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I’m open to home-grown solution for COVID 19 – Makinde

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Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo state says he is open to home-grown solution to the coronavirus, a pandemic that has ravaged the world. He was monitored by Bayo Agboola during a phone in radio programme- Fresh FM 105.9, Ibadan.

You asked officers from grade levels 13 and above to resume work this is face of the fact that only 610 out of the 7.6 million Oyo state citizens have been tested largely due to shortage of testing facilities in the state (only two). Why the hasty decision?

Well, we have to strike a balance between two things; the physical health of the people of Oyo state and the economic health of the state. The Oyo state economy, for now, is highly dependent on the Secretariat functioning. This is a civil servant state. So, that’s why we have asked just a few workers to resume to keep the Secretariat functional. But we also put protocols in place to ensure that they can work safely.

The normal population for the secretariat is 15-20,000 workers. But, we asked only 3,000 of them to resume and those 3,000 are the ones with separate offices. I was reading in the Tribune this morning, comments by my very good friend, Professor Adeolu Akande saying,  maybe we shouldn’t open up the secretariat and that the senior cadre of workers may not be able to function without the junior ones.

The bottom line is we paid staff salaries on the 24th, that is Friday. Those payments were processed by some people. So, they had gone to the office to ensure that the vouchers were prepared and approved on time.

So, you have to keep the economy going and also strike a balance between the economic health and the physical health of the people. I don’t think it is reckless. This is based on us engaging with the experts.

But some of the senior cadre workers can’t operate online communication without the assistance of junior workers?

Well, let me make a correction there. I did not say that the civil servants who will resume will conduct business online. No, I said meetings will be held online. The senior officers will have to manage without their junior colleagues. That is part of the sacrifices that we all need to make at this time.

We are also getting reports that senior staff of Oyo state owned tertiary institutions have also asked their senior staff to resume, despite the fact that schools in the state are still closed?

Well, I will talk to the Commissioner for Education, they cannot resume right now because the students are at home. So, maybe, some of them may like to resume to have access to their running costs but we will deal with it.

Critics have also said that enforcing movement is an herculean task and that COVID-19 transmission due to mass movement in and out of the Secretariat may be a possibility?

Well, we put certain protocols in place for workers coming into the secretariat. Only the main gate will be used for entrance and exit. The other gates will remain locked and because we are having very limited number of staff resuming, we don’t think it will be a herculean task.

Are you placing an embargo on visitors coming to see them?

Visitors will be allowed only where it is absolutely necessary. If you don’t have any serious thing to do at the secretariat, we don’t expect you to come and if you do, the protocol is that they will need to contact whoever you are going to see and it is only those people that can clear you.

So, you are assuring us that you have put stringent measures when it comes to movement in and out of the secretariat this period that you have ordered workers to resume?

We are very confident about the measures we have out in place and we are sure that this will work. I received a text message this morning from the CAN President and I said we will discuss this issue much later today because some of the things we have put in place, people haven’t seen it but we will keep the enlightenment going so that we can all get aligned in the same direction.

Sir, will you say Oyo state has reached the peak of Oyo COVID-19 infections based on the fact that we just tested 610 people?

I will leave the technical details to the experts. But, be assured that our decisions are based on expert advice. I mean, don’t forget that the Oyo state COVID-19 Task Force is made of several professors, epidemiologists, virologists and people with background in public health.

We have to find a local solution to our problems. We can’t keep making reference to the United States of America… how about other parts of the world? We have to compare notes – what people have done right. America shouldn’t just be made the reference point because there are other places round the world that are doing far better than America right now. So, we should only borrow things that will work for us and that can come from any corner of the world. It can come from as near as Ghana. Ghana has just lifted their lockdown; they are moving on with their lives.

If we have only tested 610, have we got to the peak for us to take the decision we have just taken, asking workers to resume? We are still testing and your target is 10,000?

Yes, we will keep on testing. This is not going to go away like yesterday and that is exactly what I have been telling a lot of people. Well, okay, you’ve given palliatives out and you are saying this is the direction that you want to go in a manner that is suggestive of flipping a switch off or on. No, it’s not going to go that way. I think we need to even look at this in terms of light dimmers where you can turn the knob and the light may be bright and you can turn the knob.

