LABOUR-CIVIL SOCIETY SITUATION ROOM SAYS MORE NEEDS TO BE
DONE TO DEAL WITH THE HEALTH AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC FALLOUT OF THE COVID-19 CHALLENGE IN NIGERIA
A PRESS STATEMENT
The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room on Covid-19 comprising representatives of the two national labour centers – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), affiliate unions in the frontline of the Covid-19 challenge, civil society organizations and professional groups met on Thursday, May 6, 2020 at the Labour House, Abuja. The meeting which was chaired by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni discussed a broad range of issues pertaining to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria particularly the fallout of the recent relaxation of the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun States. The meeting made observations on emerging trends, situated workers’ concerns and gave recommendations to identified challenges in the Covid-19 fight.
Observations and Concerns
Public Health Issues
- The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room welcomed the relaxation of the lockdown in some parts of the country. The Situation Room, however, observed that the relaxation of the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun States brought about some challenges and concerns which can be quickly addressed and fixed. The failure to phase the lockdown relaxation by sectors and the absence of sector specific guidelines on the lockdown relaxation have led to overcrowding of people at public places such as banks and markets. It was also observed that public health guidelines with regards to social distancing and the use of face masks were observed largely in the breach owing to widespread failure in enforcement and individuals not taking responsibility;
- The Situation Room observed the absence of uniform strategy and response among states and a mix of conflicting responses between the Federal Government and the sub-national governments. The situation has frustrated a streamlined and cohesive approach to public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic thus expanding the risk of exposure and deepening vulnerability of the general population to Covid-19;
- Despite the increase in the number of testing opportunities which is commendable, there are still shortfalls. The number of testing centres and kits for Covid-19 in Nigeria remains inadequate for our population. Nigeria has so far tested about 22492 people, a number that still lags behind that of other African countries;
- The number of infected health workers in Nigeria is on the rise. Currently, there are about 300 health workers exposed or infected with Covid-19. This is due to the dearth of personal protective equipment, absence of specialized and continuous training on effective management of Covid-19 and support systems failure;
- The challenge of salary payment in FCT including the withholding of statutory deductions by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA). This is antithetical to the Covid-19 fight;
- The increasing cases of patients’ unrests and escape from Covid19 isolation centers as a result of poor treatment and facilities. This trend is a major public health danger for the wider population;
- The emergence of Kano State as a new epicenter of the Covid-19 infection in the northern part of Nigeria. The Situation Room observed that the status of Kano as a major commercial nerve centre and the poor handling of Almajiri children have worsened the epidemiology of the Covid-19 pandemic in Kano State;
- The deportation of Almajiri children across many states in Nigeria has given rise to active mobility of the Covid-19 cases. The failure to address and resolve the Almajiri question within the broader context of Nigeria’s “out-of-school-children” crisis has been severely exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic;
- The dearth of de-contamination efforts and facilities at the major international airports operational during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Situation Room observes that the failure to fumigate aircrafts and airport terminals exposes airport workers and users to Covid19 infection; and
- The paucity of public health education and mass community mobilization on Covid-19 in many parts of Nigeria especially in rural places is a major challenge as many Nigerians still doubt the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- While appreciating the prompt intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, we note that there has been an upsurge in job losses and salary cuts across different sectors of the Nigerian economy in the wake of the Covid-19 challenge and associated lockdown;
- There are concerns on the resilience of the Nigerian economy to the shock of the global economic crisis consequent on Covid-19. The Situation Room identified specific concerns with regards to external borrowing, internal borrowing, Nigeria’s external reserves, trade balance, management of the downstream petroleum sub sector especially the state of Nigeria’s national oil refineries, diversification of the economy, increase in energy costs and the hike in the prices of public utilities;
- Looming Crisis of Food Insecurity essentially owing to the restriction in the free movement of foodstuff across various checkpoints in the country contrary to the clear directives of Mr. President. The Situation Room observed that this unsavoury development is occasioned by the overzealousness and corrupt tendencies of security personnel at the various checkpoints; and
- Lack of proactive response and synergy in the approach of subnational governments to the present economic challenges consequent on Covid-19.
