Akwa Ibom State And The COVID-19 Pandemic

By Ekemini Simon



As at 12:30pm of Wednesday, April 1, 2020, there were 151 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Nigeria. Nine have been discharged with two deaths.

The cases by states in real time is Lagos- 82, FCT- 28, Oyo- 8, Osun- 14, Ogun- 4, Kaduna- 3, Enugu- 2, Edo- 4, Bauchi- 2, Ekiti- 2, Rivers-1 and Benue- 1.

Although Akwa Ibom State is yet to record any confirmed case, palpable fear has enveloped the land as many have opined that if a neighbouring state like Rivers has recorded a case, there is a strong likelihood that the state is not safe. Nevertheless, in a bid to protect her citizens, the Akwa Ibom State Government on Monday, March 30, 2020 signed into operation the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations 2020.

Provisions of The Regulation

According to a release signed by the Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Udoh:
(a) Commercial tricycles shall carry not more than two passengers only;
(b) Mini buses shall carry not more than one passenger per row; and
(c) a private vehicle shall carry not more than two persons at the back seat and one on the front seat.
(2) All public parks, shops, eateries, clubs, restaurants, markets and offices within the state shall remain closed except for the sale of foodstuffs, drugs and other essential commodities.
(3) All public burials, public weddings, and other forms of public gatherings are for the time being hereby prohibited.
(4) All places of religious worship, churches, and mosques shall strictly observe the social distancing prescription of a minimum of one metre spacing and not more than twenty persons per gathering. In addition, hand washing facility with running water, soap and sanitizer shall be made available.

Closure of Borders

4(i) All borders and roads leading into and out of the State shall remain closed with immediate effect
(For the avoidance of doubt, all inter-state transportation and movement on land, air, water are hereby prohibited. Yet, has the State complied to the regulation? That is, compliance to Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations 2020. When this reporter visited motor parks on April 1, 2020 in the state capital, Uyo, the parks were not in operation.

According to a staff of Akwa Ibom Transport Company who gave his name as Ubong Uko, they decided to close down operations in order to observe State Government’s restriction of movement regulations. However, in Uyo, tricycles and mini buses are still carrying the regular number of passengers without abiding to the recommended numbers. Shops among other business premises remain open for businesses although price of commodities have skyrocketed. Minor enforcement was however observed along Aka Road and Ikot Ekpene Road. This reporter who contacted sources in the oil city of Eket reports that there has been no enforcement of the regulation as people were reported to be going about with their normal businesses. But what could really be the reasons for the non-compliance?

Reason for Non- Compliance of Regulation


When this reporter interacted with Shop owners along Aka Road, they said they couldnot close down their businesses since they survive on daily income earned from their businesses. According to a trader, Udeme Itakke, “If I stop my business, then I and my family may die of hunger. We survive based on the daily income we make. It is easy for government officials or civil servants to observe the lockdown because through their salaries, they had prepared for the lockdown. But people like us, there was no money to prepare for it”.

For a widow, Idara Etim, if the State Government wishes the citizens to obey the lockdown, they have to provide palliative measures through food items.
She adds, “It was during elections that they shared rice. But now that we are in a worse situation, we have been forgotten and now you tell us to go inside the house without food? The natural survival instinct won’t allow us who are hungry to obey such order.” Yet, with the recommendations from the people, is it possible for the State government to provide palliative measures to cushion the effect of the “stay at home order?”

Actions from State governments to Cushion Effect of Stay At Home Order.

On Friday, March 27, 2020, in preparation for shutdown, Lagos State Government announced provision of food bank for over 200,000 households made up of father, mother and four children. The State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said that the gesture was only for the first phase of the scheme.

Lagos State Governor provides food Banks as palliative for Lockdown

Other states reported to have provided food items to households as a palliative for the lockdown are Borno and Anambra. Akwa Ibom State which earns the highest revenue from Federation Account is yet to record its palliative measures. Yet, besides government, what have other individuals done to help the people of the state during this trying times?


