By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Comrade Okolieaboh Araka, a PhD Research Fellow at the Department of Public Administration of the University of Benin, is the President of African Centre for Empirical Dialectics. In this interview, the political economist says the coronavirus pandemic is a social change that will usher a new era of development in the world.
How do you react to the conspiracy theory in some quarters that coronavirus is man-made?
I was addressing a press conference and one of the questions that came up was that, “do you think COVID-19 is manmade and the spread from China?” I said to them that it is immaterial at such a time as this.
We should be looking at possible solutions and measures to protect ourselves, that should be post COVID-19 but as we speak COVID-19 is real and here with us. How do we protect ourselves?
I have a different view of COVID-19, ab-initio when it started, pandemic, killer and all of that but, on second thought, having gone back to neo-liberalism, having gone back to the previous world orders, and the new world order, I began to see COVID-19 as an agent of change, as an eye opener, as the game changer.
Eye opener in the sense that in Nigeria for example, you heard the Minister of Health and even the SGF saying that they never knew that the health system in our country is this dilapidated, thank God for COVID-19. If not for COVID-19, how would we know that we don’t have food security? What are people crying for?
The lockdown is a measure given by the government, a wonderful measure, which if you do a comparative analysis of the world economic system, it was the same measure; it emanated from China, it spread round the world, we are talking of globalization, we are talking of neo-liberalism.
If we had done the right things at the right time; look at the indices of good governance: accountability, transparency, when they said financial management, save, we refused to save.
We broke into our foreign reserves. Check the Nigerian budget between 1999 and today, how many percent of that budget in your thinking has been implemented? If 50% of those budgets were implemented we would not be lacking hospitals, educational system, and infrastructure in this country today but we did it to ourselves.
So, does it mean that as a government, we have not responded very well now to COVID-19?
The response, if you look at it from the political economic dimension, look at the political economy of Nigeria, have we attained millennium development goals before the advent of sustainable development goals?
We didn’t even know what it means. We were taught it was one of those neo-liberalist theories, one of those imperialistic theories, it was for our good but we never knew. Check the indices, check the provisions of the millennium development goal (MDG), it is about education, disease control, and these are the most important things.
How far have you gone? Today, 90% of Nigerians cannot work from home, why? Poor educational system. We were taught the wrong things.
If you could remember some 20 years ago, we were told that if don’t know computer, that a time would come that you would not eat. This is the time. COVID-19 has ushered in that change. COVID-19 is an agent of social change; it is not evil like we think.
But Nigeria is not alone in this because other world powers have recorded more deaths than Nigeria. Does it mean that they too were not prepared even as advanced as they are in technology?
No, not that they were not prepared. You need to understand Fredrick’s classification of society; you need to understand the feud society, diffracted society and prismatic society. Prismatic society are the third world.
The third world are not ready. The diffracted society, the industrialized world they are. Check the number of people, check the death rate, check the age bracket of the people they lost in Europe, check the number of people positive, check the number of people that recovered, check the number of people that died; all these indices will tell you how prepared they are.
Remember that Melinda Gate said something, that we plan for all natural disasters. How come we didn’t plan for COVID-19? And that takes me to the meta-physics or theology of religion, Jesus said about the end time. You know some religious folks have misconstrued this for end time.
No, it is not end time, it is a generational change, it is end time in a way but not the figurative or meta-physical end time they are referring to. It is end time in the sense that it is the end of colonialism and neo-colonialism which is the old order. When they talk about world order, people don’t even know what it is.
Check historical materialism or dialectism, the world order at a time was slavery, which was the economic order, the mode of production, man power supply was based on slavery, and the economy was run on slavery.
At a time, the advent of industrial revolution, the discovery of machine, a change in the mode of production which is a new world order brought about the end of slavery. So slavery is no more a lucrative because what a thousand slaves could do in one month, a machine has been invented to do same work in one hour.
Are you satisfied with the way NCDC, the ministry of health and the entire government machinery have been tackling the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you are to be honest, this is like saying that a glass of water is half full and half empty, it depends on the approach. If you want to be negative, you will say it is half empty.
If you want to be positive, you will say it is half full but at the end of the day, you are still saying the same thing. When we say try, what do you mean try?
What percent, what have we even done? You know your best and your best might not be good enough in some cases when it is being judged or x-rayed in a certain light, what you call your best. We have an estimated population of about 200million people.
How many isolation centres do we have? How many test kits do we have? Every Nigeria is a potential carrier until you are tested.
Forget science, let’s be empirical, let’s be very empirical in this matter. How would you know you don’t have the virus?
The signs have changed from cough, catarrh. They said there are people that don’t even exhibit those signs and they have it. We are talking about running out of test kits, we need optimum population. The spread of the virus as far as Nigeria is concerned; locking down the economy will not control it because Nigerians are hardened and the hardship, the hunger, these are all consequences of the things we were supposed to fix before now.
Don’t forget that over 60% of Nigerian population is not just poor but they are also illiterates.