Can you confirm to us where we are when it comes to transmission of COVID-19 in our state. Are we still at the point where it is still all about folks with travel history, and those exposed to them? Or are we experiencing community transmission yet?

Well, from discussions with the experts, virologists and I have to use this opportunity to thank the members of the Task Force because they are using their time to serve the people of Oyo state with no compensation at all until this moment. So, what we are seeing is almost person to person transmission.

Of course, we still have to do a lot more research. But even experts all over the world are saying this is novel. It has never happened before and it is an uncharted territory. So we have to keep on feeling our way until we are able to get a total handle on this.

Are you thinking that the protocol of asking suspected individuals, especially when they are still awaiting results of their tests to stay at home, or worried that people are not obeying to those instructions? Do we need to change that protocol?

I don’t think we need to change that protocol. I think the way things are set up right now… When you are actually between the rock and the hard place, you have to move cautiously. We don’t have the resources to say look if you have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient, then we should take you and slam you in an isolation centre.

For instance, I tested positive and all my close associates, the closest people to me, they were all tested. And out of the tests, only one came out positive. So, if we had taken all of them to some isolation place, are you not breeding cross infection?

There have been suggestions for more isolation centres, testing centres outside Ibadan,  are you looking at these suggestions, can our resources accommodate it?

COVID-19 is not something that is tied to zones or geo-graphical spread. When this whole thing first broke in Nigeria, the protocol was that anybody from anywhere in the South West should be taken to Lagos, because that was the only place with an isolation centre at that time. But between then and now, several states have got their own isolation centres. They’ve also been able to put in place, diagnostic centres and things like that.

So, you can’t just say because Ogbomoso is two hours from Ibadan… you can take samples out there and bring people to the Infectious Disease Centre at Ibadan. We do have an isolation centre that they are working on now at Ogbomoso. We are going to have one at Saki and one at Igbo-Ora as well.

But you are faced with a pandemic and you also have the economic challenge. So, you have to try and work in between such that the most efficient way to tackle the problem.

Will you say health workers are fully protected since we are getting a spike in infection of some of them? And are there plans by your government to improve the conditions of their service?

I will use this opportunity to really thank our front-line health workers, they are doing very well. We don’t have all the PPEs that they require. It’s just the fact. But the ones that we have, we are distributing them efficiently and we are also having discussions regarding how we can make these things locally. So, my Special Adviser on Health [Dr Funmi Salami] is doing a research right now.

There are places around the world where they have these reusable PPEs and once, we get those details, we can get few of our people together to see how this can be manufactured locally. This is going to be one of the benefits from this pandemic, you know, you need to look inward, try to develop your local capability and so, that is one of the things we are looking at as far as PPEs for our front-line health workers is concerned.

In terms of the welfare, I’m sure that one is within your power?

Yes, in terms of the welfare, I just approved a package for them; both the volunteers and people that are being seconded. We are not making it a hardship posting for them. We are [indistinct] within the resources available to us.

Are you open to home-grown solution for COVID 19?

What I can say really is that I don’t believe that if the solution doesn’t come from America or the West or the East, that we cannot have a solution. Yeah, it will take quite a bit to have it open, you know you take those things into the world medical journals, they have a process… maybe World Health Organisation. It’s quite a long process but it doesn’t mean that we cannot find a solution from this part of the world.

You spoke about distribution of palliatives to the poorest of the poor and there has been talk of likely lockdown….. When will the distribution be done? And can you also confirm that during the distribution, there will be restriction of movement?

Well, the distribution will commence this week. And the distribution will be done simultaneously in all local government areas in the state until all 120,000 households which we identified have received their palliative.

I personally, I was calling some of the people myself yesterday because I wanted to confirm if there is any kind of colouration to the data. I started from Saki East/ Saki West and Afijio federal constituency and then I moved to Olorunsogo/Irepo and Oorelope Federal Constituency. In terms of the 14 Federal Constituencies, I have been able to… at least, I have an idea of who those people are and quite frankly, there is a shocking revelation.

About let’s say 40 percent of the people I spoke to were farmers. And they told me, yes, it’s good for you to send us these palliatives but the real palliatives that we want you to send us is to help us get to the farm. Assist us in clearing our land and then we are ready to go out there.

