By Ernest Chinwo
Rivers State Government has announced that wearing of face masks in public places was now compulsory in the state to check the rising incidence of the Coronavirus.
This is as the state also explained that it rejected the 1,800 bags of rice given to the state as palliatives from the federal government because the rice was expired and the mode of collection an insult to the state.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike who disclosed this during a press conference in Port Harcourt yesterday, also expressed worry at the rising incidence of the pandemic in the state and blamed lapses by security agents who allowed people to beat the border lockdown announced by the state as responsible for the new wave of infections.
He said, “While we are not under any illusion about the presence of the risk of this virus in our midst, we are making tremendous progress that clearly underscores our belief that our aggressive strategy and targeted measures have been effective in curbing the spread seeing COVID-19 in our state.
“Accordingly, the directives and restrictions we have put in place to maintain social distancing must continue and all residents are advised to strictly follow and comply in the interest of the health and lives of everybody.
“In addition, the wearing of face mask in all public places is now compulsory throughout the State.”
He confirmed that six more persons had tested positive to Coronavirus in the state, bringing to 13, the total number of cases recorded in the state.
He stated that out of the 13 confirmed cases, nine were active while two had been discharged and two deaths, pointing out that the active cases were receiving medical attention at the state treatment centre.
The governor said: “As at today 1st May 2020, Rivers State has recorded 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, four females and nine males.
Out of this number, two have recovered and discharged, nine are active and receiving medical attention in our treatment centre, while unfortunately, two lost their lives because of COVID-19.
“Furthermore, apart from the sixth case who has no travel history, the rest were returnees to the state from Italy, United Kingdom, and Lagos or persons who had close contacts with already affected persons. Indeed, five of the most recent cases are all children and a relative of the second death case.
“The logical conclusion therefore, is that the pattern of transmission of COVID-19 in the state is evidentially predicated on importation from outside, just as the rate of infection and progression is also relatively low and arithmetical, when considered from the date of the index case.
“This is not to say that we are at the peak of this crisis and that everything about the containment and transmission of COVID-19 is under control. No; we are not, because of the challenges occasioned primarily by the negative elements that continue to deliberately undermine and sabotage our efforts to protect our people from this disease.
“For instance, the 7th infected case was an offshore oil and gas worker who went and passed a night in a Lagos hotel before returning to Port Harcourt on the 9th of April 2020 with the aid of the security personnel manning our borders.
“When his symptoms started, he was admitted to a private hospital, (St. Martin’s Hospital) on the 20th and discharged on the 21st of April 2020 before testing positive to the virus after almost over two weeks of close contacts with other people.
“Had the security agencies not compromised their responsibility at the borders, this man would have been prevented from coming into Port Harcourt and threaten the lives of other people with this virus.
“Again, on the 29th of April 2020, our surveillance team picked up two men from Niger Republic, who came into the state from Lagos with the help of security personnel despite the closure of the entry routes into the state.”
He explained that it was because of the failure of the security personnel controlled by the federal government to effectively man the state’s borders that the state established its own border security task force.
His words: “For us as a Government, every single new infection of COVID-19 in our state is one too many. We shall therefore continue to take every necessary measure to control and possibly end the transmission of this disease in Rivers State in spite of the enormous challenges and lack of concrete support from the federal government.
“It is for the very reason that we have taken our fate in our own hands with the establishment of the Border security task force, which has been mandated to provide and ensure a water-tight situation in all our entry and exit points and prevent any unauthorised entry and or exit of persons and vehicles into the State during the period of the closure.
“These are all Rivers sons and we expect them to protect the interest of the State at all cost, and not compromise and risk the health and survival of our people in exchange for some filthy naira notes.”
The governor also vowed to challenge the decision of the federal government to remove N11 billion from the Federation Account for the funding of the Nigeria Police without the consent of the state government.
He said while the state was not against the proper funding of the police, the Federal Government has no right to make such withdrawal without the consent of the state, as a part owner of the resources.
“We will challenge this in court. If you must take my money, you must first get my consent,” he said.
He expressed regret that security agencies in the country had been so politicised that they could no longer effectively perform their functions.
“It is on record that because security agencies arrested people who entered Rivers State illegally, the heads of all the agencies were all transferred: the heads of the Airforce, police, department of state services (DSS); all of them. New persons have been posted to the state. How can they work effectively when they know that one politician in Abuja can walk into their headquarters and insist that his transfer letter be written immediately?” he queried.
On the rejected palliative, Wike said it was an insult for the Federal Government to tell the state government to go to Cross River State to get its own share of the palliatives.
He said: “You don’t have to lose your dignity because you are poor. Come to think of it, we are not the only state that rejected the Federal Government palliatives.
“Oyo State rejected it, Akwa Ibom State rejected it. They are not edible. They even told us to go to Cross River State to carry a trailer-load of rice. I said no, I cannot go to Cross River to carry rice for Rivers people.
“You can’t just send rice to us without asking if that is what we want. Rivers people prefer garri to rice. In fact, the rice is expired.”