Magnus Eze, Enugu, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja, Obinna Odogwu, Awka, Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The Federal Government, yesterday, approved the extension of the second phase of the eased lockdown by another four weeks, with effect today June 30. Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, announced this at the daily briefing in Abuja.
The PTF also announced the reopening of schools, resumption of domestic flights, and interstate travel, so long as it is not outside curfew time.
Nigeria had imposed its first round of lockdowns in late March, but President Muhammadu Buhari, on April 27, announced a five-week gradual easing in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states.
The lockdown was eased with a nationwide curfew imposed from 8pm to 6am, from May 4 to May 17. The first phase of the lockdown was subsequently extended by two weeks and elapsed by midnight, June 1.
The second phase, which was implemented over four weeks, June 2 to 29, is still subject to review.
Speaking yesterday after he led a team comprising minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, coordinator of the PTF on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, and Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, to brief the president as the second phase of the easing of lockdown ended after an initial period of four weeks, Mustapha said: “I am pleased to inform you that Mr. President has carefully considered the fifth interim report of the PTF and has accordingly approved.
“That, with the exception of some modifications to be expatiated upon later, the phase two of the eased lockdown be extended by another four weeks with effect from Tuesday, June 30.’’
He stated that this would run through midnight of Monday, July 27, 2020, adding, however, that the following measures shall either remain in place or come into effect: “Maintaining the current phase of the national response for another four weeks in line with modifications to be expatiated by the national coordinator;
“Permission of movement across state borders only outside curfew hours, with effect from July 1, 2020, enforcement of laws around non-pharmaceutical interventions by states.”
He added that, in particular, the use of face masks in public places would be mandated, in addition to safe reopening of schools to allow students in graduating classes resume in person, in preparation for examinations.
“Safe reopening of domestic aviation services as soon as practicable and publication of revised guidelines around the three thematic areas of general movement, industry, labour and community activities.’’
He listed others to include provision of technical support for states to mobilise additional resources for the response and strengthening partnerships with states, local governments and traditional rulers. Others are community, religious leaders and civil society to ensure increased public awareness and compliance with preventive guidelines.
Coordinator of the PTF, Aliyu, said only pupils in Primary 6 and students in JSS3 and SSS3 would resume in preparation for their examinations.
This is even as he added that all schools, including primary schools and daycare centres across the nation would remain closed until further evaluation. He said the use of face masks remains mandatory in government and commercial premises, saying, no mask, no entry.
“For educational activities, all daycares and primary schools are to remain closed until further evaluation. Schools are encouraged to continue with e-learning and visual teaching but pupils may proceed to take the national common entrance as soon as is feasible, provided there is compliance with issued non-pharmaceutical interventions.”
“For secondary and tertiary institutions, all schools remain closed till further evaluation. Arrangements are to be made for exiting graduating students in JSS3 and SS3 to resume at both boarding and day schools as soon as possible for intensive revision exercises.
“All educational establishments are to conduct exhaustive reviews to ensure compliance with the issued guidelines on COVID-19 before they open up for this purpose and just to clarify they will open up only for the purpose of exiting students.
“Arrangements are to be made for students taking part in the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP), Business and English Certification (BEC) exams, West African Examinations Council (WAEC) examinations, National Examinations Council (NECO) and sub-exams, respectively. All schools must comply with the six recommended steps and required measures to be issued by the Federal Ministry of Education before an institution is reopened in the timeline to be provided.”
Mustapha explained why some categories of schools had to be reopened: “It is not an easy decision but we are mindful of the fact that, even prior to COVID-19, we have 15 million children out of school. So, what do we do with those that are in school, do they constitute part of this now or do we do something? We measured the risk and see how best we can help the graduating ones. We are not talking about everybody going back to school, we are talking about the graduating classes, the primary six, if we don’t do something about them, they can’t proceed to secondary school. So, they would not lose a year.
“The same thing with JSS3; if you don’t do anything, because they can only qualify to move if they pass a certain examination. So, if you stop them, it means we would not have the prospect of people graduating.
