The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in Enugu State (258 with 50 discharged at the time of writing this piece) is the story of everything that is wrong with our nation- failure of security, disregard for constituted authorities, pigheadedness, over-religiosity, hypocrisy, indiscipline, and a broken value system.
Ndubisi (life is supreme), Ndukaku (life is greater than wealth), and Ndubueze (life is king), are among the names that underscore the premium and value Ndigbo place on life. Also, while growing up, our mothers would always reprimand us, saying the stubborn fowl would soon learn obedience in the soup pot or that he who never surrenders to anything would soon surrender to the death mat. But surprisingly, here are we, standing face to face with the most potent existential threat to mankind in recent history, yet you see people play with fire, foolishly refusing to take responsibility.
By the way, nobody expected COVID-19 and nobody wished it. Coronavirus just happened to us like the rest of the world. But give it to the Governor Ifeanyi Administration; that government has shown leadership and responsibility in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. It did not waste time set up with the Multi-sectoral Rapid Response Team that included local and international partners like the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, WHO, and UNICEF to drive the counter measures. It immediately approved the sum of N320 million at the outbreak of the pandemic to address the pandemic, relocate the Isolation Centre from Colliery Hospital to Enugu State University Teaching Hospital. Colliery itself has also been thoroughly overhauled and reconstructed infrastructure-wise, while it also has awarded multiple contracts for the immediate construction of 7 units of Type 3 Primary Health Care Centres across the sate to boost their capacity to respond to this and future health emergencies. It equally approved Group Life/Group Personal Accident Assurance Policy for all health and essential workers like the Fire Service personnel to motivate them.
The administration did not waste time to shut public schools, direct civil servants to stay at home (except for essential workers), and order the immediate shutdown of Enugu State borders. It suspended all cultural, religious, and social gatherings – marriage ceremonies, burial ceremonies, drinking bars, nightclubs, sporting and recreational activities, and worship centres. Importantly, it shut down the markets, including Ogbete market and successfully galvernised the local government and other political actors in terms of robust enlightenment and provision of infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the first Nigerian malady that setback Enugu’s war against COVID-19 was the failure of leadership and sense responsibility on the part of the security agencies. Despite ban on interstate travels by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, people were freely traversing nooks and crannies of the country. Motorists conveying even truckloads of people bribed their ways from one extreme part of the country to another. It was so bad that even the Senate, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, and the Nigeria’s Governors Forum had to raise alarm, yet to no avail. Any wonder that the Nigeria Police was rated 127th (the worst) out of 127 national police services, globally
Enugu’s first index cases recorded on 28th March 2020 in Enugu and up to the 19th case were imported by people who illegally visited from United Kingdom, Dubai, Lagos, Bauchi, Kano, Nasarawa, Plateau, Ondo, etc. during the lockdown. In fact, the 15th case was particularly interesting because she conveyed the remains of her late husband all the way from Lagos to their home in Igbo-Etiti where she now took ill and later tested positive COVID-19.
Nevertheless, Enugu was able to contain the pandemic and prevent community transmission, with the Governor undertaking to personal border enforcement and mobilizing the local government areas, the state’s Neighbourhood Watch personnel, Forest Guards, and political and community leaders and organisations to enforce a semblance of sanity at the state borders. Even during Easter, the government refused to open places of worship. However, the forced reopening of worship places and markets without a corresponding show of responsibility by users and leaders of such public places triggered the surge in COVID-19 cases in the State.
Sadly, rather than take responsibility, some are already beginning to weave all manner of conspiracy theories, wondering why Enugu’s daily case on a certain day was higher than that of some northern states like Kano. But before we resort to such theories, let us be reminded that Enugu now has a testing centre at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital. That means more testing.
But quite significantly, let us be reminded that the clergies and other politically influential persons kept mounting pressure on the Federal and State Governments to reopen worship centres even when the cases were on the rise. They got it. Let us be reminded that whereas the government set preconditions such as use of facemasks, social distancing, and maximum of an hour service in churches and mosques, these preventive measures are being observed in the breach. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Italy banned congregational prayers. Churches, synagogues, and mosques are under lock and key. Vatican City and Mecca are all shut down. Pilgrimage to Mecca, Rome, and Jerusalem are all banned. But here, we are more Catholic than the Pope.
Enugu State Government banned clubbing. Yet, these clubs open at dead of the night for “well-loaded” young men, influential, and otherwise responsible men and ladies sneak in to have dangerous fun at the expense of public health. It takes the Governor going round the city at the dead of night to catch the clubs red-handed and sanction them.
Let us not forget that when the Governor refused to open the markets, particularly Ogbete Market, it was the same Ndi Enugu that launched offensive on the social media, claiming that he was punishing Ogbete Market because some traders allegedly called him names. They recruited influential bloggers and politicians to lobby and insist that hunger virus would kill more people unless Ogbete was reopened. And since the decontamination and reopening of Ogbete, based on agreed set of safety protocols, these precautionary measures have been observed in the breach.
Many Enugu residents go out without facemasks and end up using spare ones given them by commercial drivers and Keke riders so they are not stopped and extorted by the police. They return the masks for reuse by multiple other passengers as they drop.
Let us be reminded that some of us still live in denial and vehemently contest the existence of COVID-19. We advance all manner of sickening excuses- it is government’s arrangement to embezzle public funds. Have you ever seen with your two eyes anybody killed by the novel Coronavirus? Have any of your relatives or friends contracted it or died from it? And the irresponsibility and foolishness go on and on. And this same mentality underscores sudden increase in other South East states.
Now, given the rise in COVID-19 infections the Enugu State Government has constituted an Ad-Hoc Expert Medical Advisory Committee to come up with urgent and effective measures for the de-escalation of the pandemic in the State. The Committee is now moving round meeting with leaderships of religious groups, market associations, labour unions, road transport workers and owners, organised private sector, etc. to urge strict observance of government’s directives. It is ironic, that government is begging people not to commit suicide. Here is also government begging the churches to observe a set of agreed precautionary measures and protocols, whereas the churches should be very exemplary and helping out with public enlightenment at a time like this.
I have no problem with government doing all within its powers to keep our people safe. But the truth is that if we must win this struggle, every one, not just government, must wake up to the realities of COVID-19 pandemic and take responsibility now.
• Okwor writes from Enugu