Distribution of food items at Anambra State

Efforts of Individuals/ Organizations/ Government Functionaries

A few individuals and organizations in the state have been reported to have played a role in giving sensitization to the people about the virus coupled with some relief materials. Outstanding among them are Prince Mendy Archibong, Ini Ememobong and Rt Hon Onofiok Luke.

Prince Mendy Archibong, an industrialist, was among the first to rise to the occasion. On Thursday, March 26, 2020, he had taken sensitization against the novel coronavirus to rural communities in Akwa Ibom State.

Prince Archibong who is the Chief Executive Officer of Good Time Paints and Allied Company Limited had sponsored a one day sensitization with distribution of hand sanitizers, disinfectants, disposable face masks and hand gloves to students and teachers of Lutheran High School, Ikot Obong Edong in Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area and Comprehensive High School, Ikpe Mkpak Eyop in Obot Akara Local Government Area.

Ini Ememobong, the State Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, had carried out sensitization to key organizations in the State including Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigeria Medical Association and Civil Liberties Organisation. He had distributed sanitizers among other protective materials to them even as he has also distributed bags of rice to every household in his village, Use Ndon in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area.

The member representing Etinan Federal Constituency, Rt Hon Onofiok Luke, has announced donation of N2 million to the state coordinating committee of Akwa Ibom Government in preparatory effort to fight the pandemic. He has also donated food items worth N12 million to constituents. Be that as it may, how prepared is Akwa Ibom State for COVID-19?

Akwa Ibom State Preparedness Against COVID-19

Facilities at Ibom Specialty Hospital

Since the reported case of the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria in February 2020, the Akwa Ibom State Government assured that the state is equipped to contain the virus in case it breaks out in the state.

According to the State Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong, while addressing newsmen in Uyo recently, the State Ministry of Health had met with all the authorities that work at all entry points into the state to be on high alert against anyone with suspected case of the disease.

The Commissioner noted, “We started by meeting with the Chairman, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Health. We had meeting with him, we had meeting with churches through Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for awareness. “As you know, we are 99 per cent Christians. We also had a presentation and meeting with the management of Victor Attah International Airport knowing that those who may possibly be infected with novel coronavirus will come in through there.

“We have beefed up security. We will use all the resources available to work against possible outbreak. So, we call on all Akwa Ibom people and residents to cooperate with authorities during strict checks.”

State Governor inspects facilities at Ibom Specialty Hospital

The Commissioner said the State Government has powered Centres for Infectious Disease and Control across the State, making it convenient for possible suspected cases with high level of security personnel available at those centres. He said in newly built or refurbished hospitals, the State Government has constructed emergency operation centre of four wards and sewage system.

Dr Ukpong pointed out that in hospitals across the state, the State Government has made provision for a lot of personal protective equipment with sanitizers. He said the Ministry of Health has put in place a Subcommittee on Decontamination and Burial in case anyone dies from any of those diseases, hence prevent further outbreak.

Dr Ukpong added, “When anybody dies, the virus multiplies and becomes more infectious. Government makes arrangement that anybody who dies, there will be no ceremony. We will move the body to the grave. We will however brief the family, sympathize with them but bury them at our own cost.

“We also have a special ambulance for that purpose. We don’t use it for any other purpose. The committee will also decontaminate the room the person stayed.” He noted that a Contact Committee has also been set up to check all the persons a suspected individual may have contacted with mechanism for strict follow-up.

Yet, health professionals disagreed with the State Government over the claims of preparedness.

You are not Prepared for COVID-19- Health Professionals to AKSG

In a communiqué signed by leadership of the conglomerate of health care professional bodies on Monday, March 23, 2020, they noted that the state is not prepared to contain the virus since some imperatives are not put in place.

They mentioned that the health sector of Akwa Ibom State is not being carried along by the government in whatever preparedness that may be ongoing. The health professionals said this apparent lack of communication has contributed in fueling rumours, half-truths and non-truths – a situation they stressed is inimical to the prevention of COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

They complained that majority of the health care professionals have received no formal training on COVID-19 outbreak response or the management of a clinical case.

