COVID-19: Senators Canvass Lockdown of N’Assembly


Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Some Senators have canvassed for an immediate lockdown of the National Assembly over the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic which they claimed some members might have been infected with.

The Senators, who spoke with THISDAY yesterday across party lines, expressed worries why some members of the National Assembly who recently returned from overseas trips have failed to subject themselves to necessary medical examination or self isolation.

A ranking Senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed concern that close to a week after the Senate leadership asked the affected Senators to self isolate themselves or report to the medical authorities for necessary screening, no action has been taken.

The worried opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator alleged: “It is very surprising that our colleagues who travelled to London a fortnight ago and returned last weekend are still very much with us without going for self isolation or what have you.

“The whole of last week some of the 12 members out of the 18-member Petroleum (upstream) committee of the Senate who attended the London conference attended the plenary and committee meetings and mingled with their colleagues.

“As we speak, some of them rather than isolating themselves travelled at the weekend to mingle again with their constituents and will be at plenary on Tuesday, this is very frightening and worrisome.”

Another Senator from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) shared similar view, saying “we have it on good authority that our colleagues who returned from the United Kingdom have neither submitted themselves for Coronavirus screening or self isolation and this is why we may have to push for the lockdown of the entire National Assembly so that the Coronavirus epidemic will not spread as we don’t know the health status of our returnee colleagues.”

Two other Senators spoke in the same vein said they would not hesitate to raise a point of order if the 12 members of the committee that recently came back from London attend Tuesday’s plenary.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has flayed the refusal of some House members who recently returned from overseas to subject themselves to screening at airports, as a precautionary measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

It has, therefore, urged the affected House members to submit themselves for necessary medical examination at designated centres.

The House also claimed ignorance of any letter, allegedly written by Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari to the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila asking the House to direct erring members to adhere to the Coronavirus safety measures.

Speaking to THISDAY on phone yesterday, Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, said it’s totally condemmable the behaviour of members who disrespect a health policy designed to keep Nigerians safe.

He said the House members who refused to be screened at the entry point at the airport should be immediately arrested and thoroughly examined.

Said he: “This virus knows no political or economic status, it does not discriminate against social status. It is unpatriotic for any person; member of the House or not to fail to go through the screening process as laid down by the health experts. Why would anyone consider a one minute or two wait for a screening a waste of time?

“Many members have raised a few argument stating that the persons in question were not members of the House since we are honourable members who will always stand on the path of the law. They have challenged those who accused them to produce the video clip from the airports where the incidents occurred to convince them that it actually took place.”

On the implementation of the House resolution to bar visitors from entering the National Assembly complex, Kalu said restriction of visitors to the Assembly had since commenced, adding that many more restriction orders would follow this week.

According to him, the House might review the need to stay at home for members and aides unless where it is absolutely necessary to meet.

“The virus is a serious issue and calls for drastic measure to curb the spread. Any one could be a victim due to unguarded exposure. While we pray to God to have mercy and save us from this plague, we have to stick to acceptable rules, one of which is to maintain social distances,” he added.

On the purported letter from the President’s Chief of Staff, the House spokesman said he’s unaware of any such letter from the Presidency.

The one-page letter dated March 21 and addressed to the Speaker read in part: “It has been brought to the Honourable Minister of Health recently reported to this office that some members of the House of Representatives are refusing to subject themselves to medical screening at airports.

“As you are aware, these airport screenings are our primary line of defense and refusal by any citizen to subject to these tests is a threat to our nation.

“Accordingly, you are kindly requested to direct all members at the House of Representatives who returned to Nigeria from foreign trips to report themselves to the nearest NCDC test centre with immediate effect.”