The Federal Government is not disposed to the call by State Governors for the relaxation of the current lockdown in the country on account of the coronavirus pandemic, The Nation gathered last night.
The federal authorities, sources said, are much in favour of partial restrictions in 33 of the 36 states with a view to mitigating the effects of the current lockdown in many parts of the country as against the relaxation being sought by the governors.
Governors Willie Obiano of Anambra State and Seyi Makinde have already relaxed the restrictions in their states.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 which President Muhammadu Buhari relies on principally for advice on the pandemic is not in agreement with the governors that government should soft pedal in the FCT, Lagos, Ogun and Kano States.
Buhari who is billed to address the nation on Monday is said to be weighing the options before him.
Members of the PTF were locked in a marathon meeting on Saturday on the format of the partial restrictions to put in place in 33 states without fueling the spread of the Coronavirus.
The task force considered the status report on COVID-19 spread in each state of the federation, the input of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and local and international technical evaluation of the pandemic in the country.
A top level source said: “We are inching towards partial restrictions in some states and the Federal Capital Territory. There is clamour for the partial lifting of the lockdown. This is why the PTF is meeting.
“The PTF has received many suggestions but we are being careful not to reverse the gains of the last few weeks in the battle against Coronavirus.
“One of the knotty issues is a recommendation by the NGF that there should be internal free movement but with restrictions on large gatherings and assemblies nationwide.
But the PTF took exception to partial lifting of the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos, Ogun and Kano states.”
When contacted, a member of the NGF said the Forum was on the same page with the PTF on the input of the governors except for one recommendation.
The source said: “I don’t think they (the PTF on COVID-19) have serious objection except with internal free movement where they believe that we should not relax the lockdown in the epicentres of Lagos, Kano, FCT and Ogun. They may be right.
“We have done our bit by presenting our input. You can contact the Chairman of PTF on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha for details.”
The NGF in the Friday letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said: “Please refer to the above subject matter and to our Teleconference meeting with the Vice President on Wednesday, 22 April 2020.
“Recall at that meeting it was agreed that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) articulates the issues that it would want to be included in the next Presidential Pronouncement on Covid-19 so as to have a Uniform and Coordinated Policy on Covid-19 at both the national and sub-national levels.
“Subject to Mr. President’s approval, the NGF would want the following incorporated into Mr. President’s Pronouncements:
*Inter-State lockdown excluding movement of essential supplies foods, beverages, medical and pharmaceuticals, petroleum supplies and agricultural products:
*Internal free movement but with restrictions on large gatherings and assemblies;
*Lockdown of flights: and
*Compulsory use of face masks/ coverings in the public.
Another top source said last night that the NGF’s letter was “inexplicit on what qualified as internal movement.”
The source said: “We may end up with tough advisory on partial restrictions. We cannot allow the governors to reopen schools; there will be no wedding, funeral outings; churches and mosques cannot operate and we will only allow access to markets in the neighbourhood.
“Don’t forget that the Federal Government and the PTF only locked down the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states. We did not lockdown the remaining 34 states. But we cannot close our eyes when Coronavirus infections get out of control in any state.
“This is why we believe the governors must be cautious in putting in place partial restrictions. We should avoid creating a situation where the pandemic will get out of control in any state.
“For instance, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State did not consult with the PTF or Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) before directing that churches should resume normal activities. No technical or empirical basis for his decision. Does the state have the where withal to manage the consequences of exposing its citizens to Coronavirus spread?
Responding to a question, the source added: “The PTF members will still meet on Sunday. We may come up with tough advisory if there will be internal movement in any state as part of the conditions of partial restrictions.”
190 Nigerians in UK write Foreign Affairs Minister, demand exact date for evacuation
The Nation also gathered yesterday that 190 Nigerians, who are currently stranded in the United Kingdom, have written Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyema demanding the exact date of their evacuation home.
They also said they do not mind to stay in the orientation camps of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Nigeria.
They said they have paid £350 each to private laboratories for the COVID-19 test and for their flight.
In a letter signed by their spokesperson, Mrs. Olajoke Adesipe, the Nigerians expressed “dissatisfaction and frustration with the delay in our evacuation.”
They said: “We want to inform you of the following that has been unanimously agreed to on our platform (approximately 190 Nigerians, many of who are students from Nigeria in the UK).
“The Nigerian government does not have the constitutional power of locking its citizens out of the country. This is contrary to Section14 (2) (b) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which stipulates expressly that, the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Every Government official swore on oath to uphold the constitution.
“Since most of us on the platform have tested Negative for COVID19. On arrival in Nigeria, temperature checks should be conducted to further ascertain our COVID status and the government should allow us to self-quarantine in our various homes. We are more than willing to sign an agreement to this request.
“If it is a must that we are isolated by the government, we suggest the use of NYSC orientation camps as all of those centres are vacant now and each state has its own.
“Also, we want to urge you to communicate to us in clear terms, what is the precise date of commencement of evacuation? Which airlines have been contracted to carry out this operation? How much we are to pay for the flight ticket?
“Lastly, most of us do not currently possess the mean by which we are expected to pay for our accommodation at the isolation centres.
“We have already paid £350 to private laboratories for the COVID 19 test, the test which was a prerequisite to be airlifted and we are also paying for our flight tickets.
“We hope that the government is able to agree with us on these term stated above as they are the most practicable at the moment. We wish the government treat this as an emergency.”
Makinde, Obiano relax lockdowns
Governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Willie Obiano of Anambra State yesterday announced relaxation of restrictions in their states.
