By Chibuike Nwabuko
Abuja (Sundiata Post) – International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety) has commended the Director General, Nigeria Center for Disease Control, (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu for the few achievements the Centre has recorded, describing it as “first of its kind” in Nigerian standard.
The group regrettably, reminded that the testing capacity of the country still disappointingly and acutely lags behind and called for the setting up of three testing centres in Anambra to avert what it called sudden eruption of ‘harvest of infections and deaths’ as recently seen in Kano.
The above were the observations and demands of Intersociety as contained in an open letter to the DG, NCDC signed by Emeka Umeagbalasi, Board Chair; Barr Obianuju Joy Igboeli,
Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law; Barr Ndidiamaka Bernard, Head, Int’l Justice & Human Rights and Barr Chinwe Umeche, Head, Democracy & Good Governance made available to Sundiata Post on Tuesday.
The statement reads in full:
We are the Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law; a registered NGO campaigning for civil liberties and rule of law, citizens’ security and safety, and democracy and good governance. For more information, visit our website at www.intersociety-ng.org.
We have carefully followed the activities of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control under your directorship. This we have done since the eruption of COVID-19 and peak of same in Nigeria. We have also followed the patterns and trends of the scourge and the state actor and the non-state actor responses concerning same in Africa and beyond.
We wish to thank your Center for efforts so far made and few achievements recorded. By ‘Nigerian standard’, these achievements ‘are first of its kind’. However, by regional and international standards, Nigeria is still crawling and scratching the scourge on its surface.
In the area of ‘testing capacity’, the country still disappointingly and acutely lags behind. It is not a clapping record for Nigeria or a country with UN estimated population of 200m to have only tested about 11,000 of its citizens whereas the United Kingdom which has daily testing capacity of 53,800 had yesterday (27-04-2020) alone tested 29,000 persons. United Kingdom presently has population of 66.7m people.
In Africa, where Nigeria is said to be the giant of the Continent, the country is widely surpassed by many in the areas of testing capacity and procurement of testing equipment and trained personnel. As at three days ago or on 25th April 2020, available statistics showed that South Africa with 57.8m citizens, has tested over 161,000 persons, with 4,793 tested positive and 90 deaths (as at 27th April). Egypt with 98.4m citizens has tested over 90,000 with 4,319 tested positive and 307 deaths. Ghana with 29.7m citizens, has tested over 88, 188, with 1,550 tested positive and 11 deaths. Abysmally, Nigeria with 200m citizens has only tested about 11,000 with 1,337 tested positive and 40 deaths. These are just to cite but a few.
By percentage calculations, out of over 161,000 persons tested in South Africa, 2.7% contracted the virus. In Egypt, out of over 90,000 tested, 4.8% contracted. In Ghana, out of 88,188 tested, 1.45% contracted. Shockingly in Nigeria, out of about 11,000 tested, 13% contracted. This may further mean, using ‘random sampling measurement’ that ‘for every 110,000 citizens tested, 13, 000 will be infected and 400 deaths recorded; and for 1.1m citizens tested, 130,000 will be infected and 4000 deaths recorded. The above was highlighted to bring to the fore the fact that Nigeria has not arrived.
Fears are heightened from right, left and center in Nigeria indicating that there are likely to be shocking ‘dark figures’ of the COVID-19 infected persons and those who have died from same. Technically speaking, ‘dark figures’ are the existing figures that escaped or deliberately omitted from official or Government records. Your Center is therefore urged, humbly and with greatest respect, to rise to the occasion by quadrupling your efforts particularly in the area of availability of testing machines, centers and their trained personnel.
Lagos State is again singled out for commendation for hosting ten testing centers and their trained handlers. Some independent medical experts have recently told Intersociety “that it does not require rocket science to source for and install testing machines of WHO recommended models or brands”. Senegal is said to have recently procured enough capable of testing 3m citizens.
Three Testing Centers For Anambra: Sir, apart from reminding you of the immortal Igbo adage that says that “Okuko n’ akpa nri, anya uhie ako na ya”; the unfolding circumstances in the highly vulnerable COVID-19 States and cities have made it a must and very urgent for Anambra State to be given three fully equipped and functional testing centers. The three COVID-19 testing centers, urgently needed, shall be located in Onitsha (Gen Hospital or St Charles Borromeo Mission Hospital), Awka (Amaku Gen Hospital) and Nnewi (Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital).
