By Femi Ogbonnikan
The fear of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic is the beginning of governance wisdom. The pestilence in Nigeria, which first occurred on February 20, 2020, sent jitters down the spines of the entire citizenry.
A 44-year-old Italian national, who was a consultant to Lafarge Cement, arrived the country through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, and was driven to Ewekoro Plant. He was a suspected carrier of the deadly disease.
On the directive of Ogun State Government, he was quickly transferred to the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Lagos, where he was tested and confirmed positive for the disease. Private healthcare providers are of keen note in this because they are the first port of contact for 60 per cent of the populace.
As a proactive administration determined to stave off the pandemic from escalating, Governor Prince Dapo Abiodun swiftly set up a high-level technical committee chaired by the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Tomi Coker. It has the Permanent Secretary in the health ministry, Dr. Ekundayo Ayinde, Director of Public Health, Dr. Festus Soyinka, Head, State Epidemiology, other directors in the ministry, in collaboration with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and other critical stakeholders as members.
Aside the Italian’s case, five others, including a 62-year-old male Sagamu resident, who just returned to the country on March 17, 2020, and a 30-year-old female (both Ogun East) that tested positive were immediately transferred to the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu, Isolation centre, where they have been undergoing further observation. In addition, two new cases, one from Obafemi-Owode Local Government (Ogun Central) and another from Yewa-South Local Government (Ogun West) were reported among the index cases identified last February. Out of the six cases, three of the patients have been discharged while one is responding to treatment and on the verge of being discharged.
The government is leaving no stone unturned to nip further spread of the virus in the bud. It further launched a Mobile App christened, ‘Ogun COVID-19 Assessment” to determine the level of residents’ exposure to the virus.
At the formative stage of the outbreak of the virus, the government introduced various measures aimed at containing the spread. With the welfare of the people as a priority in decision-making, the governor met his three principal staff officials, the Deputy-Governor, Engr (Mrs.) Noimot Salako-Oyedele, Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tokunbo Talabi and Chief of Staff, Alhaji Shuaib Salisu, where they evaluated the level of preparedness of the state and further mapped out strategies on approaches to curtail the spread of the pandemic. Also, the principal officers considered the provision of relief packages and another economic stimulus for the citizenry.
Meanwhile, in a bid to cushion effects of the two-week lockdown, the state government made provisions for the immediate disbursement of various food items such as 5kg of rice, 5kg of beans, 5kg of garri, salt, seasoning cubes, vegetable oil sachets and tomato puree sachets, neatly packed for distribution to no fewer than 100,000 households across the state. This was in the first instance. Originally, the intended targets were 500,000 households. The main objective was how to reach a significant number of residents.
Towards ensuring that the items get to the target beneficiaries, the government set up a broad-based committee at each of the local government areas comprising of critical stakeholders such as Community Development Councils/Associations, League of Imams and Alfas, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Market Women and Men Association, political office holders and top civil servants from the local governments, among others. But it was with a caveat to political jobbers who may want to hijack the process to steer clear of the distribution arrangements. The government believes the whole essence is to ensure fair, equitable, and inclusive distribution of the relief materials in an efficient and effective manner.
However, the distribution of the stimulus package (made up of staple food and essential hygiene items) to individuals at their various homes in a bag per family basis has become expedient to stave off misconceptions that have been making the rounds on social media about hijacking the distribution process.
Governor Abiodun warned government officials against the diversion of the relief materials and threatened to sanction any official caught in the act.
Salient among other measures taken, aside reducing the threshold of people, who may gather in one place at a time from 50 to 20, the government directed further that all heads of state’s ministries and agencies and local governments should draw up rosters that would ensure that 20 per cent of staff across all cadres work daily, thus ensuring that most staff come to work once in a week. Further the governor ensured the closure of all public primary and secondary schools in the state, restrictions to government’s offices, ensuring that banks, telecommunications, and other service providers that offer services in hubs and/or bays were required to comply with not more than 20 clients, enjoining leadership of all gated markets, shops and malls to adhere to a maximum of 20 persons, and with the same measures reduce attendance at worship centres and public transportation.
With its enhanced preparedness, the government directed all transition chairmen across the 20 local government areas in the state to identify suitable facilities such as event/social centres, school halls, community halls and others in their respective domains that could be easily prepared and developed as COVID-19 treatment facilities in the unlikely event of a surge in coronavirus cases in the state.
