Lockdown Continues as Long as Necessary, Says Buhari

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Muhammadu Buhari

…“The freedom 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“

•Religious leaders pressuring states to relax stay-at-home orders, says DG PGF
•Sani Aliyu: Nigeria now has 30,000 test kits
•Abuja, Lagos discharge more patients as cases rise to 318, 70 discharged

Our Correspondents

In the clearest indication yet that the two-week lockdown imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on March 29 to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic may be headed for extension, President Muhammadu Buhari, saturday, said the movement restrictions would last as long as necessary, particularly, as he would be relying on experts’ advice on the issue. A statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Malam Garba Shehu, just 24 hours to the end of the initial 14-day lockdown, appealed to Nigerians to remain at home in the interest of the entire country.
Buhari said there was no cure for COVID-19 yet, and complying with the instruction to stay at home was necessary to avoid dire consequences.

“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,” the president said.

Meanwhile, Nigeria recorded 13 new cases of COVID-19, bringing to 318 the total number of confirmed cases in the country with 70 discharged. Announcing this on Saturday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 11 new cases, while Kano and Delta states recorded one each.

NCDC said, “As at 9:30 pm on April 11, there are 318 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Nigeria. 70 persons have been discharged while 10 have died.”

A breakdown of the figures showed that Lagos had 174 cases, FCT had 56, Osun 20, Edo 12, Oyo 11, Ogun seven, Bauchi and Kaduna six each, Akwa Ibom five, Katsina four, Delta three, Enugu, Ekiti, Rivers, Kwara and Ondo two each, while Benue, Niger, Anambra and Kano had one each.

Abuja and Lagos State, yesterday, announced that they had discharged four new COVID-19 patients, respectively, while Kano recorded its index case of the deadly virus.

However, religious leaders in many parts of the country were said to have mounted pressure on state governments to relax the lockdown orders. But Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr. Salihu Lukman, said given the poor state of hospitals in the country, the experiences of Italy, Spain, United States, and France might be a child’s play if government was unable to contain the spread of the virus.

Although, National Coordinator, Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, sounded a note of optimism, when he disclosed that the country currently boasted about 30, 000 test kits for COVID-19. Aliyu admitted, however, that the kits were not enough for a country as large as Nigeria.

In its reaction to the handling of the virus outbreak by the All Progressives Congress (APC) federal government, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, cautioned officials of the government against using the pandemic as gateway for corrupt enrichment, profiteering, and looting of the national treasury. PDP also appealed to all the anti-graft bodies to be on the look out. It called on the National Assembly to step up its oversight functions with a view to preventing an anticipated looting of the donations made by both corporate organisations and individuals.

Buhari, while giving an update on the current health crisis in the country, said the government had the responsibility to enlighten its citizens “in this darkest hour,” saying Nigerians must take responsibility for the fight against COVID-19.

Although the president is yet to formally inform Nigerians of any intention to extend the current lockdown, his appeal barely 24 hours to the end of the initial 14 days of movement restriction in some areas, seems to be meant to prepare the minds of citizens for an extension of the stay-at-home order.

The statement said, “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. Two hundred and ten 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.
“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.”

While highlighting the inconveniences Nigerians had been going through as a result of the lockdown, the president acknowledged the cooperation of the citizenry in promptly observing the restriction order.
He stated that Nigerians should once more sustain the observance of the restriction that he placed on movements in Lagos, FCT, and Ogun a fortnight ago.

Buhari pledged the federal government’s preparedness to release 70,000 tonnes of grain from the National Strategic Grain Reserves to cushion the effects of the lockdown, particularly on the poor, who survive mainly on daily wages. He appealed to Nigerians to observe rules spelt out by experts in the effort to contain the spread of the malignant disease through various sensitisation campaigns in the media.

According to him, “We realise that today, there will be sons and daughters unable to visit their parents, and elders that are isolated from young ones. And there will be those who live day-to-day, eating as they earn, who face real and present suffering.

