A bit of history is necessary for making sense out of the coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers we are presenting and discussing today. On 12 June 2020, we argued in this column that mistakes were made in the month of March 2020 when the various states in Nigeria ought to have waged the war more energetically against the spread of COVID-19. Ever since those mistakes were made, the number of infections and deaths continued to rise. As at that time, an unprecedented number of 663 cases were reported for Tuesday, 9 June 2020. This highest number recorded then brought the total number of infections in Nigeria to 13,464 as of that 9 June 2020. But even at that high number then, a comparison with 153,842 total confirmed cases as at Thursday, 25 February 2021 (9:40pm) (See https://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/) gives one a sense of how the numbers climbed so rapidly between 9 June 2020 and 25 February 2021. The number of deaths also rose equally rapidly to 1,885 from a three digit figure in June 2020
This column further argued (in June 2020) that a disaggregation of this total figure of 13,464 (on state basis) revealed that Lagos State (6,065) and FCT (1,012) totally 7,077 contributed 53% of the total (13,464) number of COVID-19 infections. 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, the argument also added that 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.
These apart, a further disaggregation of the 13,464 total number of infections on state basis 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. It was on record 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 we also argued then, many of these governors returned to their states and continued with a business-as-usual mentality. Many of them therefore failed to recognize COVID-19 pandemic as a public health emergency. Regrettably, their states were among the highest contributors to the total figure of 13,464 infections.
Now a close look at the table below reveals that all the states whose governors participated in that March 2020 meeting in Abuja are still among the 10 leading states with COVID-19 numbers in February 2021. But Oyo and Rivers states are exceptions as their governors were not in the Abuja meeting. The common reason that underpinned all the other states (as we noted in June 2020) is that many of the governors returned to their states after the Abuja meeting and continued with a business-as-usual mentality in spite of all the clear signs that COVID-19 pandemic was already a public health emergency then, which needed to be confronted effectively.
In the same table, Lagos and FCT are still leading the 10 states. They have continued to lead in the whole country in both the number of cases and deaths. Lagos State alone however has about 54% of the total confirmed cases among the 10 leading states. Lagos recorded the index case in Nigeria and has continued to lead in the total number of confirmed cases (55,122) and even deaths (403).
Ten leading States with COVID-19 numbers (Thursday, 9.40pm February, 25, 2021
|States Affected||No. of Cases Confirmed||No. of Cases on Admission||No. Discharged||No. of Deaths|
Source: Extracted from NCDC via https://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/
As we noted above, the Governor of Oyo State was not in the Abuja meeting but the state (then and still today) is among the 10 leading states with COVID-19 high numbers. But the mistake as we noted then was that its governor hosted a PDP mega rally in Ibadan around the same time and this led to spread of the virus with the governor himself, getting infected.
Surprisingly and regrettably, Rivers State whose governor was also not in the Abuja meeting later joined in recording a very high number of infections like many of these other states. This was in spite of the commendable early efforts of Governor Nyesom Wike to check the spread of the virus in his 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. This was not a mere allegation, as many people were illegally transported to Rivers State, and to many other states in the South during the period of the lockdown. This column commented on this illegal movement then.
An additional point being stressed today is that the earlier mistakes in March last year contributed indirectly in leading Nigeria into the community transmission stage of COVID-19 spread. The statistics support the argument being made here that there is a link between actions or inactions of many governors in mid-March last year, and the pattern of the spread of the virus subsequently.
In terms of the total number of deaths recorded across states since the outbreak of COVID-19, a couple of other states outside the 10 leading ones whose governors attended the meeting are Osun with 50 deaths, Kwara with 49 deaths, Gombe with 43 deaths, and Borno with 38 deaths. However, one state whose governor was not at the Abuja meeting but which has recorded a very high number of deaths comparable to the 10 leading states is Delta with 65 deaths. Again, in terms of the total number of cases confirmed which was used to rank the states in the table above, Delta (not listed in the table above) ranks number 12, with Kwara State ranking number 11.
What is the major lesson to be taken away from the thesis of this piece? The lesson is that experience demonstrates that failure to take early actions (preventive, enforcement and therapeutic, testing and contact tracing) against the spread of the COVID-19 when an index case is confirmed invariably put the virus ahead of those fighting against it. The virus runs faster than those fighting it. Although Nigeria’s national response is on average commendable, the lack of preparedness and the initial delays experienced in March and April last year before the lockdown, led to the spread of the virus in two of Nigeria’s major international airports namely Lagos and FCT. Lagos and FCT swiftly confronted the virus, but by then, the virus was already ahead of them all through. Anyone who doubts this fact should remember that the failure of the United States of America (USA) under the then President Donald Trump to take proactive measures to fight the virus put the US continuously behind it. As of 25 February 2021 (2.23pm East Coast American time), the US has the unenviable record of recording the highest number of confirmed cases of over 28 million (i.e. 28,336,566), as well as the highest number of deaths 505,899 (See https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/). This is a total embarrassment for a powerful country like the US.
•Editor’s note: This article, in a way, marks one year anniversary of Nigeria’s index COVID-19 case. The first case of coronavirus infection in Nigeria was recorded on 27 March 2020.
•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@example.com.