Similarly, on Sunday, March 30, 2020, Abiodun met security chiefs to deal extensively with measures to be taken towards ensuring better enforcement of the laid-down directives, especially as they relate to borders’ closure.
Furthermore, the meeting touched on social distancing, and compliance to, and enforcement of the directives, which according to the government, would be reviewed periodically as developments unfold.
As a result of recent global economic challenges resulting from COVID-19 pandemic and the crash in the prices of crude oil, the governor announced a number of measures to mitigate the imminent reduction in monthly allocations from the Federation Account. Besides, it introduced digital classes for both primary and secondary school students in response to government’s directives on the ban on high-density gathering due to the virus. Government also distributed hand sanitizers that were produced by the Ministry of Health and Hospital Management for mass distribution across the state.
Significantly, Abiodun sought for an extension of the total lockdown on Lagos, Ogun and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, as announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in his nationwide broadcast on Sunday, March 29, 2020, for a week (which ought to begin on Monday midnight, March 30, 2020) till 11:00 pm on Friday, April 4, 2020, to enable residents of the state prepare and stock their homes with foodstuffs and other basic needs.
To reduce the attendant effects of the two-week lockdown, the governor further adjusted the movement time-table as thus: the first three days – Saturday, April 4, total lockdown; Sunday, April 5, total lockdown; and Monday, April 6 was allowed for complete fumigation. It afforded the officials of both the state’s Ministry of Health and Environment opportunity to decontaminate and disinfect the entire state, including motor parks, markets and places of worship. While beginning from Tuesday, April 7, 2020, till Friday, April 17, 2020, there would be free movement between 7:00 am and 2:00 pm every other day and a total lockdown each other day to lessen the effects on the citizens.
However, while taking the bull by the horns in order to stem the virus’ spread, the state government set up effective response team, contact tracing and isolation of those who came in contact with the index case, without which the virus could have spread widely and faster across the country through the various borders linking Ogun through Southwest states (Lagos, Oyo, Ondo and Osun) and an international border with the Republic of Benin. Though Ogun State had only four confirmed cases, its proximity to Lagos, a hotspot for COVID-19 in the country, it means that citizens of Ogun State would be vulnerable to a community spread from there.
With the committed staff of the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO) and other relevant stakeholders, the state government has implemented the following measures: all contacts of the index case (40 in all) were identified, located, listed and quarantined; the state’s Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) was activated immediately to coordinate a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectorial response through seven key pillars – Coordination, Surveillance and Epidemiology, Risk Communication and Social Mobilization, Case Management, Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC), and Logistics and Laboratory.
Also, the capacity of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Team, at both the state and local government levels, has been strengthened with an attendant 20 health officers, Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers (DSNO) and their assistants, Health Educators, and Environmental Health Officers that were trained from each of the 20 local governments to further strengthen the team, and 426 health personnel in public. Private and para-military health officers were trained on COVID-19 infection, Prevention and Control (IPC); 11 medical laboratory scientists trained on COVID-19 sample collection, reinforcement of the borders to eliminate all possible threats through surveillance network together with Port Health Services staff at the land borders, procurement and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment for health workers and isolation centres; the assessment and evaluation of several options across the state, including the building of 250-bed hospitals in Abeokuta, the state capital. These are the purpose-built 21-bed isolation and treatment centres at Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu, 100-bed capacity General Hospital, Iberekodo, Abeokuta, and 128-bed capacity in Ikenne. Also available are a 30-bed facility donated by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and another 40-bed facility former Managing Director (MD), Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Mr. Fola Adeola donated in Abeokuta to the state government. In total, 300-bed facilities are currently available for isolation and treatment, among others.
At one of the regular media briefings, Governor Abiodun stated that the facilities put in place where not just to cope with any surge in the state, but the attendant likely overflow from next-door neighbour like Lagos.
According to him, “This is a collective fight and this is the time to support each other and work as part of a national effort to confront a common adversary. The state has procured additional vehicles for intensified COVID-19 surveillance. In the light of the attendant risk of community transmission and to enforce social distancing, on the 18th of March 2020, the government found it expedient to ban high-density gatherings that would bring together 50 or more people. This has since been lowered to 20 persons in the same place, such as social clubs, halls, cinemas, night clubs, restaurants, cafes, and sport arenas. This will be in effect till April 18 in the first instance.
“Arrangements are at an advanced stage to establish our own biomedical laboratory so that we can test suspected cases in the state without going to Lagos or Abuja.”