Makinde, directed the re-opening of the State Secretariat for workers from level 13 upward from tomorrow.
He said: “The State Secretariat will be reopened on Monday, April 27th, 2020. Only civil servants at level 13 and above with separate offices will resume.”
“The following guidelines are in place to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 within the secretariat: There will be new security measures in place including having only one gate to serve as entrance and exit.
“All other gates will be closed. “All meetings will be held online and that no visitors are allowed except absolutely necessary.
“In addition, hand washing facilities in strategic locations around the secretariat; one 100ml hand sanitizer and face mask will be given to each officer; bush canteens around the secretariat will remain closed. Officers are encouraged to bring their own food for lunch.”
The dusk to dawn curfew in the State has also been be relaxed from 7 pm – 7 am, to 7 pm – 5 am in a bid to accommodate farmers this planting season.
On his part, Obiano asked churches to resume full activities from today.
But worshippers are required to wear face masks and observe the World Health Organisation’s guidelines during worship.
He listed the protocol to include regular hand washing, avoiding handshakes, application of hand sanitizers, and social distancing.
The governor announced that movements around the state were not restricted, stressing, however, that all boundaries in the state remained closed.
“All food and drug markets in the state are to open with immediate effect.
“I will meet with market leaders on Monday, 27th April, for further discussion. When to re-open the schools as well as when civil servants will be allowed to go back to offices will be announced soon,” he said.
Observers worry over consequences of relaxing lockdown
Stakeholders and observers are not convinced by the reasons given by the governors and other advocates of relaxation of the current lockdown.
They are of the view that Nigeria is yet to get to a point in its fight against the virus, where it can allow people flood the streets.
They wonder how government which has found it difficult to enforce a total lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun will be able to enforce social distancing at public gatherings including markets and public transportation.
They are also worried about a possible explosion in the number of infections resulting from uncontrolled public gatherings and the massive pressure that may result on social and health facilities.
They recalled the statement April 11 statement by Buhari in which he said the lockdown would last for as long as necessary and that he would rely on experts in taking decisions on measures to check the spread of the coronavirus.
His Senior Special Assistant of Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu quoted him as saying: “No elected government could ask more of the citizens of the country that elected them than today we ask of you.
But we must ask you – once more – to observe restrictions on movement where they are in place, and follow the instructions of our scientists and medical advisers: stay home, wash your hands, save lives.
“The freedoms we ask you to willingly forsake today will only last as long as our scientific advisers declare they are necessary. But they are essential – world over – to halt and defeat the spread of this virus.
“All that the Government is asking you to endure is because nowhere in the world today is there any known way of defeating this pandemic. There is no vaccine. And that means there are choices to be made: between continuing as usual, or accepting the restrictions even when they come with unintended consequences.
“But at this darkest hour, it remains our duty to offer you the full and unvarnished truth: This is a global pandemic. 210 countries and territories across the globe are affected. We cannot expect others to come to our assistance. No one is coming to defeat this virus for us.
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“Instead, the defeat of the virus in our country will be in our hands, alone. We cannot wait for others. We can only depend on ourselves now. And so we must – and we will – end this outbreak ourselves as Nigerians, together.”
In his first broadcast to the nation on coronavirus last month, Buhari had said: “In Nigeria’s fight against COVID-19, there is no such thing as an overreaction or an under reaction. It is all about the right reaction by the right agencies and trained experts.
“Accordingly, as a Government, we will continue to rely on guidance of our medical professionals and experts at the Ministry of Health, NCDC and other relevant agencies through this difficult time.”
In a follow up broadcast on April 13, he said: “The National Centre for Disease Control has informed me that, a large proportion of new infections are now occurring in our communities, through person-to-person contacts. So we must pay attention to the danger of close contact between person to person.
“Today, the cessation of movement, physical distancing measures and the prohibition of mass gatherings remain the most efficient and effective way of reducing the transmission of the virus.
By sustaining these measures, combined with extensive testing and contact tracing, we can take control and limit the spread of the disease.
“This is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death. Mosques in Makkah and Madina have been closed. The Pope celebrated Mass on an empty St. Peter’s Square.
The famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris held Easter Mass with less than 10 people. India, Italy and France are in complete lockdown. Other countries are in the process of following suit. We cannot be lax.
“The previously issued guidelines on exempted services shall remain.
“This is a difficult decision to take, but I am convinced that this is the right decision. The evidence is clear.
“The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.
“We must not lose the gains achieved thus far. We must not allow a rapid increase in community transmission. We must endure a little longer.”
Recently, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) called on some state governments not to place any consideration above public health issues in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement by the president of the association, Dr Francis Faduyile, and the secretary-general, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote, NMA called on states not to relax the lockdown measure yet as the country is not ready for such a decision in its fight against the dreadful killer virus.
NMA warned that with more community transmission of COVID-19 being reported in the country, it was vital to eschew any measure that would promote mass gathering. “As such, relaxing any guideline that promotes mass gatherings in any part of our nation now can only heighten and not flatten the curve of transmission dynamics.
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The NMA and others warning against the relaxation of the lockdown must among other things, be thinking of the poor living conditions of many Nigerians.
On Friday, the Federal Government, through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, explained why the lockdown measure should not be relaxed just yet. Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, “We will eventually exit this stage and restart our normal life but that stage is still a while to come and I ask for your endurance, support and patience.
Lots of efforts are going on across the world to find new therapy, to find vaccine.” If this is how the man at the head of the fight against the disease feels, I’ll suggest we really think well about whether to relax the lockdown or not.
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