President Buhari

By UCHE CHRIS

Fresh anxiety is mounting in Nigeria over the spread of the Coronavirus with the latest figures released by the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control, NCDC, on Thursday night which recorded the highest daily infection rate of 204; in addition to the 196 recorded on Tuesday, making a total figure of 400 in a week. Coming just a day after President Buhari reviewed the lockdown from total to partial starting from May 4, 2020, Nigerians and some foreign agencies are apprehensive over the impact of this action given the new figure.

Given the fact that the country has a testing limitation, which is just about 1500 per day and 12,000 in almost six weeks, there is fear that the real picture of the infection rate in the country may never be known soon, and the development in Kano, which is becoming another epicentre, indicates that the country may emerge as a new epicentre of the spread. Sources hinted that the president was abreast of the fact before taking the decision based on the report of the Presidential Task Force on Covid 19, to review the lockdown, but his hand were tied.

Last week, the NCDC and Lagos state raised an alarm that given the current rate of positive inflection cases they may be running out of isolation facilities. Already frantic efforts are being made by the government to secure extra facilities including hotels in anticipation of the rising cases. With only a 1000 bed capacity in the country, any escalation in several cases could be a potential disaster for the nation, especially given the number of infected health workers, which now stands at 40 and 10 deaths.

It is becoming apparent that the easing of the lockdown was a mistake by the president and the flurry of actions and programmes being announced by the government are efforts meant to mitigate the envisaged consequences of the premature lifting of the lockdown. Although it was learnt that the partial easing was to affect mainly Lagos and Ogun to stem off the looming security challenge and negative image of government as a result of the failure of the palliatives getting to the people, the partial lifting was actually for businesses to reduce tension; but several adjustments became necessary in the implementation directives in response to the current situation of the infections.

In most other countries which adopted the lockdown strategy, from where we borrowed it, a review of the lockdown is normally introduced only after the infection rate curve had flattened, indicating that the disease infection has peaked and passed its worst-case scenario. Italy, France, Spain, U.K and U.S, which imposed lockdown before Nigeria are still keeping it and only considering a partial lifting from May 7, 2020, having fairly reached the flattened curve.

Informed sources believe that the lifting of the lockdown was based on political and economic considerations rather than the health situation in the country over the Covid 19 spread. Although the nation had been on lockdown for over a month, it had only been partially observed by Nigerians as a result of government failure to provide promised palliatives for the mass of daily income earners. This was compounded by the devastating effect on the economy and the inability of the NCDC to undertake massive testing, which ranks among the lowest in the world per population.

Experts believe the one-month lockdown was merely a buying-time period for the government to put the facilities required to embark on massive testing which was initially not in place. Even at that, Nigeria has only 15 testing centres in a population of 200 million. So based on cost-benefit analysis, the lockdown seemed to have produced little respite in controlling the spread, while dealing a deadly blow to the economy. It was his consideration that may have swayed the pendulum for a partial lifting.

Experts at UCH and Lagos state had earlier projected an infection rate of about 36,000 before the curve could flatten, but at the current rate of testing, it may take several months to reach the mark, which could further worsen the spread; especially now that it has entered the community spread. Other countries in Africa, such as Ghana and South Africa considering lifting lockdown have tested far more than Nigeria.

NCDC had promised to test about two million people in the two months, which concerning the population is still relatively insignificant. For instance, Ghana has tested over 30,000 with the curve already flattened, and South Africa over 100,000 although the incidence is yet to drop.

It was learnt this challenged formed the issue of President Donald Trump’s discussion with President Buhari on Tuesday. Information Minister, Mr Lai Mohamed at the PTF daily briefing told the nation the two leaders had talks at the instance of the later on the unfolding health situation in the country. Sources said the minister’s announcement was preemptive and diversionary to prevent speculations and unofficial leaks.

Although the minister only mentioned the goodwill message and promise of ventilators’ supply, it was learnt from close sources that Trump reminded the Nigerian leaders of the American experience and the need to be circumspect in lifting the lockdown until sufficient testing has been done. The question being asked is, why would President Trump call the Nigerian president a day after he announced a plan to lift the lockdown? It is too coincidental, it was reasoned.