Reasons For Requesting Three Testing Centers For Anambra: The reasons are state actor and non-state actor centered. Independently speaking, the Government of Anambra State does not seem to understand the fragility of the State particularly Onitsha and its environs as ‘the gateway into the Southeast and entire old Eastern Nigeria’ and possible danger of COVID-19 explosion awaiting same. This, the Government of the day, seems to be taking for granted. The State Government recently said, “It is relaxing the lockdown in the State so as to avoid “unrest and hunger”.
The Government of Anambra State had claimed further that “all the 36 samples tested returned negative”; suggesting falsely that ‘Anambra is COVID-19 free’. Critics say this hasty conclusion may likely lead to collapse of Government physical structures and measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus which can boomerang and pull the Government from its feet in case of sudden eruption of ‘harvest of infections and deaths’ as recently seen in Kano.
There is also no evidence on the ground in the State showing concrete commitment or realistic measures by the State Government to ensure that the State is not exploded or visited with harvest of deaths and infections following relaxation of the lockdown. As at our last checks, the State Government has relaxed its promise of ‘sowing and distributing’ “three million facemasks” to the State residents and other protective kits. Those sowed by occupational tailors have sprung up and dotted the State’s nooks and crannies. Till date, most parts of the State are not fumigated with anti-COVID-19 diluted chemicals.
Efforts of the State Government at monitoring citizens so as to collect and send more blood samples for COVID-19 checks as advised and encouraged by Your Center are acutely slow. Such snail pace efforts are fueled by absence of testing centers in the State which would have boosted or encouraged non-state actor participation including alerting the government on any credible suspicion, etc. It must be stated that there is nothing wrong in Government of Anambra State deciding to relax its lockdown measures provided it has effective ‘Plan B’ in place in case of emergency situations.
Non State Actor Reasons: Sir, Anambra State, particularly Onitsha and its environs are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. From our recent field findings, a good number of residents in the State particularly ‘people of zero letters’ have been brainwashed by their fanatical Christian pastors to the effect that “Coronavirus does not exist especially among the children of God”; a falsehood that has made them not to heed and adhere to the Government issued COVID-19 personal preventive measures. Some also hold that “Coronavirus is a scam in Anambra State designed by Government to siphon public funds”.
Media reports of sabotage and rabid corruption by drafted security agents (army and police personnel) at boundaries and roads; of Government lockdown measures are no longer hidden. One of such was reported by the Sun Newspaper of 25thApril 2020. The worst affected boundaries are the Onitsha Niger Bridgehead (Anambra/Delta), the Ihiala-Mgbidi (Imo/Anambra) and the Amansea-Ugwoba (Anambra/Enugu) boundaries. Through night journeys, persons from highly COVID-19 vulnerable States and cities including Kano, Lagos, Ogun and Abuja are nocturnally and maliciously allowed into Onitsha and its environs from where they disappear to other parts of the Southeast and old Eastern Nigeria, with their health or COVID-19 status unascertained.
These nocturnal and compromised broad day travelers are likely to include COVID-19 exposed persons. Independent intelligence reaching us has disclosed that ‘for fear of being caught and stigmatized, an unspecified number of citizens of the old Eastern Nigeria residing in COVID-19 vulnerable States and cities have been finding their way into the East in the past weeks’. Citizens of Northern Nigeria including those of Kano, using their dominance in the country’s security forces, are also freely being allowed access into the East. All these are a clear indication that Anambra State particularly Onitsha and its environs are endangered and troubled.
Finally, we humbly and with greatest respect, call on you and your Center to justly and expeditiously consider this demand of ours. We must, as a people join hands in averting the repeat of “Kano tragedy” in the East before it is too late. We have also reasoned that with a new testing center at Awka, reasonable part of Enugu State including Oji River, Ezeagu and Udi will also be served. With one in Onitsha, key part of Delta State will be served and with one at Nnewi, some parts of Imo State will be served.
For: Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law
Criminologist & Graduate of Security Studies
Master of Science, Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution
Barr Obianuju Joy Igboeli
Head, Civil Liberties & Rule of Law
Barr Ndidiamaka Bernard
Head, Int’l Justice & Human Rights
Barr Chinwe Umeche
Head, Democracy & Good Governance