In this last installment, the remaining two questions thrown up earlier are to be addressed. The first focuses on whether the verve existing at the federal level in the fight against the virus, exists also at the sub-national levels particularly at the state government level. And the remaining question focuses on how far the states and local governments are cooperating with the Federal Government in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).
As we argued earlier, mistakes were made in March 2020 when the various states ought to have waged the war more energetically against the spread of COVID-19. Ever since those mistakes, the number of infections continued to rise with an unprecedented number of 663 cases reported for Tuesday, June 9, 2020. This highest number recorded within 24 hours brought the total number of infections in Nigeria to 13,464 as of that date. A disaggregation of this total figure (as of that date) reveals that Lagos State (6,065) and FCT (1,012) totally 7,077 contributed 53% of the total (13,464) number of COVID-19 infections as of that date. This disproportionate figure from two sub-national level governments is understandable as many people came into Nigeria from overseas through the two major airports in Lagos and Abuja, before the closure of airports all over the country.
Nevertheless, public policy measures to contain the spread of the virus in both Lagos State and the FCT were very swift, and the fighting spirit remained very high over time. For example, both Lagos and the FTC responded swiftly with the establishment of mobile courts to try offenders of the lockdown restriction order.
We have had reason in the past to encourage and commend the Lagos state governor and his team of health professionals to continue to be focused in confronting the daunting challenge of this virus. We can only ask them not to relent in their efforts in waging the war, and also to add more verve. We also commend the entire FCT administration particularly the Ministerial Task Team on COVID-19 lockdown enforcement for the verve and passion it exhibited in carrying out its assignment even at the risk.
One may wonder why two areas with the highest number of infections should be commended. What is of interest to us here is the verve and passion in fighting the virus and not just the rising figures, as it could have been more overwhelming and ultimately worse without such a verve or high fighting spirit. The case of New York State (the epicentre of COVID-19) in the United States (US) readily comes to mind. In spite of the fact that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo more than any other governor in the US has been waging the war against the virus excellently well, his state nevertheless recorded the highest number of infections and fatality in the US. The sustained high fighting spirit and the resources deployed in this case are very important, as both clearly demonstrate the priority a government attaches to this matter of serious public health concern and emergency.
It is in this respect also that we recognise (apart from Lagos) all other governors who have exhibited such verve in Nigeria. There are quite a good number of them that are outstanding, but three (for our purpose here), have been very outstanding and they are those of Rivers, Kaduna and Cross River states. We did a study of activities of the governors in this regard very closely over time to arrive at this conclusion. For those who were monitoring the fight against the virus at the state level, these three governors put their lives on the line even at difficult times of the night to make sure that things were rightly done to contain the spread of the virus. But if there are some others we failed to identify, it means their actions were not well publicised nationally.
These apart, a further look at the disaggregation of the total number of infections on state basis (as of Tuesday, June 9, 2020), also reveals that many states whose governors had high profile interactions in Abuja around the mid-month of March were also among the highest contributors to the total figure as of that date. My earlier installment had noted that 16 APC governors under the Progressives Governors Forum held a meeting in Abuja on 16 March 2020 with President Muhammadu Buhari and his late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, in attendance. As the earlier piece decried also, many of them returned to their states and continued with a business-as-usual mentality. Many of these governors therefore failed to recognise COVID-19 pandemic as an emergency. Regrettably, many of these states were among the highest contributors to the total figure of 13,464 infections.
Next to these negligent states and highest contributors to the total COVID-19 figures, is Oyo State whose governor as earlier observed hosted a mega rally in Ibadan. It is also noteworthy that Bauchi State whose governor also had interactions with the late Chief of Staff around the same mid-March, and who later tested positive, recorded a moderately high figure like Oyo and these other states.
Surprisingly and regrettably, Rivers State has now very high number of infections like many of these other states, in spite of the commendable early efforts of Governor Nyesom Wike to check the spread of the virus in the state. For those who care to know, Governor Wike literally cried out loud that his efforts were being sabotaged by those who flouted the inter-state lockdown to enter illegally into his state.
Anyone interested in checking how the earlier mistakes in March contributed in putting us into this community transmission stage, should look closely at the total statistics for each state as of Tuesday, June 9, 2020. The statistics support the argument being made here that there is a link between actions or inactions in mid-March, and the pattern of the spread of the virus subsequently. This is also why it is therefore incomprehensible that Kogi State Government has continued to claim that the state is COVID-19 free. This has not been helpful in the national efforts to contain the spread of the virus. The PTF at a time reported the governor to President Buhari.
Furthermore, going by what happened in mid-March and thereabout, the attitude of Kano State Government is also regrettable as the governor neither had the early conviction to fight the virus nor exhibited any verve when the state was going through an unprecedented debacle in the history of this virus. As The Africa Report aptly put it, the state government was criticised for being neither proactive nor reactive (See: https://www.theafricareport.com/27773/coronavirus-nigerias-varied-responses-to-controlling-covid-19/. It took President Buhari to impose a total lockdown of Kano State, and even at that, the ambivalence of the governor still subsisted.
With respect to level of cooperation by state governments, the noticeable lack of verve on the part of some of them, affected their level of cooperation with the federal authorities in the fight against the virus. For example, some states were still struggling to build the 300-bed isolation centres as requested by the PTF. The PTF at a time expressed disappointment over this development. Furthermore, some states have not been able to make enough funds available to support effective operation of the State Emergency Operation Centres which are crucial in the containment of the virus at community-level transmission. They appear to be expecting the Federal Government to provide every important thing needed.
One area of lack of cooperation was the reluctance by some states to impose a lockdown at a time when it was considered very necessary. In fact, some governors openly declared that it would not be possible to impose a lockdown in their states. But fortunately enough, the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) proposed to President Buhari a nation-wide inter-state lockdown of movements. This proposal was accepted by the president which he subsequently included in his nation-wide address on COVID-19. Unfortunately however, the lockdown restrictions were widely violated across the states. Some governors in the southern part of the country arrested many people violating the order and these were concealed in trucks carrying Cattles and cement.
Another area of lack of cooperation by some governors was the premature relaxation of lockdown restrictions to allow mass gathering of people for religious activities, in spite of the advisory by the PTF on COVID-19 against lifting the ban on religious gathering especially during the Eid al-Fitr celebration. Regrettably, these states also ignored the pleading by President Buhari and the Sultan of Sokoto that people should pray at home or in their neighbourhood.
In conclusion, it was cheering to hear from the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire at the national briefing yesterday (Thursday, June 11, 2020), that a good number of states are cooperating well with the Federal Government in the fight against the virus. We can only urge all of them to take greater responsibility as the PTF chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha and the NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu repeatedly and gently advised them during the same national briefing on COVID-19.
This requires in our view that the states have a crucial responsibility to mobilise and encourage local government chairmen, community and religious leaders in their areas to take also responsibility which is desperately needed at this stage of community-level containment of the spread of this ravaging virus. And with 33 laboratories now available for testing the virus across the country (as announced at the PTF national briefing on Thursday, June 11, 2020), the sub-national level governments, more than ever before, should take even greater responsibility for contact- tracing and increased level of testing in their areas which is lacking presently. This is one important area of their cooperation with federal-level authorities in containing the further community transmission of the virus. (Concluded)
•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: [email protected]