Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has warned state governors to rethink their decisions to lift the ban on congregational prayers, adding that the Coronavirus pandemic us still very much here.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of PTF on COVID-19 Boss Mustapha said this at the daily briefing of the task force, while reacting to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, announcing lifting of the ban on congregational and ‘Eid’ prayers. He insisted that congregants must continue to obey the physical distancing rule.
The governor’s directive came moments after the SGF announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s extension of the lockdown in Kano by additional two weeks.
Mustapha said: “I’m particular about congregational gatherings. Large gatherings will exposed even the 20 percent that we want to protect. We want our sub-national governments to really reconsider their decisions on allowing large gatherings to take place until when we have been fully prepared and we can adjudged that the moment has come for that to be allowed.”
Mustapha, who shared the stories of people he knows who have lost their lives to COVID-19 on Thursday, said: “I have seen the ravage that has come upon our land.”
The SGF said: “I will make it a little bit personal for me. I’ve lost a colleague in this process. All the five working days on the week preceding Mallam Abba Kyari, the late chief of staff to the president being positive for COVID-19, for the five working days, we sat beside each other in four of those working days except for the Thursday that he went to Kogi for condolence over the loss of the mother of the governor.
“I shared official functions with him. We sat beside each other for the four of the five working days. Some of my colleagues had meetings with him on Saturday and Sunday within the same week. But unfortunately, he lost the battle against COVID-19.
“I can see the face of a chief judge of a state who was my classmate in ABU when we went as young lads to study law in 1976; that is almost 40 something years ago. I can see those faces, I can see the ravage that has come upon our land. And I know you can identify with a lot of people out there.
“So my message to you today is that we have a collective responsibility to walk together in honest realizing that each and every one of us has a part to play in this enterprise so that we can force this virus and limit its spread.”
The SGF said in the virtual meeting of the National Economic Council with the vice president and all the state governors on Thursday, the issue of alignment of their state level actions with the guidelines issued was emphasized.
He said: “Similarly emphasized is the need for states to diligently implement and enforce compliance. Particularly, I underscored the need for the governors to provide personal and strong leadership, carry the policy of community ownership to the grass roots and create deeper awareness.
“The governors were also advised on the decision taken by some of their colleagues to permit large gatherings as such decisions could inadvertently endanger the elderly, the sick and those with underlying factors during such gatherings. The strong advisory from the PTF is that large gatherings beyond twenty persons remains prohibited and should be adhered to.”
PTF national coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, in addition said governors will henceforth own the response as the centre will not continue to drive the process.
He said: “First of all, I will like to say that the continuous measures that we advise, always take into cognizance the social, economic, religious, cultural implications of these measures. In addition to that, we know that the effectiveness of the measures really depends on the acceptability, the owning by the communities. Whenever the PTF puts out guidelines, it is never done in isolation to state governments. We always tell them in advance what the likely recommendations will be, if we get approval from Mr. President we go back to them and tell them what part of their recommendations have been agreed on or not.
“We will continue to work with the state governments to make sure that whatever is put in place is in the best interest of their citizens.
“We are in the business of saving lives. When it comes to restrictions, I will like to give you an example. Saudi Arabia for instance, I’m sure you are aware, they had about 240 deaths, they have had over 40,000 infections. So, their case fatality rate is much more lower than Nigeria. But what have they done? They are planning to actually lockdown the country, 24 hours lockdown for five days during the period of the eid. Have we had any umrah this year? No. Are we likely to have hajj? We probably wouldn’t. So we are living in an usual situations, we are living in an usual times. As far as we are concern, the role of government is to protect the lives of the citizens and ensure their well being.
“In this regard, we will continue to work with the state governors but we are also pushing towards a different approach on the next phase of the pandemic. We going to insist on state governors starting to take ownership of the response. We will support them in making decisions, we will provide them with the best guidance based on the data available, but we will not continue to drive this response centrally from the federal side. We expect state governments to have their capacity to be able to implement those measures required to safeguard the lives of the people.
“So, in this regard, as far as we are concerned state governments will continue to have their responsibility as we go forward. But we hope that we will be able to work very closely and make use of science and also considered the different social cultural and religious aspects of those communities when we enforce the guidelines.”
Speaking on public holidays, the PTF director said: “As we go into Salah and any other public holiday period, where people congregate, where people visit each other, in a pandemic situation, where the pandemic is clearly going into the exponential phase, not only is it risky, it is unwise for you to go into large groups of people without any protection, with no face masks, without respecting physical distancing, putting aside all the mass gatherings, you are asking for trouble. And that trouble will not come immediately, it will come in the following weeks, two, three when that large congregation of people end up being infected. And in the long run, do you want to be alive for the next Salah or do you want to enjoy this Salah, especially if you are at risk and possibly not be around for next year. Is it going to be one Big Bang and then you are gone? Or do you want to delay things considering the usual circumstances we are in and continue to enjoy future Selahs with your loved ones. So I will keep it at that for now.”
The SGF also warned on self-medication, adding that it is fraught with the danger of increasing risks of avoidable casualties.
He said: “Through the surveillance system set up by the PTF, we have received reports that Nigerians have been purchasing Hydrxoychloroquine in large quantities. We wish to reiterate that this drug has not being certified for use in treating COVID-19 in Nigeria by the relevant health and pharmaceutical authorities. Self-medication of any kind, is fraught with the danger of increasing risks of avoidable casualties. We, therefore strongly warn against self-medication. If you are sick, please seek medical advice and if you are confirmed positive, kindly self-isolate in an approved facility. The COVID-19 is highly infectious and dangerous.”
Mustapha also apologized to essential workers for the harassment faced in the course of the discharge of their duties from security agencies.
He said: “For sometimes now, the PTF has consistently answered questions and provided explanations on the categories of persons and services exempted from some aspects of these guidelines particularly as it relates to restrictions on inter- state movement and curfew. For the avoidance of doubt, essential workers including our indefatigable medical personnel, diligent journalists, courageous fire service personnel, telecommunications workers, are all exempted.
“The Inspector General of Police has further clarified on the categories of essential workers in alignment with the guidelines and has issued instructions to security agents to work on the approved exemptions. With this clarification, we sincerely hope that the persistent complaints of harassment by these categories of essential workers, especially medical personnel and journalists would be put to rest so that we can harmoniously work in battling this pandemic.
“The PTF COVID-19 urges all essential workers to go about their legitimate businesses carrying with them valid means of identification and to exercise courtesy in approaching security personnel.”