•FG escalates deployment, opens three additional mobile test centres •Kano, a litmus test in battle against pandemic, Atiku posits •If only we’d shut down earlier, number won’t stop climbing till June, July, says Fayemi •NCDC reports 220 new cases, total now 2,388 confirmed cases, 385 discharged and 85 deaths •SGF: With everyone’s cooperation battle is winnable •Osinbajo optimistic Nigeria will come out stronger •Buhari commends media for role in fight against virus Our Correspondents Anxiety has continued to mount over Kano State, especially its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, believed to be responsible for the growing number of deaths recorded daily in the state. People of the state are now living in fear of the unknown, many have started to leave the ancient city in droves and may be inadvertently spreading the virus to neighbouring states. Relatedly, yesterday the federal government escalated its containment efforts by opening additional three mobile testing centres to strengthen the war against the virus in the state. Curiously however, Governor Abdulahi Ganduje, has despite the disturbing situation in the state, relaxed the lockdown order for Ramadan purposes, with increased deaths in the last 24 hours, including the passing of the Emir of Rano, Alhaji Tafida Abubakar Ila and the state’s Head of Communications, UNICEF, Malam Rabiu Musa. These have further heightened fear of residents. Particularly worrisome many of the almajiris who have left the city have tested positive to the coronavirus. Also, in obedience to Islamic injunctions, which prescribe immediate burial for Muslims, the cause of a majority of the deaths have been largely unknown, fuelling speculations between some unknown and unverified illness and the ravaging COVID-19 because testing is not being done. But the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, yesterday, said the current spate of community spread of COVID-19 could have been averted had the country shut down its borders earlier than it did in late March. Fayemi, who said the situation has though not affected the commendable response of the Nigerian governments at all levels to the challenge posed by the pandemic, however hinted that the numbers would not stop climbing until sometime in June or July, when the curve would begin to flatten. Yesterday night at 11. 55pm NCDC disclosed that 220 new cases had been confirmed bringing the total cases so far to 2388, while those discharged stood at 385 and deaths so far stood at 85. Lagos top yesterday confirmed cases with 62 new cases, followed be FCT with 52 cases, Kaduna 31, Sokoto 13, Kebbi 10, Yobe 9, Borno 6, Edo 5, Bauchi 5, Gombe 4, Enugu 4, Oyo 4, Zamfara 3, Nasarawa 2, Osun 2, Ebonyi 2, Kwara 2, Kano 2, Plateau 2. This notwithstanding, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha has said the battle against COVID-19 was winnable but with the full cooperation and support of the Nigerian people by adhering to all the safety rules and protocols. In the same spirit, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, while participating in an annual event, The Platform, hosted by Pastor Poju Oyemade and which held its first online edition in lieu of the COVID-19 challenge, said Nigeria and Nigerians would get through this phase together, much stronger economically and as a people because of their resilience. Not unexpectedly, however, President Muhammadu Buhari, while celebrating the World Press Freedom Day today, recognised and commended the Nigerian media “for the good work they have done, and are still doing,” as the country intensifies the fight against COVID-19. But commenting on the state of the nation as far as the battle against the virus is concerned, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Saturday, drew attention of the nation to the situation in Kano, which he referred to as a litmus test in the concerted efforts to defeat Covid-19.