“The same with SS3, there is a certain examination that qualifies you to go into the university, that is WAEC, in addition to JAMB or whatever qualifying examination that you have. WAEC is not under our exclusive control. The five Anglophone West African countries constitute WAEC. If the other four are ready and we start the examination say in the month of August, Nigeria cannot isolate itself. It means that those that are to graduate to the universities next year would not be able to graduate.
“So, we say these classes that would be graduating, can we do something to accommodate them in such a way that they would just show up for the purposes of the examination?”
Aliyu also said attendance of funerals and weddings has been reduced to 20 people, including family members.
“So I’ll be taking you through some of the changes, as the chairman said; we are extending phase two of the response with slight modifications.
“The PTF has identified certain areas of concern that require attention and which will undergo a further revision. These are particularly areas involved with international air travel, entertainment activities, educational sector, services and public and private sector services.
“The PTF in the past has stated that the aim of phase two was to sustain the gains from earlier steps and phases in terms of the pandemic control.”
Mulls locking down 18 LGAs contributing 60% of cases
Also, Mustapha warned that government might be forced to lock down the 18 local government areas that account for 60 per cent of COVID-19 cases, as part of measures to contain the spread of the pandemic in the country.
He said the PTF was worried about the fate of the remaining 20 per cent as he said nobody knows who may become the next victim among them. He said this reality made it imperative for the country to do everything to protect those in the vulnerable age bracket, such as the elderly and those with underlying illnesses.
He said the decision to lock down the 18 local government councils would, however, be implemented by state governments hosting the councils and not the Federal Government.
The SGF said the councils with higher cases of COVID-19 would be lock down to allow the state governments carry out aggressive testing and for management of cases. He warned that Nigeria had not reached its peak and the number of infections would continue to increase.
While urging governors to drive the process of combating the virus, he also asked local authorities, including religious and traditional leaders, to ensure compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions.
PDP raises the alarm over COVID-19 infections in Kogi
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has expressed concern over alleged unreported cases of COVID-19 infections in Kogi State.
The PDP, in a statement, queried Governor Yahaya Bello over his alleged carefree attitude towards COVID-19 prevention and management protocols.
The opposition party stated that the development has resulted in the spread of the virus in the state, as well as avoidable deaths.
The party charged the NCDC to wade into the situation in Kogi as the stae government had not demonstrated the capacity to guarantee the health and safety of the people in the state.
“Our party is deeply worried over alleged unreported cases of COVID-19 as well as issues of ‘silent deaths’ in the state, which have become scary.
“We note with pain the death of the Chief Judge of Kogi State, Nasir Ajana, who had to be moved from Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, to an isolation facility in Abuja.
“The situation in Kogi leaves no one in doubt that Governor Bello cares so little about the welfare of the people, particularly in the face of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic,” the PDP added.
167 Nigerians evacuated from South Africa laud FG
The 167 stranded Nigerians who arrived the country from South Africa, last Friday, have applauded the Federal Government for its efforts in evacuating its citizens in various parts of the world in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spokesman of the group, Ezeako Kenechukwu, specifically thanked Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa and Air Peace airlines, for their successful evacuation.
He told Daily Sun in a telephone interview on Monday, from where he was observing the mandatory 14-day isolation that there was no place like home, stressing that their return had ended horrifying months of anxiety and uncertainty.
Security agents pocketed N44bn bribe in 3 months
International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (INTERSOCIETY), yesterday, alleged that security agencies in Nigeria allegedly collected bribe to the tune of N44 billion while enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in the past 90 days (March 30 and June 30).
In a special report signed by its board chairman, Emeka Umeagbalasi; Head of Field Data Collection and Documentation, Samuel Kamanyaoku, and two others, INTERSOCIETY said all the agencies were culpable.
“Those directly or vicariously responsible for collection and pocketing of the bribes included officers and personnel of the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police Force, Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and Nigeria Customs Service.
“Officers and personnel of Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Navy also got involved especially where they mounted roadblocks or were joined as members of ‘Joint Security Taskforce (JTF)’ and drafted to jointly man COVID-19 border post and boundary post security.