Fayemi Canvasses Decentralisation of Pandemic Battle

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Kayode Fayemi
  • Warns virus could infect 20m Nigerians
  • Says interstate movement lockdown necessary to curb community spread

Eromosele Abiodun, Nume Ekeghe in Lagos and Udora Orizu in Abuja

Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, thursday called for the decentralisation of the battle against
COVID-19 as a step towards curbing the spread of the virus and beating the pandemic.

Fayemi, who chairs the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), said yesterday when he appeared on The Morning Show, a breakfast programme on Arise News Channel, a sister broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, that for example, decentralising testing for the virus would make it possible for the federal government to enhance the testing capacity in states and quicken the determination of the status of those tested.

He warned that without overhauling the system, Nigeria could be at the risk of some 20 million Nigerians contracting the virus.

The governor also shed light on Wednesday’s push by his colleagues for an interstate movement lockdown to tame the virus.

According to him, such restrictions are necessary to curb community spreading of the virus, which has begun to emerge.

Fayemi said the governors had submitted a proposal to the federal government on the need to set up regional committees on COVID-19 to daily liaise with state commissioners of health and epidemiologists.

Fayemi who decried the lack of testing capacity in many states, said: “This is not only limited to Ekiti State; we have been discussing with the federal authorities and it is clear that testing is the key to reducing the spread. This is because it is only when you test that you know who to isolate, who to let go and how to protect and address those who are positive.

“And clearly, when you look at the numbers, less than 9,000 tests and more than 700 positive, I wouldn’t want to jump into any conclusion because I’m not a doctor or epidemiologist but purely dealing with numbers tells that if you extrapolate from that to our 200 million population, it points clearly to the fact that we end up with 20 million and I don’t want to scare anyone but that is close to 10 per cent of our population.

“Right now what happens is that NCDC tells those who have either been abroad or been in contact with those who have been abroad and I am now aware of voluntary testing in Lagos and Abuja.

“Our position is that if you have challenges of testing, for example Akwa Ibom, which has their samples sent to Irua in Edo State and for you to drive to Akwa Ibom from Irua takes 16 hours and when you get there, it takes another two to three days for you to get the results of the test. Even Ogun that is very close to Lagos, the governor has consistently complained that it takes almost a week to get results of their samples from Lagos. Which is why Ogun State has now procured a molecular laboratory in order to conduct their own tests.“

The governors, he stated, were proposing to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control
(NCDC) and the federal government that “we are determined at state levels to ensure we all have testing capability. That way, we can also test at random and not just for people who have travelled or people who have had contact with people who have travelled. And that is what has informed our partnership with the private sector to put a GeneX machine here converted to a COVID-19 testing machine.”

Harping more on the need to decentralise the battle against the virus, he said: “The truth of the matter is that we can always improve on synergy and coordination and I hinted earlier that for us at the governors forum, we are interested in cooperative federalism than competitive federalism.

“We are not competing with the federal government and this is something that is an existential threat of Nigeria. To resolve it what Nigerians are interested in is resolving it and not who resolves it.

“The federal government has a federal approach to it and we have a state approach to it and what we need is a national approach to it and national approach would also require levels. The government cannot manage this crisis centrally from Abuja it will not work.

“Secondly, we also need to put pressure on ourselves and those who are within contiguous area will best do it. So, states that are contiguous and share boundaries and have ethic and cultural affinities, they are likely to address this issue a lot more closely and a lot more directly than NCDC.

“NCDC is clearly doing a lot of good work and many of us admire Dr. Ihekweazu and his team but it is also clear to us that NCDC is overwhelmed and NCDC is biting more than it can chew. So, we are actually helping NCDC and the presidential task force by suggesting that we want our own teams like the commissioners for health and epidemiologists in the zones to do this.

“Apart from myself and the vice chairman, the chairmen of all the zonal governor’s forum such as the South-east, North-east, North-central, South-west where all at the meeting that we had with the vice president and the chairman of the presidential task force. So basically, we are all in this together and we must all fix it together.”

The governor also stated that COVID-19 is an opportunity for Nigeria to press the reset button in terms of diversifying the economy and ending the reliance on crude oil.

“The economic impact of COVID-19 and the way forward, is the permanent highlight of the agenda in our meetings. We are always discussing ways to survive. Don’t forget, we are members of the National Economic Council, which the vice president chairs, and there is a committee of the National Economic Council that has been saddled with the responsibility of looking at different scenarios of reorganising our economy.

“As part of that, states are also in the process of reviewing their own budget for 2020, to take into account new realities that we are dealing with. This was the budget that was predicated on an oil price benchmark of almost $60, and of course, you know what has happened and we need to be looking at what that means for the state, and how that would impact on our local economy.

“States do not regard what comes from Abuja as a handout, because it’s not. We have federating units in Nigeria. What goes into the Federation Account belongs to the federal, and the state and in the context of the state, to the local authorities superintended by the state so, we don’t consider it as a favour done to us.

“However, the challenge that we all must pay serious attention to is how to roll that Federation Account, particularly, the non-oil aspect of it. And that relates to the point I made earlier about agriculture. People would always eat. We have seen that people may choose either by force or freewill, not to use oil and part of what is happening to oil prices around the world, is that, aviation is out, nobody is flying anywhere, so there is no need for jet fuel.

“Even those of us who are at home, we are locked down in our various homes in all the countries of the world. And the factory of the world, China, is not producing at full speed. Oil is just on the high sea, begging for people to buy, and no one is looking in that direction.

“Automatically, it’s a demand and supply mechanism at war. The important point is that, states would have to readjust, and part of that readjustment is being very honest with our population and letting them know that it is now business unusual. Our youths would need to drive into more creative, and self-generating initiatives, rather than waiting for jobs,” he explained.