So, there will be a second set of palliatives designed and targeted towards the farmers and thus, boosting our economy. So, those palliatives will go out this week.

Will there be restrictions when the simultaneous distribution will be done?

No, there won’t be any restrictions. We discussed it because I knew where this came from. The Honourable Commissioner for Special Duties [Chief Bayo Lawal] I think, came on the radio. They had a discussion in their own committee, which is a committee to distribute palliatives and they felt to check hoodlums and all of that, they need to lockdown so that people are not able to move around and disrupt distribution. 

Hijack the trucks?

Yes. I really don’t buy into that. I believe that our people will be orderly and we will do it in such a way that the targeted people will receive their palliatives.

I am happy to hear from you that you that you did a fact check on the names that were given to you and found out that majority you spoke with are real people, poor people. But there are also… people are saying since this lockdown began, people that were not poor, before are now poor, as I speak and maybe, they were not captured?

Well, last week Friday, we paid N11 Billion as workers salary for state workers, local government workers, teachers… everybody. Will you consider them as poor? Will you consider those that have received their salary as the people needing palliatives?

Absolutely not

Exactly. So, I wish the government could give everyone in need something but that is just not possible. What we did is, we identified 90,000 households as the poorest of the poor and we added another 30,000 households as vulnerable. And of course, what we are doing by trying to open up the economy is for those who can earn a living to be able to go out in a safe manner to earn a living.

Your government has been criticised for rejecting the federal government 1,800 bags of rice given to you by Customs. Will you make clarification on where things stand as regarding the rice?

We are distributing palliatives this week and our plan had been to include the rice which we received from the federal government through the Nigeria Customs Service as part of the palliatives to be distributed. Of course, we check everything we receive before distribution. An examination of the rice showed that it was infested with weevils and unfit for human consumption. I mean it was only logical that we report this to the people of Oyo state.

In fact, when we made this discovery, I called the governor of Ekiti state, who is the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum to find out if the problem exists in Ekiti or whether this was limited to our state.  He confirmed that they had the same problem with the rice that they received. Even the Ondo state government also stated that they had a similar problem and they will be returning theirs also.

So, since we are not distributing the rice, we have to return it to them. I won’t spend Oyo State money to get rid of rice given by Customs. So, they should find the means to destroy it by themselves. They seized it in the first instance.

So, I really don’t get the criticisms. Those criticising us, are they saying we should precipitate another problem in Oyo state by giving people rice that is not fit for consumption?

Since the pandemic partial lockdown, there has been an upsurge in crime related incidents, what are you actually doing about this?

Security is one of the four pillars of our administration and we have continuously dedicated resources to this sector. We continue to work closely with the security agencies in the state to ensure that our people enjoy relative peace.

One of the complaints we have received from the security agencies is false alarm regarding distress calls. I think, I mean, I really won’t want to point fingers but most calls placed through our dedicated emergency toll-free number, 615 turn out to be false alarms or frivolous. The danger is that the security people are then unable to reach those who really need their help.

I want to beg the opposition, this is not how to play politics of opposition. We want an economy that investors will have confidence in. It’s not by spreading false information that will bring you out as playing opposition. They should state things the way they are. Governments will come and go. I will leave this position very soon and our state will remain. All efforts that we are making is to ensure that we have a state that is secure and prosperous.

Will you still charge the security agencies to do more because incidents of crime especially at night during this period, genuinely in some areas seem to be on the rise?

Yes, we will keep pushing. And also, Amotekun will come on board. We are about getting the board to oversee Amotekun off the ground. So, once we are able to do that, they will also, complement the effort of the security agencies and when I go out at night and I go into those communities, part of the things I am looking at is how are going to get vigilantes and people in those communities to key into the overall strategies of Amotekun.

That’s a good one. I’m happy you were able to raise this issue of Amotekun. Many organisations just like Fresh FM too we are all groaning under this pandemic. We hardly get adverts, we hardly get commercial. And information is so key at fighting this pandemic, we must continually, like you have said, educate out people. Are you also looking as a government, where you could possibly partner and assist the media especially during this period that we have to work to ensure that we jointly with government, defeat corona in our state?

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