The government and people of Niger state have in past one month fought rele cntlessly to keep at bay the corona virus pandemic with concerted efforts including stringent precautionary measures. Writes AIDELOJE OJO
For more than three weeks, residents of the state locked under restriction of movement and sit-at-home orders have endured hardships and hunger to keep safe from the virus.
However, the berth of the first case of the virus in the state through a motor conductor from Lagos has prompted Governor Abubakar Sani Bello to tighten loophooles. To that extent, he declared a total lockdown on the state and quarantined the entire Minna community from where the first index case was sniffed out.
First case in the state
Available information about the index case indicates that he is a motor boy attached to a Lagos-based trailer. His family confirmed him to be a tuberculosis patient who had battled the disease for 10 years. His family house is located in a popular street in Limawa community of Minna with an aged father identified as Abdullahi.
Blueprint learnt that the community was alarmed some days ago when the patient sneaked into Limawa family home from Lagos exhibiting symptoms of the virus with persistent cough. The community was said to have suspected his case and alerted the state taskforce on Covid –19. The taskforce picked him up while on queue at a popular bank ATM platform. He was said to have resisted the arrest insisting that he was not carrying coronavirus. A mild drama ensued and the police helped the medical experts to take him away to an isolation centre before his samples were taken for test at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Abuja. At about 9.30pm on Friday April 10 the NCDC confirmed him positive to the virus.
Panic after discovery of first case
Residents of Minna are yet to come to terms with the berth of the virus at the central part of the ancient city. In surprised and panic mood, residents were seen on Saturday few hours after the news broke discussing the issue in clusters. Blueprint learnt that fear has gripped the residents especially those from Limawa area due to the belief that the patient has stayed for days and may have interacted with friends and other community members before his status was discovered by the committee. Many believed the claim that the patient was disallowed from entering the family house on arrival by his siblings is a ruse aimed at undermining the seriousness of the issue and the looming danger inherent in the spread of the virus by his contacts. Blueprint further gathered that emerging facts on the particular case has established that the patient dropped from the vehicle that conveyed him from Lagos at Bida before boarding another commercial vehicle to Minna. Another issue that appeared not to have been fully resolved is the claim by some close family members that the patient is only of tuberculosis case and that he was discharged from the hospital back home after two days before the test result was out. Medical experts are of the view that if this is verified to the true, the fear that many people of the area may have contracted the virus is justifiable.
The unfolding politics of trailing the case
Despite the fact that the health of an entire community and by extension Minna as a whole is at risk by this case, some people have decided to play dirty politics with it. Blueprint learnt that prominent politicians from the Limawa community have begun to attack the state government for bundling the patient into the isolation centre insisting that it is a case of TB.
To clear the air on this, the state commissioner for health and hospital services, Mohammed Makusidi, debunked the claim that the patient was discharged from the hospital at any point in time since he was taken into isolation centre. According to him, “The patient resisted our efforts to take him to isolation centre when we first got wind of him. However, the police assisted us in getting him to the isolation centre before we took his samples for Covid-19 test in Abuja. He has been with us since then and under medical management before his result come back positive at the weekend.”
This was corroborated by the state governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, when he briefed the press on Saturday last week to confirm the first case in the state. Responding to question on the where-about of the patient, the governor said, “We took him into our isolation centre and he has been on close monitoring and medication. The action of our Quick Response Team on Covid –19 has been very swift on the case because we couldn’t have taken chances about the spread of the virus at the community level.”
He advised people to stop playing politics with the pandemic saying, “All hands must be on table to prevent spread in the state. I call on every one to join hands in protecting the lives of our citizens against the virus.”
Community locked down as governor declares curfew
The state government appeared to have come to terms with the unceremonious arrival of the virus in the state and has therefore demonstrated its determination to curb the spread especially at community level. Analysts believe that the need to act fast to stop the spread must have prompted the state governor to order Limawa community where the index case stayed for some days on arrival from Lagos to be completely locked down. This he said is to enable the government and medical experts identify within 14 days those who may have been infected by the virus. According to him, “Limawa community has to be locked down to avoid possible spread of the virus in the community. The infection of one person as we all know could spread very fast among other persons in the community and thousands of people could get the virus if appropriate precautionary measures are not taken. I know that it is difficult but citizens must understand the situation and bear with us as we take more stringent measures to save lives.”
Blueprint reports that although a curfew from 2pm to 10pm had existed in the state before the index case was reported, the governor extended it to 24 hours from Monday April 13 urging residents to stay at home. By the order, all commercial vehicles were banned from movement from and into the state with all borders closed. The governor said those who must enter the state as essential workers must undergo preliminary test at the borders before being allowed entry.
Much ado about palliatives as hardship bites harder
The secretary to the state government who is also chairman of the state taskforce on Covid-19, Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, in a press conference weeks ago, announced the plan of government to purchase food items as palliatives to poor people who would be affected by the lockdown. He said the state government has earmarked N300m for the exercise adding that distribution would soon commence across ward levels.
Checks however revealed that the distribution of food stuff has not commenced in earnest weeks into the lockdown in the state. This has therefore given rise to complaints and insinuations that government was not serious about the exercise. It was learnt that some people were seen going from one house hold to another within communities in Minna apparently registering them for the exercise, but the slow speed of the process has no doubt incurred the anger of potential beneficiaries who groan under severe hunger. In a chat with the taskforce chairman he said, “The distribution of the palliatives has started in some local government areas. The supplies are taken directly to ward levels and most of the food items have reached their destinations. For instance, Bosso local government has started sharing the items while we are planning to officially launch the exercise in Chanchanga local government soon.”
It is however expedient for government to fast track the distribution of the palliative especially as total lockdown of the state has commenced.