Recommendations and Demands
Public Health Concerns
- We emphasize the need for sector specific, gradual, and evidence led relaxation of the lockdown in different states of Nigeria. This is in order to avoid overcrowding in public places with the attendant risk of worsening the Covid-19 incidence. We also call for synergy between the Federal Government and the states;
- We reiterate the call for the prioritization of adequate supply of personal protective equipment for health workers at all level of healthcare delivery;
- We call for specialized and continuous training of health workers on Covid-19 management.;
- We call for special Isolation Centres for infected health care workers and standardization of all isolation and treatment centres in Nigeria. Proper equipping of Isolation Centres will correct their public perception as detention centers. It will also improve recovery rate, boost confidence of health workers and also make available more professional hands to fight the Covid-19 challenge;
- The rash of conflicting responses and approaches to the Covid-19 pandemic by state governments should be addressed. We call on the Nigeria Governors Forum to issue a set of overarching guidelines on issues of common interest to states while allowing individual states to deal with peculiar nuances that affect them;
- We call on the Kano State Government to take the current wave of infection in the state more seriously. We call for very proactive measures by Kano State Government including strict enforcement of total lockdown of the state, deployment of robust public health education, provision of adequate personnel and equipment for rapid contact tracing, testing and treatment of Covid-19 cases. We also call on the Federal Government to mobilize additional support to Kano State and other states in similar situations;
- We call for adequate de-contamination of aircrafts and airports during and after the current lockdown of normal flight operations in order to safeguard the health of airport workers and users;
- We call for a community based and decentralized contact tracing, testing, isolation and treatment. This should be prioritized as a major public health policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we call for more testing facilities and kits across the country. As a matter of national health emergency, testing centers should be established in every senatorial district of the country complete with community mobilization and enforcement;
- The Situation Room calls for improvement in Public Health Education through community participation and ownership. We call for immediate action at the ward and unit grassroots level
under the supervision of a committee of local government officials, traditional rulers, religious and civil society leaders, to educate our people on the reality, dangers and public health guidelines on Covid-19. The Situation Room demands a permanent fix to the Alamjiri issue by concerned states; and
- We call on the FCT administration to quickly address the challenge of salary payment in the FCT brought about by IPPIS.
Mitigating Socio-Economic Impact – Stimulus Package
- The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room calls on employers of labour to stop the massive layoff of workers and cut in salaries. We demand that the economic stimulus package by government target employers who have demonstrated iron-clad commitment to keep jobs, retain existing salaries and expand production;
- This is the time to re-think our economic strategy. We posit that the current economic crisis which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic is as a result of gross mismanagement of the Nigerian economy by successive governments. The continuous importation of refined petroleum products as a result of the neglect of our oil refineries, perennial distortions in our trade balance, huge patronage of foreign goods and services including medical tourism especially by public officials, dearth of a national development blueprint and appetite and widespread official corruption has brought us to this cauldron. To navigate out of this mess, we need a surgical socio-economic paradigm shift;
- In line with our call for a paradigm shift in the management of our resources and the economy, we re-echo our earlier calls for an urgent national conversation for an immediate resuscitation of our four comatose national oil refineries. We also insist that Nigerians are not ready to bear yet again further costs of the clear ineptitude, policy failures and outright corruption of public officials whether in the petroleum sector or with regards to the socalled cost reflective adjustment of electricity tariff;
- We call for strategic action and synergy by the federal and subnational governments on a scale of immediate, short term and long-term responses to the fallout of the Covid-19 challenge;
- Given that our country is almost at the limits of sustainable loan financing and the fact that we are almost at the same level before the debt reprieve from the Paris Club creditors in October 2005, we call for a cap on external and internal borrowing by different tiers of government;
- The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room on Covid-19 regards the bill on the Control of Infectious Diseases being currently considered by the two chambers of the National Assembly as an unnecessary distraction at this time of national health emergency. We demand that the bill should not in any way encroach on the fundamental rights of workers and citizens. We are also ready to engage with the bill when it comes up for public hearing, and
- We call on all security operatives at different checkpoints to respect and adhere to the directives of Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who had ordered the free movement of foodstuff across the country. This is very critical to avoid a worse pandemic than Covid-19. Certainly, we do not want to start dealing with “Hunger-20”.
Call to Action
- The Situation Room calls on all State Councils of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress which are yet to fully set up the Labour-Civil Society Situation Room on Covid-19 to quickly set up the engagement platform;
- The Situation Room also calls for the opening of health registers in all our public health facilities with provisions for entries on healthcare personnel infected with Covid-19, healthcare workers who died in the line of the fight against Covid-19, and the circumstances of such deaths;
- The National Labour-Civil Society Situation Room encourages affiliate unions and State Councils of the NLC and TUC to send daily briefings and weekly reports on the status of workers’ health, occupational safety, jobs, and wages in their sectors and states. This will help the National Labour-Civil Society Situation Room in consultation with development experts adopt appropriate and timely responses to workers issues across the country; and
- Finally, we call on all Nigerians including workers to take personal responsibility in the fight against Covid-19. We call for adherence to all public health safety regulations including the use of face masks, hand washing with soaps and hand sanitizers, appropriate social distancing and indoor stay where necessary.
The Covid-19 challenge has further brought to the fore the need for credible data now more than ever before. We call for the empowering of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) with a fresh mandate to capture every Nigerian with all the relevant demographic information within the next two years.
Finally, while we commend our security personnel for doing their best, we need to adopt a new strategy of community participation and ownership through decentralization, enforcement and public enlightenment to ward and unit levels using a committee comprising local government officers, traditional rulers, labour and civil society activists, local vigilante and volunteers.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni Comrade Quadri Olaleye, FCIA
President, Nigeria Labour Congress President, Trade Union Congress