From: PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Most Abia state people who currently affected by the Coronavirus lockdown have condemned the action as punishment and inhuman as most of them cannot provide for their families. Some of them who are mainly artisans and traders lamented the hardship this has brought on them given the fact that there is no provision by the government to meet their needs.
However, with varying degrees of compliance to the directive by the federal government and states to clamp down on the spread of corona-virus (COVID-19), indications have emerged that it was perhaps the best action for dealing with the disease so far in the circumstance. All over the world, this approach has been adopted as an immediate remedy to stop the rapid spread of the virus, which has been alarming even in developed countries such as U.K, U.S, Canada, Italy and Spain etc.
Commending the action of the federal government, Abia state governor, Dr Okezie, said so far, the government has been proactive and effective in dealing with the situation and expressed his confidence in the capabilities of the managers of the pandemic at the Federal level to effectively contain it.
However, Bishop Methodist Church, Nigeria, Umuahia, Rev. Dr Sunday Onuoha has called on the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to provide Testing Laboratories to every geo-political zone of the federation that urgently needs them, particularly, the South-East, North-West, North-East to tackle suspected cases of Corona-virus. Onuoha, who is also President of an Umuahia-based private Radio station, “Vision Africa”, further made a passionate plea to the NCDC to avoid any form of bureaucratic bottlenecks as well as shun discriminatory tendencies in the distribution of COVID-19 materials/equipment.
Both the governor and Bishop spoke at different locations while assessing the progress of the on-going complete lockdown situations, designed to curtail the spread of the virus pandemic in Abia state and the country as a whole. It will be recalled that President Buhari had announced a full lockdown in Lagos Abuja and Ogun states 11 pm on 31 of March 2020, which incidentally was complied with by other states such as Abia, which began its lockdown with all private and public establishments, services, and movements suspended.
This full-blown lockdown includes the closing of all land borders in Abia State for an initial period of two weeks, subject to weekly reviews by those responsible. Security operatives are currently deployed to enforce this directive and ensure full compliance. Not only that; every transition committee chairman in the 17 local government areas of the state will be held culpable by the state government for any lapses at the borders within their areas of authority.
These measures are calculated to ensure that carriers of the dreaded coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from neighbouring or other states do not bring it into Abia State. It sounds odd to hear that money allegedly still exchange hands on the roads to allow trucks conveying goods and services free passage to other states. Those who do not exchange money pass through the “rough and risky ways” to get to their destinations.
On the implementation of the COVID-19 prevention guidelines, Abia state has been recording impressive adherence to the lockdown order since Monday,1st April 2020. From day one, the entire state became calm and looked deserted, except for the few security vehicles seen on the roads. All motor parks are under lock and key and commuters trek long distances in single files to their destinations. Most of them wear mouth and nose masks as directed, while commercial vehicles and Keke are forbidden from plying the routes. But the die-hards and desperate ones still flout the orders to survive.
Investigations by BusinessHallmark revealed that monitoring of compliance to government directives are not going down well in parts of Aba and Umuahia. Some officials of the enforcement teams were allegedly confiscating food-items and condiments for their personal uses under the disguise of enforcing the law.
But, according to Governor Okezie, the period of the lockdown will be used to fumigate the markets and public places, deliver critical supplies of sanitizers, masks and other preventive essentials to those most in need and ensure that this disease is not given room to thrive within Abia. The criticism against these directives is that state government asked people to stay at home without providing any alternative.
Many people said that the government ought to provide some palliatives in the form of food or money for people to remain in-doors to cushion the effects of the total shut-down. For instance, millions are daily- paid labourers. They depend on whatever they get each day to feed their families and meet-up with other domestic chores.
Nwankwo Kalu is a mason. His response to this lockdown was, “I depend on this my work for livelihood. To subject me to stay at home doing nothing is ’imprisonment, painful, frustrating and unacceptable’. What am I staying at home for and with what? Though life is very important, every man has his destiny. Allow me to live my life the way I like”. Again, there are other categories like hawkers, hoteliers, attendants, roadside table traders, sand excavators, mechanics and others. Their responses were almost the same but requested for palliatives to enable them to stay at home.
In a State broadcast by the governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu to kick-start the total lockdown, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the governor solicited the co-operation of all citizens. He reassured that as of date, “We do not yet have a single case of Coronavirus in Abia State”. The governor gave his words that he would do everything possible to prevent the Coronavirus pandemic from entering the state and appealed to Abians to be patient with him by complying with the directives.
“Abians should remain calm, observe stringent personal hygienic practices and wash their hands as often as possible with soap and running water as this has been proven to be one of the most potent methods of preventing the spread of the disease”.
He announced some measures his government has put in place for containment and dealing with eventualities to include: “Four areas of strategies employed to ensure we do not record the disease in Abia State; first, things we are doing to prepare in the unfortunate event that we don’t record cases in Abia State; secondly, steps the Abia State Government is taking to ensure the sustenance of the lives and livelihood of our people within this period; thirdly details of how to assist, and fourthly, the assistance we have received so far”.
For the preventive strategy, the state government is adopting a 2-pronged strategy of emphasizing complete prevention of the disease. And in the unlikely event that the virus gets to Abia State, steps to the management of its spread and impact. The governor’s broadcast made it clear that the directive against non-essential movements within Abia State during this period automatically means that all forms of events including burials, weddings and other social gatherings are to be put-off.
