In the first and second parts of this article, we examined the dynamics of intergovernmental cooperation in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19). Specifically, we examined how the Federal Government has been relating with the Lagos State Government since the index case was recorded in Lagos. We expressed satisfaction at the level of cooperation and collaboration by both sides. We then examined how the initial hostile attitude of the Cross River State Government affected its level of cooperation with the Federal Government.
However, we observed with satisfaction that both sides are now on the same page and cooperating very well with each other. The Federal Government, we pointed out, has commended the Cross River State Government for taking proactive measures against the spread of COVID-19.
In this last installment, we are focusing on how some other states have cooperated or not cooperated with the Federal Government in this war against the virus.
One notable area of states’ lack of cooperation with the Federal Government in the fight against the virus is through denial. Some states have in one way or the other, denied the existence of COVID-19 in their states thereby impeding their cooperation with the Federal Government. Kano State was guilty of this at a period in time, but Kogi State is notorious in this regard. Officially, Kogi State (before Wednesday May 27, 2020) did not record any case of infection of COVID-19. However, the way the State has been defending this COVID-19-free record has raised serious suspicion and to some extent become irritating. When the Federal Government sent a delegation to the state to validate the claim that no case of coronavirus had been recorded, the officials met both hostility and outright lack of cooperation from the state government.
The Governor, Yahaya Bello had earlier on ordered that the officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should be quarantined for 14 days and also be tested for the coronavirus before they could be allowed to carry out their assignment in the state. The officials eventually left the state without accomplishing their mission. Reacting to this, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire regrettably announced that the efforts of the Federal Government to support the state in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, was a failure. Yet there was allegation that deaths suspected to be caused by COVID-19, were being covered by officials of the state government.
One of the allegations reported in The Nation newspaper revealed that ‘no less than six people infected by the coronavirus disease had died at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Lokoja’. The nurse who revealed this to The Nation alleged that ‘an aide to the governor warned members of staff of dire consequences should the news leak’.
The second allegation and a more disturbing one came from doctors at the same FMC, Lokoja. According to the Association of Resident Doctors, (FMC chapter), the state government has been frustrating their efforts to test patients suspected to be suffering from COVID-19, which they complained exposed health workers to high risk of infections that are transmissible to members of their families and other unsuspecting patients (for details of the doctors lamentation see: http://www.linderikesblog.com). And to compound the matter, the state government claimed that it has tested 111 patients in the state and all of which came out negative. But the NCDC, however, revealed that only one test had taken place in the state. Perhaps, the tests were carried out with the so-called COVID-19 App of Kogi state.
However, in a new development, the NCDC on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, announced that Kogi state has now recorded two index cases. But in a characteristic manner, the state government rejected the result. The State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Saka Haruna Audu declared the result ‘as a fallacy’. The Punch newspaper (yesterday Thursday, May 28, 2020) reported him as saying that Kogi State till this very moment is COVID-19 free. We have developed full testing capacity and have conducted hundreds of tests so far which have returned negative. We have also continued to insist that we will not be a party to any fictitious COVID-19 claims which is why we do not recognise any COVID-19 test conducted by any Kogite outside the boundaries of the State except those initiated by us. Any attempt to force us to announce a case of COVID-19 will be vehemently rejected. (See: https://punchng.com/covid-19-kogi-rejects-ncdc-result-insists-state-still-free/).
It is our considered opinion that the Kogi State Government’s reaction to the management of COVID-19 in the state is going beyond the realm of reason, into being unreasonably theatrical. But what is responsible for the Kogi State’s attitude of defending at all cost its claimed COVID-19- free record? I suspect that bad and egoistic politics is at the driving seat of it. And underneath this are ignorance, arrogance and self-deceit, all of which can only harm the state more.
There is yet another factor. According to Mr. Eniola Bello (Managing Director of THISDAY newspaper) incompetence is at the centre of it all. The state government is hiding its incompetence as it cannot face the challenges of fighting the COVID-19 disease (Eniola’s opinion was expressed in ARISE NEWS TV, Morning Show, May 25, 2020). I think not a few perceptive minds would agree with Mr. Eniola Bello. Whatever is the reason, all that Nigerians expect from the Kogi State Government is to fully cooperate with the federal health officials in fighting this scourge, and as the saying goes ‘all of us are in it together’.
With respect to some other states, denial and pure of lack cooperation are also involved. First, in some northern states, the case of many deaths suspected to be COVID-19 related were unconvincingly attributed to other diseases. Kano State was notorious in this regard. Other states like Jigawa, Bauchi and Yobe experienced also many of such ‘mysterious’ deaths. The good thing though was that they did not adopt hostile and uncooperative attitude (like Kogi) towards the Federal Government health officials, which would have impeded both cooperation and collaboration with the Federal Government in fighting the virus in their states.
Secondly, couple of Northern governors prematurely eased the lockdown restrictions to allow risky mass gathering for religious activities. They ignored the PTF on COVID-19 advisory against lifting the ban on religious gathering especially during the Eid-el-Fitr celebration. These states also ignored the pleading by President Muhammad Buhari and the Sultan of Sokoto that people should pray at home or in the neighbourhood. And so since they did not care about the consequences of such risky gathering, they should also NOT turn round to call on the Federal Government for financial assistance when there are increases in the number of COVID-19 infections in their states. It is as simple as that.
Thirdly, some states have also not done well in building the 300-bed isolation centres which the federal government encouraged them to build. This is another area of lack of cooperation with the federal government and this is not good enough, as the COVID-19 war needs to be very collaborative for effective results to be achieved.
In conclusion, ‘one of the primary responsibilities of the NCDC is to support the States’ in fighting the COVID-19 scourge. So Kogi State particularly, should stop its melodrama which is an ill-wind that blows no one any good. With 28 testing laboratories across the country as at today, the states should cooperate with the NCDC in the fight against COVID-19 since the number of infections is becoming alarming. For example, as of Wednesday, 28 May 2020, (7pm), the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Nigeria was 8,733. Just compare this figure with only 323 (April 13, 2020), 1,273 (April 27, 2020) or 4,339 (May 10, 2020). This exponential stage may overwhelm our weak health system. Although, it is everyone’s responsibility to stop the increasing number of cases, and start helping to flatten the curve, but the state governments are central in making this happen. But how can that happen when some of them are not cooperating and collaborating with the Federal Government? Now is the time for some of the sleeping governors to wake up.
•Prof. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org