By Donu Kogbara
I THINK it is fair to say that the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has never before had a CEO who is more perfectly suited to the circumstances that prevail on his turf.
Kemebradikumo Pondei, a distinguished Professor of Medicine, became acting Managing Director of NDDC on February 20. Shortly afterwards, the coronavirus pandemic – which had already started to wreak havoc on and generate panic in China and Europe – reached Nigeria (this country’s first case was confirmed on February 27).
This terrible COVID-19 disease, which has caused so many hospital admissions and agonising deaths across the globe, has triggered off a medical emergency that will not leave the nine states in which NDDC has interventionist responsibilities – Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Abia, Imo, Cross River, Edo and Ondo – unscathed.
And who is better able to manage the ramifications of a medical emergency caused by a virus than a senior medical doctor who specialised in virology and has impeccable academic credentials and plenty of practical hands-on clinical experience?
Most indigenes of NDDC’s vast constituency are pitifully impoverished, despite the Nigerian economy being largely dependent on the oil that flows from their ancestral lands and creeks.
Long story short: The majority of Niger Deltans are in desperate need of support during this particularly difficult time and Pondei, in a recent interview, proved that he fully understands the challenge that has been thrust upon him and is up to the task of tackling it.
Highlighting the need for the NDDC to work with state governments in the Niger Delta region, to ensure maximum effectiveness, he said at a press conference in Port Harcourt on Wednesday: “Having discussed with different state governments, we didn’t want to duplicate efforts. For instance, we wanted to procure ventilators, but…(discovered that) the states had (already) made plans to get ventilators, so we thought it better to support states financially.”
Pondei reminded his audience that health centres built by NDDC in various communities were not functional today because the state governments were not carried along.
Pondei also said that the best way forward is for Nigeria to quickly increase the number of testing centres across the country….and contain the pandemic by finding out who has been exposed, then tracing and quarantining such persons’ contacts.
But he added that it was not NDDC’s place to tell states how to build capacity and achieve objectives, given that each state knows what peculiar obstacles it faces.
Pondei then reflected on the bigger picture beyond the Niger Delta and said that much as testing was key, it was also a problem because no nation has the capacity to test everybody.
He noted: “A number of nations have made the mistake of acquiring test kits that have ended up being useless. Right now, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, is doing a very good job, expanding the testing centres and getting requisite equipment.”
He observed that most of the kits being used were not efficient and may not be able to detect COVID-19 “because everybody has one way or another been exposed to Coronavirus and those kits just test for antibodies that already exist in most of us.”
Pondei stressed the need for people to take simple health tips seriously – social distancing, not smoking in a crowd, good coughing etiquette and regular handwashing with soap and water.
He advised that handwashing techniques be taught through the mass media; and this message is one that is emphasised in NDDC’s ongoing public enlightenment campaign.
The NDDC boss underscored the need for a comprehensive health insurance scheme for the country, stating: “Health insurance is the key to universal health coverage, which is the desire of everybody.”
He added: “For us to get health insurance to work, there is a need to make it compulsory for all Nigerians. It does not work well when it is voluntary. In all the countries where it has worked well, it is mandatory.
“In the United Kingdom, as long as you work, you will contribute to health insurance. In our own country, it has been difficult even with the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, which has been able to cover only five per cent of the population.”
Dismissing the various conspiracy theories in the public domain, Pondei said: “This talk about 5G network and COVID-19 could be a source of distraction. While people are debating over unsubstantiated claims, the virus is spreading. We should be worried and thinking about finding solutions. That is why public enlightenment is very important. Some people do not even believe that the virus exists. Others say that it doesn’t kill Black people. But in the United States of America, Blacks are dying in their numbers.”
“The 5G is supposed to be a massive improvement on the 4G network in terms of speedy delivery. It is a faster communication network. There is no scientific evidence to link COVID-19 and 5G network. There is still a lot that is not known about this virus, but it is clear that it is not from genetic manipulation or from any laboratory.”
Let’s hope that those who are spreading fake news listen!
Farewell to a sister
LAST week, Carol Jamabo, aged just 56, became yet another tragic coronavirus statistic in the UK. She was a Rivers girl. She will be much-missed. One of our friends wrote the following tribute: We are all shocked and deeply saddened by the unexpected and untimely passing of our beloved Carol.
A key worker for over 25 years, she had been employed in various government organisations such HM prison service and NHS trust Guys and St Thomas as an administrator. Most recently, she worked as a carer in the community for Cherish Elderly Care after moving from the South East to the Manchester area to be closer to her two children. She would have been well deserving of a round of applause for her hard work and commitment over the years.
“Carol suddenly became unwell at her home whilst with her son and was then rushed to hospital. Over the days her condition rapidly deteriorated. She was transferred to the intensive care unit but treatment there with a ventilator was not successful.
Carol or CJ as loved ones and close friends fondly referred to her as, was a devout Christian and mother to two boys who she will sadly be unable to guide and support any longer.
She was a fun loving person and will be remembered for her uplifting, joyful and enthusing personality. Words cannot describe the damaging and destructive impact her passing will have to her work colleagues, friends, family and most painfully, her two children. RIP Carol.