”I am not unmindful of the disruptions to lives and livelihoods that these measures will entail, but I want to remind us that health and life are paramount and every other consideration has to take second place”, he said.
Concerning religious denominations, Okezie declared: “I am personally appealing to religious leaders in the state to abide by our earlier directives on public assembly in the best interest of their members and the people of Abia State. I commend all the Church leaders who have so far complied with the directive by issuing circulars to that effect and urge all those who are yet to comply to do so to avoid a situation where they have to be forcefully shut down indefinitely by security agencies for endangering the lives of Abians”
Following this directive, religious denominations in Abia have shelved their Easter activities or reduced them to the barest minimum, if need be. Even on Sundays, Christians and Moslems are to stay in their houses. Presently, the government has allowed each denomination 30 minutes air-time to preach homily to their church members on Saturdays and Sundays, over the state-owned radio station, the BCA, Umuahia.
Those on essential duties such as power, health, supermarkets, etc are expected to have their identification tags at all times and their establishments are to continue to observe the highest standard of hygiene and social distancing. These groups of exempts have been experiencing difficulties to report to their duty posts as no provision is made for them to be transported to-and-fro their places of work.
On advocacy campaigns on the prevention of Corona-virus, the government has intensified the sensitization campaign using private and government-owned media houses. Furthermore, more Igbo versions of sensitization materials are to being produced to reach more Abians in rural areas. In the same vein, all LGA Transition Committee Chairmen and Traditional rulers have been directed to enlist town criers to support the sensitization effort. All these measures, according to Okezie, are for the good of the larger population of Abians and we urge full compliance by all affected.
But in case of any outbreak of corona-virus in Abia, Ikeazu also used his state-wide broadcast to explain to his people the management strategies he has mapped out to contain the disease.
“In case of any eventuality, the state prepared isolation centres at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) and Amachara Specialist Hospital in Umuahia. Also, there is a third Isolation centre at Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH), Aba, while efforts are on to prepare another one in the Abia- North Senatorial Zone of the State. We are also working with some private hospitals to ramp-up their capacity to render support should the need arise”.
“I am monitoring the distribution of the critical medical supplies procured by the state Ministry of Health for distribution to health institutions and critical locations across the state and I can assure you that the distribution is going on well. I have also been assured that we have the critical drugs required to nurse patients back to health if anyone tests positive to this virus. We are not praying to have any case but in the event of a case, we are ready to combat it.
“We have mobilized and kept on stand-by, six ambulances capable of picking Abians showing symptoms from any part of the state and transporting them to the closest isolation centre. Also, our State Tele-Health Response Centre is fully equipped to respond to enquiries as well as coordinate with all health care facilities in the state. First responders in all our 722 Primary Heath care Centres across the 17 LGAs have been trained on how to prevent, identify, manage, control, report and follow-up any suspected Coronavirus cases in Abia State.
In response to the issue of palliative measures, he said the state government has put in place measures to cushion the effect. Ikpeazu had this to say:” I have set-up a food-security team to work-out necessary palliative interventions in case of a prolonged lock-down. This Committee shall source foodstuff and work-out distribution modalities to Abians who critically require them. Again, the Ministry of Finance has complied with my directive on payment of March 2020 salaries to Civil Servants in Abia State, while pensions have been sent to banks for crediting of beneficiaries after a successful verification exercise.”.
“Government, in addition to the free distribution of essential medical and other palliative goods, will also take steps to intervene in the markets to ensure price stabilization. This is to ensure that those who are unable to get the free items do not buy them at astronomical costs.
As the state battles to save the lives of Abians from the scourge with her limited resources, it has received some donation in cash, kind and materials from some kind-hearted Nigerians and bodies, including United Bank for Africa which donated N28.5 million, Prof. Gregory Ibe who donated 850 bags of Rice, 3 Ambulances and joint research on vaccines and curative medicine at the Gregory University and others.
For accountability, the N28.5 million from UBA will be used to set up a laboratory at Abia State Specialist Hospital, Umuahia for the study and testing of medical samples in Abia State, while the 850 Bags of Rice from Prof. Ibe will be distributed at 50 bags to each of the 17 LGAs in Abia State.
Moreover, following the perceived inability of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to provide testing Laboratories in the South-East, North-West, North-East for suspected cases of Coronavirus, Bishop Onuoha, a Global Peace Award Winner, 2013, has called on the Centre to get rid of all bureaucratic bottlenecks and set up testing centres in all parts of the country.
Reacting to the release of Molecular Laboratory Network by the NCDC, which has now flooded the social media space, Onuoha lamented that Coronavirus pandemic concerns all, and wondered why NCDC would deprive the South-East of a testing Laboratory, where suspected cases can be handled, describing it as unacceptable. He reminded the NCDC that all the zones are connected and pleaded with them to immediately set –up a Testing Laboratory in the South-East as people of the zone are crying and yearning for help. He advised that bureaucratic bottlenecks should not pose any challenge in setting-up Testing Centres in all the states of the federation
Bishop, Onuoha urged South-East states to form a joint effort, in what he described, especially in checking their state borders against the influx of people from other states. He also enjoined South-easterners and, indeed Nigerians, to take precautionary safety measures as stipulated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and respective Governments in the country, while also reminding Nigerians to pray fervently for God to heal the land by taking away the Corona-virus scourge ravaging the world.