The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire over the last few days. Condemnation in the British mass and social media spaces have been far ranging, including from Bishops of the Church of England (i.e. Anglican Church) as well as columnists. This is not just over his government’s general bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic response, resulting in almost 40,000 deaths thus far. The immediate cause of concern is Dominic Cummings, a senior adviser to the prime minister, his contemptuous disregard for the lockdown advice, and to rub salt on an open wound, the prime minister’s backing him and his flimsy excuses.
Cummings and his wife, who had both contracted COVID-19, travelled from London to his parents farm in Durham – a distance of over 425km – with their four-year old son. This was on March 27, just four days after his boss issued a “stay at home” advice. The government also barred people from non-essential travels. The politician who has said “I don’t regret what I did” claims his action was because him and his wife would not be able to take adequate care of their four-year old child alone, after being infected.
Boris Johnson in defence of his aide said Cummings “followed the instincts of every father and every parent” and acted “responsibly and legally”. Other ministers, including Suella Braverman, the attorney-general have with one voice supported the questionable action of Mr Cummings.
These all point at how things are run in capitalist society, be this in Britain or Nigeria; laws are essentially formulated by the powerful few for the poor masses to follow. This is all so clear in neo-colonial countries like Nigeria where the bosses are bólèkájà “lumpen capitalists” who more often than not get away even with blue murder in clear daylight. But one of the things that happen in periods of crisis is the tearing asunder of many a veil between appearances of democracy and the essence of dominant classes’ power and privileged position in the application of laws.
This is particularly so when those concerned within governments play the role of the influential bàbá ìsàlẹ̀, like Cummings to Johnson’s government in Britain or Abba Kyari to the Buhari government in Nigeria. Cummings has been described as “the real prime minister” just as Kyari was described as “the real president of Nigeria”. For five years, the latter was clearly an untouchable in the seat of power. It was the cold hands of COVID-19 that snatched him away. But even at a time that government was discouraging inter-state travels before formal lockdown, he was flown to a private hospital in Lagos, where he died.
Both the arrogant Cummings and the more reserved dead Kyari have something in common apart from being powerful players on the team representing their class as government. They both contributed directly to the state of crisis unpreparedness in their countries.
Pushing through Brexit, which Cummings was a major champion of, took centre stage in the view of the “Borish” (or more like clownish) government at the beginning of the year, instead of paying attention to crisis preparedness for the then emerging global emergency. And there is also the deeper structural problem of the neoliberal project pursued religiously by the conservatives (as well as Blairite labour) as heirs of Margaret Thatcher – resulting in underfunding and understaffing of the health sector.
The Federal Ministry of Health’s efforts to procure equipment and equip laboratories in preparation for the pandemic at the beginning of February were undermined in Nigeria because:
“The Presidency through the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, had in October 2018 stripped the ministry of its powers to procure anything and transferred the authority to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.”
And there was no sensible reason for such absurdity beyond “a power play between the then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, and Kyari”. But even eight months after that “then minister of health” Dr Adewole had been forced out of government; the obnoxious directive remained in place. Of course, the powers that be in Nigeria knew they would have no recourse to the public health system, thus there was little need for them to be concerned about the grievous impact of such constraint on funding for the public health system (which was already under-resourced) even at such a critical moment.
Their top preference had always been top-notch health services in Europe. This has been the normal since the days of Ibrahim B. Babangida and his dance with radiculopathy. But at least, despite being a military regime, his government disclosed what IBB’s ailment was. We have seen President Muhammadu Buhari junket to Britain, on several occasions, for treatment. These include one where he spent over 100 days away, at a stretch. And by the way, the country has absolutely no idea of what his ailment is/was.
But back to Kyari, due to international travel bans he could not be flown out to state-of-the-art hospitals in Europe. He took the second-best option (in the light of a grossly under-resourced public health system) and which is available only for the very rich, a well-equipped and well-staffed private hospital. Well of course, as some would say, “Karma is a bitch”.
Holding public officers accountable always, is however not a task, or “story for the gods”. It is important, even if not sufficient, for building confidence of the working masses in our capacity to win and build a new, better society.
Whilst Mr Cummings is still making shakara and initial gra gra of different sorts that he will not go, it is very likely that he will resign, like one Andrew Sabisky, a less powerful adviser of Mr Johnson who had to succumb to mass outrage at his pro-eugenics and rubbish about black people position (the British prime minister does have a knack for weirdos as advisers, to borrow from Mr Cummings!)
This Is likely to be an arrange package with 10 Downing street “accepting” his resignation in a genteel manner to save face. Or if push gets to shove and he sees himself as being too big to fall, the system will gladly drop him as the bag of potatoes gets hotter, to try cling to the tatters of its legitimacy.
Mass anger is already spreading beyond newspapers columns and twitter handles. Within 48 hours 250,000 people signed a petition calling for the senior adviser to be sacked. Just a day later the number had doubled to half a million people! Health workers on the frontline have also added their voices to the call for Cummings to resign or be sacked. Dr Dominic Pimenta, a cardiology registrar, captured the spirit of most health workers when he said; “Frankly, Cummings spits in the face of all our efforts, the whole #NHS. If he doesn’t resign, I will.” Even neighbours of the politician have not been left out. They heckled him, gave him the middle finger and called him out for what he is a bloody “hypocrite!”
What can we learn from all these in Nigeria? We must not let the bosses get away with infraction of their own laws. It is not enough to take things with the spirit of “one week one trouble” and we then move on to the next episode in something of a “series film” of impunity and corruption in high places. This is not only about COVID-19. We must always hold the politicians accountable, no matter how powerful they are. And we must mobilise around this showing the interconnections between their persistent abuse of power and the horrible existence that has become life for over a hundred million Nigerians.
One of such instances we must all add our voices to is the call for the removal, prosecution and jailing of the thief that seats as speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr Mudashiru Obasa who, with 64 bank accounts registered under false names, has fraudulently pocketed humungous amounts from the Lagos state government that could have been used to improve the lives of poor working people. SWL has signed a petition demanding Mr Obasa’s resignation. Some of the other organisations that have also signed the petition are; the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), Pan African Consciousness Renaissance (PACOR), Movement for African Emancipation (MAE), Take-it-Back movement (TIB) Lagos and the Young Workers Movement (YWM).
Add your voice and take a stand against the bosses’ impunity. Sign the petition and let us build a challenge around its demand. More importantly, let this serve as a point of departure for taking up a fight against corruption in high places in a fight to the logical conclusion. In Britain as in Nigeria, there might in essence be two laws – one for the rich and powerful 1% and the other for we the poor masses, the 99%.
But we are many and they are few. We can and must fight against the impunity of the bosses, towards asserting one law, for all – our own law, our own political will, expressing working-class people’s power.
Baba Aye is a trade unionist and Co-Convener of Coalition for Revolution (CORE)