By Owei Lakemfa
IN the war against the Coronavirus, Covid-19, the television screens show various countries fumigating public places and streets. I have neither seen nor heard of a single case of fumigation in our country. I commuted between the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja last week. They are the gateways into the country and therefore, the main places the virus can infiltrate the country.
In fact, it was through the international airport in Lagos the virus is known to have seeped in. Subsequently, there have been confirmed cases through Nigerians who came in from the United Kingdom, Germany and France. There have also been alarm raised about suspected victims coming through Abuja. So I expect that at least both airports will be constantly fumigated.
Therefore, at both airports I enquired from the staff and security agents if there had been fumigation or a systematic cleaning of the airports, the answer was in the negative. One staff at the Abuja airport observed that although suspected victims of the virus were not allowed into the arrival hall, the gangway and sections of the airport they passed through before being stopped, were neither fumigated nor cleaned. It was just business as usual.
To add to my anguish, I saw a video on Wednesday which went viral. It showed dozens of school children in a single file on an excursion to the Lagos International Airport, the ‘epicentre’ of the Coronavirus attack in the country!
Even if this had been long scheduled, why didn’t our aviation administrators realise that by permitting such a visit, they were exposing the children to possible infection? It took a public outcry before the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, suspended all further school excursions to airports in the country.
As part of the war against the Coronavirus, government advertised emergency lines Nigerians can call. One of them is the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, with a 24/7 toll-free line on 080097000010. The African Independent Television, AIT, in a salutary piece of investigative journalism, called the line. In the first call, the AIT reporter informed that her cousin was showing symptoms.
In response, the NCDC told the caller to take the patient to any random hospital. Which meant the staff, patients and visitors to such hospital would have been exposed to the virus. In a second call, the NCDC told the caller to take the supposed patient to a general hospital, adding that there are limited test kits to go around. Again, putting at risk people in our generally over crowded public hospitals. In a third call, the NCDC told the caller to self-isolate the supposed patient.
The station further reported: “We requested where the supposed patient should be taken to get tested, but was told the patient cannot be taken to the lab. From AIT’s investigation, it came out clear that there is no reference centre where a suspected case can go to get tested. There was also an indication that those in charge of the call centre were not adequately equipped with information for callers.”
Yet, the National Coordinator of the NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, had boasted that the country is more than capable of dealing with the virus: “We successfully managed Ebola and we manage outbreaks all the time and are currently managing Lassa fever. We have a strong team that is used to doing this.”
Back on February 2, the Buhari government claimed it had equipped the country to take on the virus and defeat it. That day, at a stakeholders forum in Abuja, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire boasted: “While the risk of importation exists, we can assure Nigerians of the nation’s capacity to detect, assess and respond to this and any other public health threats at the point of entry.”
As it turned out, these were empty boasts that have exposed the country to serious risks. Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State had told the country last week that the samples of a suspected case of the virus in his state was sent to Abuja for testing. As it turned out, only Abuja, Lagos, Osun and Edo states have laboratories where Covid-19 can be tested. It means that 33 of the 36 states have no laboratory the virus can be tested! That none of the 19 states in the North or those in the East, have places Covid-19 can be tested.
Yet in parts of the world like the United States, individuals can self-test at home! In various laboratories like in China, a Covid-19 test result can be available in 15 minutes.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, a normally reticent man had exposed the administration’s falsehood about the country being being prepared to take on the virus. On a visit to the Coronavirus national isolation centre in Abuja on March 4, he found the structures under construction. The temporary isolation centre was also not ready. He also found the NCDC unprepared. More shocking was the fact that the entire N620 million allocation to the NCDC to combat the outbreak of the virus, was being withheld by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed and her officials.
The Presidency might have been unhappy that what should be a rubber stamp Senate was being critical. So when with the increasing cases of the virus, the Senate on Wednesday, March 20, urged the President Muhammadu Buhari to address the country on the situation of the pandemic, the clearly irritated Presidency responded that it was a blackmail. It added: “ …Populist advocacies such as the one accusing the President of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics.”
But in truth, it is the Presidency, not the Senate that is politicising a straight forward health issue that is a matter of life or death for Nigerians. Given its very poor and pathetic preparations for the Coronavirus, the Buhari Presidency seems incapable of understanding that you do not store water because you are thirsty, you store water in anticipation of thirst. Its gross incompetence may cost us many lives.
One reality about the Coronavirus is that not even the rich is immune; this is not a conflict in which the powerful and the rich can fly themselves and their families to safe havens abroad leaving the mass to carry the can. As we say in Pidgin English, ‘all of us go die there.’
Peter Tosh sang: “Downpresser man. Where you gonna run to… You gonna run to the sea. But the sea will be boiling…You gonna run to the rocks. The rocks will be melting… You can run but you can’t hide.”