“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.
“For those who suffer most egregiously, the government has announced multiple measures to assist: 70,000 tonnes of grain is being released from the National Strategic Grain Reserves for distribution to those in most need; distribution of small cash payments are also being made, and will continue to be made by the federal government in the states and local government areas.

“We ask you to listen and follow public announcements via the mass media for instructions as to how to receive this government support – and learn of more public assistance in the coming days.”

However, addressing the pressure being mounted on states by some religious leaders to end the movement restrictions, Lukman said it was a big risk for the country to take at this time.

He stated, “Already, business as usual practices is making religious leaders to compel our leaders in government to relax the lockdown in many states and based on that, mosques and church congregations are returning with the high risks of getting the virus to spread faster in our society.

“Chances are that should this be the case, once the spread produces the exponential figures of cases of positive persons and unfortunate deaths, citizens together with religious leaders will then turn and start blaming government. In return, government may argue that it is because citizens refuse to observe social distancing and comply with directives of lockdown.”

He alleged that the low engagement strategy by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 was the reason citizens had not been able to own the fight against the pandemic.

According to him, “Unfortunately, it will appear that low engagement strategy by the PTF on the COVID-19 campaign is also reducing citizens’ ability to own the fight against the spread in the country. This is not in any way passing any judgement on the leadership of the PTF in the fight against COVID-19 but to highlight areas requiring urgent attention in order that Nigeria is able to succeed in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.”
Lukman said the PTF needed to broaden the scope of its membership and approach the question of expansion based on the strategy of using communication to mobilise the participation of everyone, both governmental and non-governmental.

The director-general added that communication should not be about simply passing information to citizens about what government is doing, but more about accommodating the views and interests of Nigerians through their representatives.

He said it was good to have all senior federal government functionaries driving the process and consulting other arms of governments – National Assembly and governors – adding that this could be strengthened by going beyond consultations.

He stated, “The reality is that consultation alone, will hardly produce the needed ownership and synergy of initiatives even within governmental structures. In fact, one can argue that some of the critical observations of the leadership of the National Assembly from the session with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and more recently with the PTF on Thursday, April 9, 2020 are a confirmation of the limitations of consultations.
“What is required is that, depending on the terms of reference of the PTF as given by the president, the PTF should consider co-opting members of the National Assembly to join the committee.”

Nigeria Has 30,000 Test Kits

The National Coordinator, Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said Nigeria now had about 30, 000 test kits for the virus. Aliyu, who spoke on ARISE Television, however noted that given the population of Nigeria, the kits might not be enough.

He said the federal government was not relenting in its efforts to secure more test kits for the country, assuring that in the coming weeks, Nigeria would get more kits.
Aliyu stated, “We now have up to 10 laboratories across the country. We are now testing over a thousand, the last time I checked it was 1, 500 a day.

“There are three labs in Lagos going at full throttle. Some of the labs are operating 24 hours a day with shifts. We have escalated testing. But there is a challenge with test kits and every country wants it.
“We currently have a pool of about 30, 000 test kits, but certainly not enough for a country the size of Nigeria.”

He said NCDC was exploring all necessary avenues to scale up testing, explaining that government is willing to partner the private sector in this regard.

“All our concern is to get reliable and safe results and make sure that people are not exposed unnecessarily to bio hazards,” Aliyu said. He added, “We will be willing to work with private labs to carry out more tests. I know there is a private lab in Kaduna about to be signed up or has been signed up. There are also private labs in Lagos that we can collaborate with. We are all in this together. It does not have to be a government-owned lab.

“What is important is that it is safe, they have all the biosafety security issues intact, they also have quality assurance, that is, if we get the result, we can rely on it, they also have the right skills set in terms of the people carrying out these tests.