Also, in a move that showed increasing capacity in the fight against Coronavirus, the Edo State government claimed it had screened over 40,000 persons in the state for Covid-19, albeit leveraging a strategic partnership with private hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to complement the screening exercise ongoing across designated government centres. Meanwhile, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has opposed moves by the House of Representatives to pass the Infectious Disease Control Bill without recourse to the laid down procedure of public hearing to allow Nigerians participate in the process of making the law. A statement by the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “This is especially as the bill seeks to prescribe clauses on critical issues, particularly that of vaccination, which has become globally controversial in the face of raging conspiracy theories on the COVID-19 pandemic.” Ganduje, who announced the relaxation of the lockdown order by twelve hours in a week, meaning six hours each day from 10am to 4pm on Mondays and Thursdays, made this known at a press briefing organised by the State Taskforce on Covid-19, held at the Government House, Saturday. He added that all the major markets in the state would remain closed, except Ya’nkaba and Ya’nlemo markets, where vegetables and fruits are sold. Ganduje further stated that all supermarkets in the state would be allowed to operate within the six-hour timeframe, adding that customers must follow the Covid-19 protocols before they access the places. “We have provided facemasks to be distributed to the people. I directed chairmen of the local government to also provide the facemasks for their people. Afterwards, we will make it compulsory to everybody to wear it,” he said. He also expressed hope that with the increase in testing centers, the state would stamp out the pandemic, announcing that Aliko Dangote had donated mobile testing centers with capacity of testing 400 samples in a day and 1000 sample in a week. “The more we are getting the test, the more people who contracted the virus would be exposed and the more we stamp out the disease in our state. “What we just want is for the public to adhere strictly to the protocols of the COVID-19 and abide by the lockdown order in order to break the chain of the transmission,” The governor also assured the public that the more they abide by the lockdown order, the more the government would be relaxing the directive as it monitors the situation. Unfortunately, the governor is believed not to have paid deserving attention to the increasing number of deaths in the state, which observers believed were caused by COVID-19, even though the state refused to admit it was true. The Emir of Rano, who died yesterday at a hospital in the state, passed away at the age of 74. Turakin Rano and House of Representatives Member of Rano, Kibiya and Bunkure, Alhaji Kabir Alhassan Rururm, confirmed the death Rururm said the late emir, who was survived by 17 children and two wives, would be buried this evening (yesterday) in the emirate. Son of the Kaduna State governor, Bello El-Rufai, took to his Twitter handle @B_El-RUFAI to mourn the late monarch, when he wrote: “May the gentle soul of the Emir of Rano, Alhaji Tafida Abubakar, rest in peace. May Allah SWT grant his family the fortitude to bear this loss. It’s tragic news everywhere we turn.” The UNICEF representative, also away at the age of 60 and his death was confirmed, according NAN, by his son, Musa Rabiu. “My dad died at about 3.am on Saturday, after battling sickness for a few days. Although we noticed symptoms we suspected to be of Coronavirus, the result of the test conducted is not out yet. “A week ago, he complained of a sore throat and malaria, but after a few days, of medication, he became normal. A few days later, he complained that he was finding it difficult to breathe. “He also complained that no matter how short he walked, he lost his breath. So, he was taken to the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Dala, on Friday, where he gave up.” He was immediately buried according to Islamic rites. Shedding more light on what the country could have done differently, to stem the climbing numbers, Fayemi explained that, “We could have shut down earlier. Everything that came in came from abroad. We didn’t get Coronavirus here. “So, if we had shut down, say like March 1, the situation could have been different. Malawi that is said to have the best record now in terms of Covid-19 shut down since February. “So, between February 27 and March 29 is a pretty long time of traffic into Nigeria across all the airlines. And by the time we shut down the borders, we already had too many in,” he explained, insisting the government wasn’t doing badly still in the management of the situation. Fayemi’s views, however, tallied with those of his Lagos State counterpart, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who said days ago that the delayed closure of the country’s borders, seaport, and airports, including the failure of returnees to self-isolate, caused the spread of COVID-19. He spoke this during an Instalive interview with CNN on Wednesday. Apart from shutting down the borders a bit late, another factor Fayemi reckoned could have accounted for the high number of new cases was the testing capacity of the country, which made it difficult to ascertain the number of carriers and non-carriers. “After that, our testing capacity is also limited. We have five testing centres across the country. There are two in Lagos; one in Abuja; one in Ede in Osun and one in Irua, Edo. That’s all. But that also affected, because we couldn’t tell who had it or did not.” Importantly, the Ekiti governor said, evidence suggested that, “The number is still on the upswing and will continue till June/July. That’s why the inter-state boundary shutdown is more important as against the intra-state approach.” Fayemi said it was the same thinking that informed NGF’s suggestions to the president before his last address to the nation on the things that needed to be done, noting that the president bought into all their ideas and adopted them. On his part, the SGF, Mustapha, while soliciting cooperation with the confidence that the battle was winnable said, “We’re not losing the battle and doing all we can. But the battle is not certain. However, as long as we have the cooperation and support of the Nigerian people, we’ll flatten the curve. “And what do we need to flatten the curve? Observing physical distancing, wearing facemasks and staying safe at home except it is an essential trip that needs to be made. We must understand that this is an uncharted terrain and there’s nothing other than taking it a step at a time. “We’ll get on top of this. I have no doubt. The prediction is that it would continue for a long time until we find a vaccine or able to build immunity. But, for now, let’s join hands together. There’s been a major disruption in our lives and we must cooperate to defeat Covid-19.”
