to his boss (the masses) to return the palliatives to they took within 72 hours. Correspondingly, the masses gave 72 hours to the governor and former state actors in the state to return their ‘stolen billion’ to the Central Bank of Nigeria. Credit to Arthur Nwankwo who illustrated the bleeding of Nigeria’s commonwealth in his book titled, Nigeria: The Stolen Billion in 1999.

Intriguingly, some of the palliatives have been around since June 2020. Some of the items, perishable in nature, had even gone bad. Reportedly, some of the items were found in shops in Europe. Therefore, it is easy to identify the actual hoodlums who are the thieving state elite. Let me end with this wise saying distilled from Esan folklores: the bones being piped by the hunters are ours.

Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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