President Buhari

…as FG mulls fresh lockdown

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

Alarmed by the spike in the cases of coronavirus in the country, the Federal Government is considering reintroducing lockdown it suspended some weeks ago, Business Hallmark has learnt. It would be recalled President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday, 30th of March, ordered a 14-day lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, in a desperate bid to combat the spread of the disease.

The lockdown, which was extended by another fourteen days was also placed on Kano, which recorded a large number of unexplained deaths.

However, due to the pressure put on the government by some anti-lockdown officials in the government led by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force Economic Committee on COVID-19, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), the Federal Government partially lifted the restriction order on May 2, allowing some critical and essential businesses to commence operations.

But the lifting of lockdown seems to be counterproductive as the disease has recorded an exponential increase in the last one and half months following more testing. The spread of disease in Nigeria touched a new milestone as the latest statistics provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Friday night confirmed 667 new COVID-19 cases in 22 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

According to the figures, the total number of active cases in the country jumped from 11,698 to 12,079 within 24 hours. The total number of confirmed cases also surpassed 19,000, compared to 18,480 cases confirmed as of Thursday. As at Friday, June 19, 19,147 confirmed cases have now been recorded in 35 states and the federal capital territory.

The upward surge in the number of cases, which began in May 2020, has seen the country record over 600 cases daily within one month, prompting some cautious elements within the government to call for the reintroduction of another lockdown.

On June 18, Nigeria recorded its highest cases with 745 confirmed cases. The latest numbers take Lagos State total confirmed cases to 8,177, followed by Abuja (1,489), Kano (1,182), Oyo (809), Edo (748), Rivers (739), Ogun (623), Kaduna (527), Borno (465), Gombe (451), Bauchi (447), Katsina (426), Delta (418), Jigawa (317), Ebonyi (234), Abia (221).

Plateau state recorded 207 cases, Imo (205), Nasarawa (181), Kwara (180), Sokoto (135), Ondo and Bayelsa (128), Enugu (126), Zamfara (76), Kebbi (67), Anambra and Niger (66), Akwa Ibom (65), Yobe (56), Osun (54), Adamawa (42), Benue (39), Ekiti (32), Taraba (18), while Kogi state has recorded 3 cases.

Meanwhile, the situation has become scary in the last one month with the death and incapacitation of some prominent Nigerians by the disease. According to reports, the Deputy National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Abiola Ajimobi, is fighting for his life in a Lagos hospital from coronavirus related illness.

The former Oyo State governor who was recently announced as the acting chairman of the APC has not been able to take up the job, as he currently battles for his life in the hospital. Many prominent Nigerians, including the Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, are also infected by the diseases and undergoing treatment.

While Ajimobi and Ikpeazu are fortunate to be alive, others are not so lucky. On Monday, June 15, a serving senator representing Lagos East, Senator Sikiri Osinnowo, alias Pepperito, capitulated to the dreaded diseases. Other prominent Nigerians felled by the disease in the last one month include the lawmaker representing Obudu Constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly, Godwin Akwaji, ace broadcaster, Dan Forster and the Director of Finance in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ibanga Etang, among many others.

Meanwhile, our correspondent gathered that governments at both the state and federal levels are jittery, fearing that the disease could get out of line. Already, some tough decisions had been made in the last week. One of them is the announcement that local flights will not resume on June 21 as previously announced, as well as shelving the resumption of worship centres in Lagos, the epicentre of the virus.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who made this known at a Presidential Task Force Briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja, said: “June 21st is not a feasible date to resume domestic operations”.

Sirika, who was represented by the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt Musa Nuhu, at the briefing, said: “The civil aviation authority, despite pressures coming from all quarters, will not approve the start any day until we are sure and we confirm that we are ready to start in a safe, secure, organised and efficient manner. To do otherwise is disastrous for all of us.

“If we open the industry when we are not ready, and we are guilty of spreading coronavirus, God forbid we have an incident, I believe the government will come hard on us and it is going to be counterproductive and disastrous for the industry”, he said.

The NCAA boss said the Authority has been holding talks with airlines, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, and other stakeholders, adding that feedbacks have been received and concerns are being addressed.

In the same vein, several state governments, including Lagos and Ogun, have reversed their earlier decisions to allow religious houses to reopen for services. The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while announcing the indefinite suspension of the planned reopening of mosques and churches on Friday, June 19 and Sunday, June 21 respectively, explained that this is as a result of the rising cases of the coronavirus pandemic in the state which has been the epicentre of the virus in the country.

Sanwo-Olu stated that the measure has become necessary to prevent the current situation regarding the high level of infection in the state from getting out of hand.

“As at midnight yesterday, June 15, 2020, Lagos State had recorded a total of 7,319 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Of this number, 1,137 have fully recovered and been discharged, while 82 have sadly died, leaving 6,100 active cases under management in the State.’’

“Our dear state, therefore, continues to be the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, with about 44% of the total number of confirmed cases nationwide. Let me again say that the steady increase in several confirmed cases is by no means unexpected. Considering that the infection is now very much in our midst, the more we test, the more the number of positive cases that will emerge”, Sanwo-Olu said.

The Lagos State government also on June 16 announced the suspension of this year’s Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), mainly for JSS 3 candidates. The Director of the Lagos State Examination Board, Mr Supo Gbadegeshin, said the BECE was originally scheduled to start from Tuesday, June 16 to 23, 2020 for candidates in Junior Secondary Schools (JSS3) in public and approved private schools across the state.

According to the body, the decision was taken given the prevailing situation of global pandemic virus called COVID-19 and the precautionary steps taken by the Lagos State Government to combat the deadly disease.

“Lagos State Examinations Board hereby notifies the general public, especially all duly registered Public and Approved Private Junior Secondary Schools in the state, that year 2020 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) earlier scheduled to commence from Tuesday, 16th – 23rd June 2020 has been postponed till further notice”, Gbadegeshin said.

Likewise, the Ogun State government has rescinded its decision to reopen places of worship for religious activities. The state had earlier fixed June 19 for the reopening of worship centres in the state and had set up a tripartite committee to work out the guidelines for the reopening.

According to Governor Dapo Abiodun, the planned reopening of the religious centres in the state was suspended following the increase in the COVID-19 cases in the state.

“Consequently, we are confronted with two choices – yield to the demand of those who want the restrictions to be further relaxed or even completely removed, even if this is at variance with the dictates of incontrovertible data analysis and scientific opinion; or tow the path that preserves public health and safety, even if not so popular.

“As a responsible administration, we choose life and the wellbeing of our citizens and are therefore constrained to take the painful but necessary decision to maintain the current regime of eased lockdown in the meantime.

“We are consequently suspending our initially slated reopening of places of worship”, Abiodun said.

Meanwhile, while state governments are putting drastic measures in place to slow down the spread of Covid19, the federal government, it was learnt, may soon capitulate to pressures from both inside and outside the government to reintroduce lockdown measures. BH gathered that opinions are sharply divided within the government among pro-lockdown and anti-lockdown officials, with pro-lockdown group seeming to be winning the battle.

“The government is currently in a dilemma on whether to continue with reopening plans or to reintroduce restrictions. Policymakers are sharply divided. While those in favour of reintroduction of lockdown are in the majority, the anti-lockdown group are in the minority but made up of very powerful individuals like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, the finance minister and other influential figures.

“The next few days will decide who wins the waiting game and where the government will tilt. However, the suspension of the resumption of flight operations is indicative of who is winning the battle to get the president’s ears,” revealed a director in the ministry of finance.

Efforts to get the reaction of the government failed as the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, failed to answer his calls or reply a message sent to his phone.