THE LOCKDOWN OF RIVERS STATE: A FIRST STEP THAT REQUIRES MANY MORE~NEWSEXTRA  - NEWS EXTRA ONLINE

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Friday, 27 March 2020

THE LOCKDOWN OF RIVERS STATE: A FIRST STEP THAT REQUIRES MANY MORE~NEWSEXTRA 




I have to start this piece by stating that I am one of those persons that are very critical of the Administration of Chief Ezenwo Nyesom Wike and his actions as Governor of Rivers State. To many therefore, my disposition in this piece might appear a bit strange. I must say straightaway that my comments about the Governor, be it criticism or commendation, is to extract the best from the Government for the benefit of the people.

Since the outbreak of the Corona Virus in 2019 in China (simply referred to as Covid-19), which has now been declared a pandemic, it has been difficult and desperate times worldwide. As it is usually said, difficult times require tough and desperate decisions. The decision taken by the Governor of Rivers State to completely lockdown the State is one of those possibly difficult and tough decisions that could be taken by a Governor in these times. 

A lot of persons have criticized the decision for several reasons: ranging from the very serious ones such as suddenness of the notice, unavailability of facilities within Rivers State to handle Covid-19 cases at the moment, the reason given for the decision, to the very trivial ones such as the language (phrases) used in the Executive Order and its unconstitutionality. For instance, the use of boarders in the stead of boundaries, etc. As I said, the world (including Rivers State) is in difficult times. If the Governor’s Executive Order was to be scrutinized by a Court, I do honestly believe that it would be sustained under the doctrine of necessity.

So, rather than shooting the decision of the Governor and his Team down, I will opt that we candidly and purposefully point out the gaps in the decision with a view of having the Government to tighten the gaps. Let me proceed with my own concerns and identified gaps.

The Suddenness of the decision: The decision was too sudden and therefore comes with a lot of attendant challenges to the residents. I have a friend who is from, and resides in Rivers State. He left his family in Port Harcourt and travelled on Wednesday 25th March 2020 to Kwara State for a business engagement. He had barely settled down in Kwara when his family called him at about 7pm to inform him of the lockdown order in Rivers State. He abandoned his business trip and hit the road this morning (today, 26th March 2020). As I write this piece now (7.28pm, 26/03/2020) he is traveling on the road. Certainly, he will be trapped in another State. In this difficult times, he would be running two set of bills: his family’s and his. The most challenging part of this is not his devastation that he cannot be with his family at this trying times, but that his entire family is already traumatized by the turn of events.

This is the case with so many families. I do not intend to state the fact that I am in that position currently and thus understand how they feel. It is different that a family knows that their loved one is busy somewhere and will join them when he can, than to realize that their loved one cannot be with them at this trying times, not because he or she so pleases, but because the authorities have said that he or she cannot. 

Unavailability of facilities within Rivers State to handle Covid-19 cases: It is within public knowledge that Rivers State is not one of the States that has Covid-19 Test Centre. There is also no organized or strategic framework, to my knowledge, to enable residents who are symptomatic or asymptomatic or those who reasonably suspect that they would have come in contact with any case or suspected case to present themselves for test. The kind of complete lockdown that the Governor proclaimed can only be contemplated upon two scenarios. Scenario one, where Rivers State is 100% able to cater to the medical needs of residents without external assistance. China embarked on complete lockdown because it had the capacity and did not have to look up to anyone for assistance. Scenario two, where there is a 100% percent certainty that nobody had imported the disease into Rivers State. I want to believe that the Governor has superior records than myself on these matters and should be a better judge of the facts. 

In the light of scenario two, I am minded to believe that the Governor also took into consideration the very reason he gave for the lockdown vis-a-vis the imperfection in human activities. If the major reason was that someone tried to smuggle herself into Rivers State and was prevented by the vigilant efforts of some security operatives at the airport. Our anxiety would be: what if there was a possibility that any other security agent on duty had not been vigilant enough or that a carrier of Covid-19 had passed through land boundaries? I shall not probe this further as that would mean questioning the entire decision.

RECOMMENDATION
I am sure that other Residents of Rivers State have raised some other peculiar challenges and concerns. Following these concerns arising from the Executive Order (Lockdown) issued by the Government of Rivers State, I expect that the Governor (Government) of Rivers State should:

1. immediately (if he/it has not done so) setup a desk in the Governor’s Office to receive information about residents and citizens of Rivers State who are now stranded in other states on account of the Order, and I must add that for some reasons that are unnecessary to state here, I have personally received such calls;
2. if the reason indeed is to control the disease, immediately setup a Medical Taskforce to procedurally return all stranded residents of Rivers State and put them under supervised self isolation;
3. Setup up Covid-19 Control Desk at the Port Harcourt Airport (in collaboration with the Airport Authorities) to take personal data of every passengers, including itinerary for visiting entrants;
4. Setup same Control Desks at every land entry point in the State.
5. Make available at least one (1) Disease Control Centre in each of the three Senatorial Districts of the State; the previous administration setup a centre at Emohua during the Ebola Outbreak, it could be modernized to suit the specifications for Covid-19;
6. Provide adequate medical gears and incentives for the medical workers; the last administration did and it was good motivation for the MED workers at the time;
7. and etc.

I want to conclude this piece by leaving the Governor with some takeaways. The first is that our Rivers State is the Oil and Gas Capital of this Country; it is host to many Multinational Companies including the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Company. Therefore, we cannot afford to lockdown the state for took long. Doing so will put the country (including the state) on its kneels much sooner than could be imagined. This point should also go to the Federal Government that is contemplating ban on all interstate travels. This kind of decision must be purpose and target driven, not a blind walk on the isle. 

The second point, except the Governor states otherwise, is that I presume that the purpose of the lockdown is to afford the State Government more time to put its team together to launch a strategic campaign against Covid-19 in Rivers State. Anything to the contrary may become repulsive and devoid of realities. I say so because anyone who is ill will be determined and desperate to seek medical solutions and if Rivers State which he resides in cannot provide him that, I can imagine that it would only take death to restrain him from seeking that solution in any other State that has it. At that moment, the lockdown order will only be as operative as suicide order.

The third point is that River State has the financial capacity to provide basic medical facilities to cater to the needs of its residents at this crucial time. Needless to emphasize that point. During the outbreak of Ebola epidemic in Nigeria, Lagos and Rivers States (under Tunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi respectively) provided the lead in the provision of medical facilities against that disease. Rivers State under Nyesom Wike is no different, residents expect the State to maintain same standard if not better. The State cannot afford to standby. If I must provide any reason why it should take more steps, then I should say that Rivers State must act if not in the interest of its citizens and residents, then certainly in the interest of its badly battered economy.

First Step taken, Many More Steps to take. Take them now.


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