In a characteristic tweet after the conversation between the two leaders, Trump said: “Yes, I spoke with the Nigerian president; those people are desperate for ventilators; they will never have enough”. This perhaps suggests that the promise to supply 200 ventilators to Nigeria may have been prompted by request from Nigeria as quid pro quo for pulling the plug on lifting the lockdown. America itself is having a ventilator supply challenge.

“How come that less than 24 hours after President Buhari lifted he lockdown, Trump was on the telephone with him; it suggests something”, a source said.

“Nigeria always presents a typical challenge to the world in things like this; given the mobile nature of Nigerians and slow movement of things in the country, there is real anxiety over the situation in Nigeria. This has been compounded by the development in Kano which after two weeks is still unknown; everybody is worried both for the virus and the economy”, the source said.

A further indication came from the senate, which on Wednesday adjourned sine die, after just two days of sitting to approve the president’s loan request of N850 billion. Senate president, Ahmed Lawan had on Tuesday at the resumption of plenary pledged to continue sitting at least once a week to keep its activities open and running to provide all the legislative assistant to the executive. However, on Wednesday, the NASS suddenly announced an indefinite suspension of activity.

European Union has also been supportive of the actions earlier taken by Nigeria donating N21 billion to the country, the highest single nation contribution to the UN basket of a fund to fight the pandemic. It has also been distributing palliatives to the vulnerable groups in the FCT to cushion the effects of the lockdown. Similarly, the World Health Organisation, WHO has also warned of the premature and hasty lifting of the lockdown without flattening the curve because of its consequences.s

Last week also, Lagos State released comprehensive guidelines to start the gradual easing of the lockdown, as directed by the Federal Government. According to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, all open markets would only be allowed to open from 9 am to 3 pm on selected days, and everyone is still expected to adhere to the precautionary measures.

“Everyone attending these markets and stores will be mandated to observe precautionary measures of social distancing and very high levels of personal and hand hygiene,” he said.

Malls would also be expected to maintain 60% occupancy, in line with the physical distancing rules, with hand sanitisers, wash-basins, and temperature checks as compulsory requirements at entry points.  Sanwo-Olu emphasised that all staff and food handlers must undergo thorough and ‘exhaustive health checks’ and maintain high levels of personal hygiene while attending to customers.

The Governor stated that all trucks carrying agricultural produce to and from Lagos from any part of the country are forbidden from carrying more than 7 passengers, irrespective of the size. Schools and Religious institutions are to remain physically closed and continue with the alternative channels already being explored. Drivers, conductors and passengers are expected to wear face masks at all times while washing and/or sanitizing hands regularly.

 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said last week that Nigeria’s massive population constitutes a challenge in the fight against the prevailing Coronavirus pandemic in the country. The Vice President, however, said the advantage of being able to manage the issues in the smaller measure through the states and develop best practices has enabled authorities to reassess responses across sub-national and adjust where necessary.

 Prof. Osinbajo stated this in Abuja on Wednesday at a virtual conference entitled “How Africa’s Informal Sector Reacts to COVID-19”, organized by Africa.come. The Vice President in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, said Nigeria has the advantage of being able to manage her problems in smaller measure, by dividing them, because she runs a Federation.

The statement said, Mr Hakeem Bello-Osagie, a Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer of Business Administration, and Teresa Clarke, CEO of Africa.com, moderated the discussions with participation by several thousand who signed in across the world. Besides Prof. Osinbajo, others who spoke at the webinar were President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana; Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna; Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, Professor of Economics, Yale University; and Amandla Ooko-Ombaka, Senior Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Co.

He said, providing support to small businesses in the informal sector should be a priority for all economies aiming at lessening any adverse effect of the pandemic on the economy.

“Aside from the lockdown, just the disruption in the economy has meant that the daily paid worker simply has no means of working and many are laid off.”

204 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Nigeria:

Kano      –             80

Lagos     –             45

Gombe –             12

Bauchi  –             9

Sokoto  –             9

Borno    –             7

Edo        –             7

Rivers   –             6

 Ogun    –            6

 FCT        –              4

Akwa Ibom         4

Bayelsa –              4

Kaduna –              3

Oyo        –            2

 Delta    –             2

Nasarawa –        2

Ondo     –             1