THE COVID-19 INCIDENT COMMANDER

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Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is forging ahead despite the difficulties of the moment, writes Nnamdi O. Olih

Babajide Sanwo-Olu has seen it all. He is indeed a cat with nine lives. As the Executive Governor of Lagos State, he had lofty plans for 2020. Governing Lagos, a city with over 20 million people and the commercial nerve centre of the nation is not a tea party. It requires a great deal of innovation and mental strength.

Unforeseen events threw spanners into the plans. A virus that broke out in Wuhan, China, grew into a massive monster that culminated in the biggest pandemic of the century.

Lagos, the international gateway of Nigeria took the hit when an Italian brought the virus into the country through Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. Everything changed forever in the aquatic city and indeed Nigeria.

Governor Sanwo-Olu to the admiration of many Lagosians showed leadership. He was resilient in the face of the greatest public health challenges in history. He put on the candour reminiscent of Fashola days during Ebola scourge.

The governor was not without scar. He contracted the virus in the battlefront. The COVID-19 pandemic plague is no respecter of person. Like a general in the war front, the governor while isolating charged Lagosians not to let down their guard assuring them that COVID-19 will be defeated. He came out healthy and conquered the virus.

So, the coronavirus tale the governor shared recently on Channels Television further entrenched the message and jolted doubting Thomases from their unbeliefs. Sanwo-Olu recounted how he survived the scourge through God’s mercy and medical science. He described his case as moderate noting that many were not so lucky as their cases were severe.

He spoke with passion in the face of rising cases of infections. Over 44,000 cases have been established in Lagos, the governor disclosed on the programme. This disturbing data must send chills down the spine of any right- thinking persons. Obviously, the challenge is daunting vis-a-vis the myriad of troubles the nation currently grapples with.

The overwhelmed health facilities and personnel can’t match the rising numbers. We can’t continue to live recklessly – that was the main thrust of the governor’s message during the interview.

“Just to put the figure right, we have actually crossed 44,000 cases as we speak (last Sunday). But to also put in proper context, the current figure is coming out of a test of about 280,000 that we have done in the state, which is more than half of what is done nationally. So, that has given us the positivity of about 16 per cent. But in terms of compliance and enforcement, when we brought out those rules in April/May last year, people still didn’t have the level of understanding they have today. They still believed that it was something that was foreign and far from us. “But right now, almost everybody understands and sees that it is real, especially the second wave.

“After the first wave slowed down, this second wave has shown us that we cannot take this pandemic for granted. In terms of level of compliance, I will not say that a lot of our citizens are complying. But if you come to any of our offices and public buildings, the enforcement is there. You cannot enter my office, our secretariat in Alausa or any of our government buildings without wearing a face mask. And if we can do that, all it takes is for everybody to take responsibility.

“If all the managing directors in the banking sector say to their staff and customers that you cannot enter their facilities if you are not wearing a face mask; if every manufacturing company, church and mosque says the same thing, if we all take responsibility and issue out the same thing, then we will see 99 percent compliance.

“It is not about the government bringing out police and chasing people that are not wearing it; it is about ensuring we understand that it is role sharing. All of us have a role to play and everybody just needs to play his or her part.

“As a media practitioner, you (interviewer) have a responsibility to also help us communicate and tell our citizens that it is about them; it is about their loved ones. It is not just that Sanwo-Olu wants you to just put up a mask on your face; it is because of what the medicine and health practitioners are telling us, that it is the only way we can reduce transmission and that is the right thing for all of us to do”, the governor urged during the interview.

Sanwo-Olu has shown unequalled leadership in the battle against the pandemic. He was the beacon light when the entire nation was thrown into a state of despondency. Whilst the national government was pondering on the form of succour that should be extended to the vulnerable segment of the population, Sanwo-Olu disbursed reliefs, both food and free healthcare.

Telemedicine, which leverages telephony technology in getting help to ailment sufferers became imperative as hospital wards and corridors were over-stretched. The government deployed this innovation to remotely manage asymptomatic patients and not fairly moderate cases.

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· In the wake of deadlier second wave of Coronavirus, the governor did not succumb. He charged on and intensified the awareness and enforcement of non-pharmaceutical measures to scale down the rate of infections and responded to acute shortage of oxygen in the hospitals.

Before the federal government intervened through funds allocated to states to build Medical Oxygen plants across the land, the proactive and responsive government of Babajide Sanwo-Olu had already built an Oxygen plant at IDH Yaba, the flagship health facility for infectious diseases management.

On the enforcement side, recalcitrant night crawlers and religious dogma who violated the midnight curfew were rounded up at upscale nightclubs in Surulere and Victoria Island areas of the state.

Event centres that violated maximum allowed guests regretted their action as the centres were shut. Handful of Lagosians who scorned at face masks were hounded by security operatives. Face masks violators now risk six months imprisonment. It is that serious. The message is simple – everyone must be whipped to line up for our collective existence.

Another major event that shaped 2020 was the #EndSARS imbroglio. It was a national rage staged by young folks against police brutality. The elites were shocked to the marrow when millennials and centennials funded and sustained a protest for over two weeks. Criminal elements eventually hijacked the demonstration. It ended in unquantifiable losses to citizens and governments.

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· The world hailed the cosmopolitan and urbane approach of the uprising when he visited the epicentre in Lekki. Sachets water were hauled at the governor by enraged and irate youths but he took it calmly. He pacified and urged them to return home. Sanwo-Olu sought their trust but they never heeded.

To further demonstrate his sincerity and fidelity to promises made, Sanwo-Olu flew to Abuja to submit the popular 5-for-5 demands of #EndSARS protesters.

He set up a panel of judicial inquiry to look into cases of police brutality in the state. He managed the delicate situation with uttermost tact before criminal elements and fifth columnists hijacked the protest for a heinous end. The lessons learnt during the crisis were not lost on the governor. “If you don’t learn from what has happened yesterday, you probably don’t have a tomorrow. So, for me personally, it is not really to dwell so much in the past. Learn from the past but have a conversation going forward; have a plan, an agenda that you can take forward. So, what I would say to a whole lot of my youthful citizens and everyone is to say that as a government and person, we have learnt so much from 2020.

“We have learnt from a pandemic that has never ravaged the world in 100 years and which has Lagos at its epicenter. We had protests that we have never seen in this part of the country before and the aftermath of it, as a government we have learnt from it. We have seen all the bites and conversations coming out of it and we are saying transparently that let all of us take it forward and build a better society for ourselves.

“How else can we do it? We don’t have anywhere to go to. We don’t have any other country. We don’t have any other state. So, it is in our individual and collective interest that we build things for ourselves and future. That is what I will say and that is the encouragement that I want to leave with all of us. And I kept saying this: for me as a person, as long as I have this mandate, I will not shy away from ensuring that I give hope to my fellow citizens,” Sanwo-Olu said.