COVID-19 and ‘a week-like-no-other’ in Nigeria, By Isaac N. Obasi




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Boss Mustapha, Chairman, PTF on COVID-19

The week of 7th (Monday) to 13th (Sunday) December, 2020 (i.e. last week) is an unforgettable week of bad and sad news. Prior to this remarkably sad week, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had observed that “since the beginning of September to the end of November 2020 Nigeria has recorded a gradual increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country”. 

However it continued, “in the last week (30th of November to the 6th of December) our surveillance system has recorded a sharp increase in cases. The average number of daily cases recorded in the last week was higher than was recorded between September – November” (See http://ncdc.gov.ng/news/237/update-on-covid-19-in-nigeria).   

In actual fact, records from the NCDC website show that in the week of 30th November to 6th December (i.e. NCDC’s Epidemiological week 49) the number of new confirmed cases increased rapidly to 1,843 from 1,029 (i.e. previous week 48). Then came the NCDC’s Epidemiological week 50 (i.e. week 7th-13th, 2020), when the number started climbing much more rapidly. For example, on Monday, 7 December, new confirmed cases rose from the previous day’s figure of 318 (i.e. December 6) to 390, and then to 550 on Tuesday, 8 December. Subsequently, on Wednesday, 9 December, it went down to 474 and then moved sharply to 675 on Thursday, 10 December. Then came Friday, 11 December, which was a record breaking day with 796 new confirmed cases. This all time high figure raised an alarm that Nigeria be in its threshold of experiencing a second wave of COVID-19. However, this sharp increase came down to 617 on Saturday, 12 December, and then to 418 on December 13. As a footnote, the figure for the new week remained on this declining trend recording 199 on December 14, and surprisingly rose rapidly again to 930 on Wednesday, 16 December which is another record breaking number, highest ever in a single day, (until the 1,145 figure recorded yesterday, 17 December). This figure (930) in week of 14th to 20th (i.e. NCDC’s epidemiological week 51) is outside the focus of this article.   

The week of our focus (7-13) with very high rising cases of infection is described here as ‘a week like no other.’ But the very high cases of infection, is not the only reason for this appellation, as there were many other remarkably sad things that happened. First, Nigeria lost Major-General Johnson Olu Irefin, who was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 6th Division of the Nigerian Army in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Major-Gen Irefin reportedly died of complications associated with COVID-19 (See The Nation, December 10, 2020 via http://thenationonlineng.net). This officer was among the participants who were attending the 2020 Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference in Abuja, at the time he took ill.  

Secondly, this sad news did not stop there, as many as 26 Nigerian Army Generals (who were attending the conference) were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19. The initial news report gave the figure as 18. The Channels Television (December 13, 2020), reported that according to military sources, at least 18 Nigerian Army Generals tested positive for coronavirus (via www.channelstv.com). According to the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Sagir Musa, the 26 confirmed cases were among the 417 personnel who were tested for the virus (See THIS DAY, December 15, 2020). All the officers who attended the conference were directed to go into self-isolation. This development is no doubt a trying time for the Nigerian Army and the nation at large given the dangerous level of insecurity in the land.        

Thirdly, there was the unsettling news that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of State had gone into self-isolation after one of his close aids tested positive for COVID-19 on December 10, 2020 (Vanguard, December 11, 2020). Few days after, disconcerting news came that the governor had tested positive for the virus (See Vanguard, December 12, 2020). It is important to put this news within a context. State has been the epicentre of COVID-19 in Nigeria and Governor Sanwo-Olu has remained one of the most effective fighters of the war against COVID-19. This column had in the past described him as “an action governor” with respect to the fight against COVID-19. Again, he and his Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, have consistently led by example in the fight against COVID-19 (as much as this column could observe). The governor had done pretty well in staying safe since the war started early this year following the announcement of the index case in Lagos on 27th of February, 2020. This column wishes him quick recovery. 