Charging Nigerians to be resolute in the fight against a common enemy, Osinbajo, who was optimistic that the country and Nigerians would come out of it stronger, contended that,“There are a lot of challenges but they offer significant opportunities for us to turn things around.” According to him, “I am very confident that Nigerians, with our resilience, our strength and our innovation, we will go through this in great shape,” reeling off some of the federal government’s efforts to address the economic fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically on how the country could transform the challenges caused by the pandemic into opportunities for economic diversification and job creation, Osinbajo said prioritising use of local resources and creating local jobs in the construction and allied industry, amongst other things, would be critical in sustaining the economy in the post COVID-19 era. “We have to prioritise the use of local resources in all public works. In road construction, for instance, it is cheaper to build concrete roads using limestone than spending resources on the importation of bitumen. We have limestone in abundance hence we should be looking in that direction. The road from the Apapa port to the Lagos –Ibadan expressway is being built with cement and is of high quality. “In the housing sector, where we have a huge deficit, we need to focus on using local resources to build houses and in the process we will be creating opportunities for young engineers, architects and builders etc.” In the area of agriculture, the vice president said government’s initial policies had saved the country from the huge forex burden of food imports and related activities. “We think that by ramping up agriculture, especially, small holder agriculture and improving the value chain, especially in storage and processing facilities, more jobs will be created for many young people. “We have found ourselves in a situation, where we realise that the way to go is to support the creation of the jobs in agriculture and reduce food imports and ultimately, address the issue of unemployment and food shortages. What we must do as much as we can is to change the narrative about Nigeria and provide more jobs.” Still on how to mitigate the fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic such as inflation, Osinbajo said government would focus on improving productivity and improving food stock across the country. “If you can ramp up food production and the logistics of bringing food to the urban centres, inflation will be controlled to a large extent,” he said, adding that boosting agricultural production for export purposes and supporting the mining sector would also bolster the country’s foreign exchange earnings and reserves. President Buhari has however recognised the role of the Nigerian media and commended them “for the good work they have done, and are still doing,” as the country intensifies the fight against COVID-19. Buhari, a statement by his media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, stated, recognised the role of the press in educating and informing the public in the face of the desperation of the Coronavirus to overrun humanity. “We cannot overemphasise the role of the media in keeping people informed and educated on the pernicious virus, which has no friend or foe. It simply seeks to mow down anyone and everyone in its path, and public awareness is very important, lest we become like sitting ducks. The media are doing this quite effectively,” he said. He, however, charged them to remain steadfast “till we get to safe harbour, when the world, and our country are finally free of this greatest health challenge in recent history.” Reflecting on the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day tagged: “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation,” Buhari noted that Nigeria has what he described as a very unhealthy experience of disinformation, fake news and hate news, which he said were purveyed by people using the media platforms, particularly the digital variant and regretted the adverse effects of fake news in the society. “They don’t mean well for us, and no country can afford to close its eyes to the evil disinformation can cause. In a plural polity like ours, it has the potential to rupture relationships, sow seeds of discord, and set on the path of destabilisation. “When fake and hate news are added unabashedly, it can only signpost doom. I urge the Press to use the occasion of World Press Freedom Day to see how this can be vigorously tackled,” the president was also quoted. President, therefore, pledged to remain committed to the ideals of freedom of the press, pointing out that democracy thrives better in an atmosphere of transparency, as opposed to opacity. “We appreciate the cooperation we have enjoyed from the media in tackling the Coronavirus, and look forward to same, post Covid-19, when all hands must be on deck to repair the damages done to our economic and social lives, “Buhari stated. But sharing his concern on the Kano situation, Abubakar, who drew the attention of the nation to the development in the state, which he would rather term a litmus test to winning the battle against Covid-19, called on the federal government and all the agencies involved in the fight against the pandemic to collaborate with the Kano State government to stem the spread. Atiku stressed that checkmating the pandemic in Kano was one sure way of ensuring the safety of people in the surrounding states to Kano, other parts of the North and the country. While expressing his deepest condolences over the spate of deaths in the state in recent times, he counseled that efforts should be geared towards providing plausible explanation of the situation for the good of the people of the state. In the same stretch, Abubakar has expressed sympathy and solidarity with the family of a media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi and members of his family, who tested positive for Covid-19. The former vice president however called on all well-meaning Nigerians to put the matter of the speedy recovery of Dokpesi and his family, and other victims of the Covid-19 pandemic in prayers. Atiku described Dokpesi as a patriotic and law-abiding Nigerian for the way he cooperated with the NCDC to carry out the test on him, his staff and entire family when it was earlier discovered that his son had tested positive. He noted that Dokpesi was not among those people, who because of their position and influence shied away from performing a civic duty, sayimg, “He is indeed a role model worthy of emulation”.