“We have to be absolutely sure that if the result is positive, it is positive. It is even more risky if a positive result turns out to be negative, because it means that person will continue to transmit to others.”
He noted that molecular labs were not easy to set up, because it would require a highly skilled workforce.
According to him, “You cannot overnight create a molecular lab; they are expensive; they require highly skilled labour. We are amenable to private organisations willing to extend their facilities for this. It will help us to identify more of these cases and identify them and control the spread of the virus.”

Apart from test kits, Aliyu said Nigeria also needed virus transport mediums, which he said was a challenge a few days ago, adding that a government agency was already partnering another entity to produce them locally.
“If we do all these, we will be able to bring the test closer to the community that needs them rather than having to transport samples on a long distance,” he added.

Aliyu appealed to members of the public with symptoms to come forward saying, 80 per cent of the people with COVID-19 would be fine. He stated that in China, 92 per cent of the infected patients survived.

He disclosed that NCDC had reached about 90 per cent of the contacts of positive cases in the past few weeks.
According to him, “This is really good. But at the same time, we have this feeling that there may be a lot more that we have not been able to reach, may be because people are worried that if they test positive we will have to isolate them.

“We will isolate them in a humane way. We are not going to lock you up as if you are in prison. We consider and respect all your rights. The only thing is to have a physical barrier between you and the rest of the society so that you can be looked after in a safe way.”

Abuja, Lagos Discharge Four More Patients Each

The FCT and Lagos State announced the discharge of four more patients each from the coronavirus isolation centres. The FCT Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee on COVID-19 made this announcement on Saturday, and said the patients had been admitted in the isolation centres at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada.

Last week, the first set of patients numbering seven were discharged by the FCT. Given the latest recoveries, the number of patients in Abuja that have recovered from the respiratory contagion now stands at 11, even as the FCT accounts for 50 of the country’s 305 COVID-19 cases.

In Lagos, four patients, including an 11-year-old boy, were discharged from the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, and Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who announced the developments, expressed delight that the state had successfully managed and discharged 50 COVID-19 patients.
Sanwo-Olu said, “Today, four more patients, all male, including an 11-year-old boy, have been discharged from the Lagos State isolation facilities to reunite with the society.

“The patients, three from Mainland Hospital, Yaba, and one from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), were discharged, having recovered fully and tested negative twice consecutively to #COVID19

“This brings to 50 the number of patients successfully managed and discharged from the Lagos State isolation facilities. I appeal to residents to stay at home, practise Social Distancing Principle and observe highest possible personal and hand hygiene. We are on steady course to victory, let’s all make little sacrifices for the greater good.”

Meanwhile, the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello, urged Christians in the territory to use the occasion of Easter to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed thousands of lives across the world. Bello made the appeal on Saturday in an Easter message to residents, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Anthony Ogunleye.

Kano Records First Case

Kano State, yesterday, recorded its first case of COVID-19. The patient, a former diplomat, was said to have developed the symptoms after he returned from Abuja eight days before. On his return, it was gathered that he started feeling sick and submitted himself to the Kwanar Dawaki isolation centre, where his blood sample was taken and the result came back positive for coronavirus. Although it was a mild case, the patient was admitted at the isolation centre for treatment.

The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Kabiru Tsanyawa, confirmed the case.
The Special Adviser on Media to the Governor, Mr. Salihu Yankasai, corroborated it when he wrote on his Twitter handle, “Kano has recorded its first case of COVID-19.

“The index case lives around UDB Road in Kano. He returned from Abuja on the eve of the border closure in the state. All those close to him have been tested and are awaiting results. He is currently at Kwanar Dawaki Isolation Centre.”

He said Governor Abdullahi Ganduje had held a meeting with health officials to inform the public officially.
A combined team of security agents had since blocked the road leading to the private hospital, where the patient was quarantined.

PDP to FG: Stop Profiteering, Looting With COVID-19

PDP cautioned officials of the APC-led federal government to stop using COVID-19 as gateway for profiteering and looting of the treasury. The party appealed to all anti-graft bodies to be on the look out.

A statement by National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “Our party is worried over the activities of certain officials, who are using the COVID-19 pandemic to create and manipulate situations that circumvent financial documentation and accountability rules and pave way for the looting of our treasury and borrowed funds, while the people are left at the mercy of the plague.

“This is in addition to anxieties that such officials are hiding under the demands of COVID-19 pandemic to mop up our international reserves as well as driving our nation into a frenzied $6.9 billion foreign borrowing, with no clear-cut terms.

“This is amidst allegations of plots by unscrupulous officials to manipulate the system and create channel for a slush fund that will be diverted to corrupt APC leaders and the cabal, while mortgaging the future of our nation’s generation yet unborn.”

The opposition party said it was afraid there were attempts to hide under COVID-19 to empty Nigeria’s $3.4 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) savings, thereby leaving the nation dry.

It said while it was obvious the Buhari administration sought to use the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for its mismanagement of the economy, which it had wrecked before the outbreak of the pandemic, the party firmly rejected the attempt by rogues in government circles to use the scourge to “cash out” the treasury and further destroy the economy.

PDP said, “Our party invites Nigerians to note that, while a handful of Nigerians have not acknowledged receiving such funds and officials involved have not been able to account for the disbursement, humongous figures are already being bandied to have been spent.

“The situation is pathetic and shows how low the social investment programme, which the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, had earlier warned as being riddled with corruption, had degenerated.”
PDP urged the National Assembly to protect the citizens by immediately scaling up its oversight activities on the handling of the COVID-19 social intervention funding.

It said the legislators must ensure clauses that guaranteed transparency and accountability, particularly in drawing from the treasury as well as in approving any further foreign loans for the Buhari administration, were enshrined in the laws.

It also charged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to set up special squads across the country to monitor the implementation of the palliatives and bring culprits to book.

Ilorin Emir Urges Obedience to Lockdown, as Kwara Moves to Acquire 30 Ventilators

The Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, Kwara State Traditional Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, charged Kwarans, particularly, the people of Ilorin Emirate, to remain calm and obedient to constituted authorities during and after the lockdown in the state to curb the spread of coronavirus. The Emir gave the charge in a statement by his spokesman and Magaji Nda of Ilorin, Alhaji Saliu Woru Muhammed.
He advised the Chiefs, District Heads, community leaders, groups and associations to imbibe the culture of personal hygiene and communicate same to inhabitants of their respective communities so as to remain safe and healthy.

He acknowledged the adverse effects of the lockdown but expressed optimism that such decision will impact on the health and wellbeing of the citizenry in the long run.
The traditional ruler appealed to security agencies to be civil in their conducts and cautioned citizens not to run foul of the regulations spelt out to contain the pandemic.

The Kwara State government said it had concluded plans to acquire 30 ventilators before the end of this month, in addition to the 10 existing ones, to be able to attend to COVID-19 patients, who might require them. Besides, the state refurbished its oxygen plant that last worked at required purity level in 2011.

Kwara currently has two COVID-19 cases, both of who are asymptomatic at the moment.

Speaking with journalists in Ilorin shortly after the handover of the state’s oxygen plant for use, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq said, “We have bought five new ambulances (three on the ground and two are on the way). We have 10 ventilators now and we expect to have 30 by the end of the month and that’s one of the highest in the country today, because Kwara had no ventilator until now.

“This facility comes handy at this time. If for whatever reasons any of our patients require oxygen, Kwara does not need to buy oxygen from any private sources or other states. In fact, the plant’s capacity is such that we can sell to private hospitals and some other states.”

Meanwhile, the state’s Technical Committee on COVID-19 said it had so far received N98, 469,880 in donations from corporate organisations and private individuals in support of fight against COVID-19 in the state.
A statement in Ilorin yesterday by the spokesman of the committee, Mr. Rafiu Ajakaye, said, “The latest donors included the Al-Hikmah University (N5m); Into-University Educational Consult (100,000); Prince Victor Kolade (Victor Signs) (N100,000); Peter Pelumi Bamidele (N1,000); Amolegbe Oluwadamilola Fatimah (10,000); Promakar Farms Nigeria Limited (10,000); Aiyelabegan B. Rasaq (N2,000); Inyang Victor (N100,000); Amasa Mukhtar Olaide (20,000); and Suleiman Sadiq Umar (N500,000).

“We commend everyone, who has donated to this humanitarian cause whether in cash or in kind. We thank every indigene and resident of Kwara for staying the course. We assure them that we will definitely come out of this stronger and better together.”

Ondo Backtracks, Orders Lockdown During Easter

Following massive displeasure expressed by residents of Ondo State over a planned relaxation of the anti-COVID-19 restrictions by the government, the state has now cancelled the special concession it granted churches to hold Easter Sunday services. In a statement made available to THISDAY, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, said the development followed fresh concerns raised after the state discovered its second case of COVID-19.

Ojogo stated, “This development has, once again, reinforced the need to deepen our collective efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ondo State COVID-19 Response Team has reported that the second index case, having travelled from Lagos to Ondo State, must give the government greater concern to avoid community transmission.”
Against this backdrop, he said, “Ondo State Government has directed the cancellation of the special concession granted churches across the state to celebrate the Easter Sunday/Service. This decision was taken after due consultations with the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).”

The state government noted that all measures and steps taken in respect of COVID-19 remained in force.

Niger Declares Two Weeks Total Lockdown

Niger State Government declared a total lockdown of the state for two weeks as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Announcing this after an emergency executive council meeting in Minna, Saturday, Governor Abubakar Bello said the decision became necessary after the confirmation of one positive case of COVID-19. The lockdown commences Monday, April 13.

“The patient is a returnee from Lagos State and resides at Limawa community in Minna. Limawa community will also be in isolation for the two weeks period with health workers engaged to sensitise its residents within the period,” Bello said.

He said all religious gatherings in churches and mosques had been suspended till further notice, adding that he regrets the earlier decision to relax the restriction order in place.

“We are liaising with local tailors association in the state for production of face masks in view of the scarcity of the items. Health workers would also be engaged at strategic points with thermometers to carry out regular temperature tests,” the governor stated.

He said palliatives would be provided for the poor in the society, warning politicians not to hijack the items by the time they are released.

Omo-Agege Gives N85m Cash Palliative to Constituents

Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, donated N85 million cash as palliative to his constituents in Delta Central Senatorial district in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown in the state. Omo-Agege, according to a release issued on Saturday by his spokesman, Yomi Odunuga, has commenced the disbursement of the cash to some low income persons across the eight local government areas in Delta Central senatorial district, namely Ethiope East, Ethiope West, Okpe, Sapele, Ughelli North, Ughelli South, Udu and Uvwie.
The exercise commenced in Kokori Inland in Ethiope East Local Government Area on Saturday, with cash being distributed to individuals at their homes without discrimination.

All COVID-19 Patients in Edo Stable

The Edo State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Patrick Okundia, assured that all the 11 coronavirus patients in the state were stable and responding well to treatment, noting that the state is ready to handle the worst-case scenarios. Okundia, who spoke to journalists in Benin City, said some of the confirmed cases were being managed at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) and the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH).
According to him, since the outbreak of the virus, Edo State has recorded a total of 76 suspected cases, 12 confirmed cases, and one death, while 289 contacts have been line-listed.
He said the suspected cases were from Oredo (30), Esan West (16), Egor (six), Esan Central (eight), Ikpoba-Okha (five), Esan North East (four), Etsako west (three), Ovia North East (two), Owan West (one), and Orhionmwon (one) local government areas.
The commissioner said of the 12 confirmed cases, four were from Oredo Local Government Area; four from Esan West Local Government Area; three from Egor Local Government Area, and one from Ovia North East Local Government Area.

Okundia urged residents to observe social distancing and comply with other state government’s directives aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus pandemic.