Fourthly, and relatedly too, the week had another dogged fighter against the COVID-19 war, Governor Nasir El-Rufai, going into self-isolation because as he reportedly said “he has been notified of more positive COVID-19 test results of persons close to him, including an immediate family member and senior officials of the Kaduna State Government” (Premium Times, December 12, 2020). This column had in the past identified Governor El-rufai as one of those who took the fight against COVID-19 very seriously. He had previously contracted the virus and this therefore was the second time he would go into isolation in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. This column also wishes him well.  

The fifth shocking news of the week-like-no-other was the abduction of about 333 students of the Government Science Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara, State on Friday, 11 December, 2020 by gunmen. Few days after, the Boko Haran Islamist extremist group claimed responsibility for the abduction. This abduction is a complete slap on the face of the Safe School Declaration (SSD) which the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), said is “an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from the worst effects of armed conflict”. The SSD says that: “Every boy and girl has the right to an education without fear of violence or attack”

As pointed out in our two-part series (September 11 & 18, 2020) in this column, the SSD is a very relevant initiative in a coronavirus pandemic period as both physical and health protection measures need to be adopted and effectively implemented. And luckily Nigeria was the 37th country to endorse (i.e. ratify) the SSD on 20 March 2020. But with this kind of easy abduction, it appears that Nigeria’s endorsement of the SSD and its accompanying domestication policy, were not taken seriously at the sub-national levels where majority of the schools are situated and managed. 

On a positive note, however, we are glad that the abducted schoolboys have regained freedom. They were released last night (17 December) by the bandits that kidnapped them.

The last of the sad occurrence in the ‘week like no other’ was the news that the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha (who has courageously led the coordination of the national response to COVID-19 since March 2020) was going into self-isolation because some members of his household tested positive for COVID-19. The statement released by the chairman himself, reads: “I would like to inform the general public that some members of my household tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday (Saturday) evening…My wife and I tested negative, but will remain in self-isolation and work from home according to protocols by the health authorities. I would like to remind all Nigerians that COVID-19 is real…Please stay self and protect yourself. Adhere to all public health and safety measures so that we do not lose the gains we have made in the fight against COVID-19…Please take responsibility for yourself and to protect our country” (See Vanguard, December 13, 2020). 

For those who have been monitoring closely the coordination of the national policy response to COVID-19, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Mr. Mustapha, has been exemplary in leading from the front. He was always urging Nigerians to comply with the non-pharmaceutical protocols and he demonstrated his appeal through leadership by example. It is saddening that members of his household had tested positive towards the end of the good fight against COVID-19. But even at that, he was known to be saying always that this pandemic does not respect anyone, class, religion, ethnicity, colour, residential location, among others. He had just announced recently that the Task Force would be submitting its final report to President Muhammad Buhari as the extension granted to it would expire by the end of December, 2020. Although Nigeria performed less than satisfactory on testing, history will, however, be kind to Mr. Boss Mustapha and members of the Task Force for putting a good and courageous fight against COVID-19. This column therefore wishes members of his household quick recover.

In conclusion, despite the fact that comparatively speaking, Nigeria’s low numbers on infections and deaths do not necessarily reflect reality, Nigeria COVID-19 policy response is on balance commendable. The Task Force on COVID-19 executed its duties with verve, enthusiasm, humility, simplicity, and honesty of purpose (as could be observed from the outside) as against lethargy, fatigue, and arrogance for which task forces are known in theory to easily fall into after a long period of existence. This is an informed humble opinion of this column but as they say, the jury is still out there to interrogate the objectivity of this opinion.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

This column which has since April (2020) focused on Nigeria COVID-19 policy response and related issues, would be reducing its frequency in 2021, more so as the tenure of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (which has been coordinating the national policy response) is expiring at the end of December, 2020. Unfortunately, this is coming at a time when the daily confirmed cases of infection are at an all-time high with 930 cases recorded on Wednesday, 16 December, 2020. The important message this column is leaving behind is that every one of should take personal responsibility by obeying the COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical protocols to save lives. 

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all our Readers     

Since today’s article is the last one for the year, this column wishes its readers in particular and Sundiata Post in general, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. our good God continue to bless and protect each and every one of in the years to come – Amen.

•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected]