“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
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.”