Secretary to the Niger State Government and Chairman, COVID-19 Committee, Ahmed Ibrahim Matane.

By Ibrahim Akawu

During the March 19 state wide broadcast, Governor of Niger state, Abubakar Sani Bello had hinged his decision to lockdown state as an emergency precautionary measure to contain the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic. The governor said the state, being a transit stop over for vehicles and passengers especially from the hotbed of the coronavirus disease in Nigeria which is Lagos, and also its proximity to Abuja, an emerging infectious ground of the dreaded contagion, it will be wiser to start the stich in time to save the worst scenario happening, which is with collapsing health care facilities, empty purse and inadequate health care manpower the state is grappling with, any large scale outbreak would be better imagined than real.

That’s why the proactive precautionary approach by the governor must be seen as what it was, a patriotic wise move to protect the people of the state, a constitutional responsibility he swore to uphold. The imposition of the dusk to down lockdown followed the setting up of a state task force to coordinate the fight against the coronavirus pandemic which has tremble the world like a whirlwind does to a Pacific sea. The task force, chaired by the secretary to the government of Niger state, a copycat of the presidential task force on COVID-19 structure, swung into action, by reeling out orders, protocols, directives, restrictions, all in a bid to shield the citizens from contracting the contagious disease. Daily press briefings ensued, engagement with relevant stakeholders such as the market men and women, motor parks union, transport unions, Kabukabu and okada riders unions, tricycle riders association, religious leaders, traditional rulers, security agencies and so on and so forth had taken place all in a bid to pulled in, like a centrifugal force, whatever is available to fight the pandemic. 

To give legal serum to this important task, the governor activated his powers and quickly issued executive order on the containment of the coronavirus disease and other infectious diseases which read thus “therefore, in the exercise of the powers conferred upon His Excellency, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, Governor of Niger State by section 3 of the Restriction of Movement of Persons Law Cap 115, Laws of Niger State, 1989, Section 40 of the Niger State Public Health Law, Cap. 109, Laws of Niger State, 1989 (as amended), Section 2,3 and 8 of the Quarantine Act Cap Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and Section 45 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and by virtue of all other powers enabling His Excellency, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, Governor of Niger State, do hereby invoke Niger State COVID-19 (Preventive, Containment and Emergency) Order 2020 for the good order, safety, security and public health of people in Niger State and shall come into force on the 30thMarch, 2020.

All actions taken prior to the commencement of this Order, either directly by the Governor or through Officers of the Government, to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are hereby deem to have been made under this Order and shall have all the force of this Order and remain valid and subsisting unless to the extent amended or varied in this Order. The purpose of the Order therefore, is to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 within the Local Area.

It may interest you to know that any person who fails to comply with a restriction, prohibition or requirement imposed under this Order or do anything contrary to the provisions of this Order shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment or both fine and imprisonment in accordance with the extant laws.

Although the order and the restriction of movement set teeth on edge at the initial stage over the economic and social hardship the people will face and then the drastic change in lifestyles imposed by the government as preventative protocol against the coronavirus disease, over time, life has gradually adjust itself to the reality. The only constant thing in life is change. By the 23rd of March, the streets in major towns accross the state became empty, markets, shops, motor parks, religious centers, restaurants, drinking bars and football viewing sports were ghosts of their former self. The economic and social activities came to a screeching halt, with sources of livelihood adversely affected. This naturally animated the call for government intervention to cushion the effect of the lockdown by providing palliatives. Government at both federal and state level responded to the call but instead said the palliatives will only affects the poorest of the poor.

Then the Limawa index case. The news broke out like a winter breeze, causing mix feelings of anxiety, panic and anxiousness. The reason is not far fetch. The tightening preventative measures taken earlier by the state government and the media hype associated with it even before the state recorded any single case created a mind frame that the coronavirus was already with us. The information from the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, the central agency coordinating the control and prevention of infectious diseases in Nigeria, that one of 29 samples sent in by the Niger state government proved positive, tested the resolve of the state government. In a hurry, the state executive council meeting was summoned to deliberate on the new emergency case. Far reaching decisions were taking, including the tightening of the border entry points to control the migration of people from Lagos into the state. The index case was said to have traveled from Lagos, Nigeria’s bastion of the global disease. The state environmental protection agency began disinfecting public places, preventive protocol like hand washing, physical distancing, wearing of facemasks and awareness campaigns were intensified.  The state government also converted the recently upgraded social rehabilitation center into quarantine post just as it has done to its isolation center at the Minna General Hospital.

What many sceptics thought was a fallacious grand plot by the Chinese and the West for aims unknown to us was starring us in the face. Conspiracy theorists flooded the social media space, spinning different kinds of stuff. The government however remains resolute, insisting that until there is no more coronavirus, efforts to tame it will not stop. At the last count and despite all that has been done, Niger state has 22 active cases with only one dead. In comparison, the state government efforts has paid off. With Nigeria’s current case of 6,175 and Niger state at the lower bottom of state by state ranking, it is right to applaud individuals who are in the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Niger state.