The health professionals added, “The leadership noted with shock that while passengers travelling through the Victor Attah International Airport are being subjected to screening, no screening of any kind is being conducted at our land and sea borders with Cross River State, Rivers State, Abia State, Cameroun and Equitorial Guinea where majority of travellers pass into Akwa Ibom State.

RELATED: The Monstrous Claws of COVID-19

“The meeting also frowned at complaints received by members that health care professionals are being blackmailed to work without personal protective equipment including basic devices like facemasks, gloves, hand sanitizers and hygiene facilities such as running water. In the face of the current outbreak scoping water from a drum will not suffice.

“The leadership noted the irony that our healthcare workers who are paid a miserly hazard allowance continue to always patriotically put their lives on the line in defense of the society. Examples include the health workers responses during Ebola, Lassa Fever and now COVID-19 outbreaks.”

The health professionals pointed out that there are no triage points and established protocols in our various hospitals across the state. With the revelation from health professionals who would be on ground to battle the pandemic, the media became drenched with debates over who to believe about the level of preparedness to contain the virus. But that was not enough. There came a question about ventilators and the centre to treat patients of coronavirus.

The Ventilator/ IDH Debate

To heighten the tensed situation, there were further claims that the state does not have adequate ventilators, a key facility to assist patients who test positive to the virus. Furthermore, reports had it that the Emergency Operations Centre and Infectious Diseases Centre at Ikot Ekpene were not in good shape to receive patients of coronavirus. When this reporter visited the Infectious Diseases Centre in company of other journalists on Thursday, March 27, 2020 for a first-hand information, the journalists were denied access to the facility.

On requesting to see the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, the nurses beckoned on one Dr. Udeme who later came out and courteously told the journalists that he should be given just ‘one minute’ to attend to them. That one minute enabled him to put a call through to seek permission to grant the pressmen an audience.

After some time, Dr. Udeme came out to address the journalists. But not long after he came out, he did not wait to be asked questions by the anxious journalists. He hurriedly stated: “sorry gentlemen, I have been instructed not to grant any of you interview or allow you access to see the facilities…”

He said the order was from the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong. The doctor added that the Health Commissioner would be coming to the facility that day and therefore suggested the journalists could wait for him to arrive. The Commissioner for Health himself had during a press briefing recently challenged journalists to visit the centre by themselves to ascertain the true circumstances and not rely on social media grapevines.

Yet, the face-off between the health professionals and the State Government was yet to reach its finality.

Break out of Industrial Rift

On Friday, March 27, 2020, after the Commissioner for Health failed to invite the Nigeria Medical Professionals for a stakeholders meeting among other health professionals, the health professionals walked out on the Commissioner.

They called for the resignation of Dr Ukpong as the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health. The health professionals said the Commissioner for Health has shown lack of managerial and interpersonal skills, disregard for professionals and professionalism, high-handedness and divisive tendencies, and outright poor management of COVID-19 preparedness, hence the need for his resignation. They insisted that health professionals in the state will no longer continue to work with him as they no longer enjoy his leadership of the Ministry of Health.

The Defence of the State Government

On the issue of ventilator, during an interaction with journalists, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health insisted that the IDH is equipped to contain the virus. He however admitted that the hospital does not have a ventilator.

Offering insight to the reason behind that, he noted that already, the state is blessed with 13 ventilators in Ibom Specialty Hospital.

Dr Ukpong said the state government cannot keep the ventilators at the IDH because of possibility of theft. He noted, “All the hospitals are safe to some extent, but there is still theft going on. When we commissioned Etinan General Hospital some time ago, Vice President was brought by the Governor. Within few days of commissioning, we lost 41 beds.

“We had to investigate and arrest some people. Three of them are in jail today. So, for an item that is very important and expensive, you don’t keep it where you are not absolutely sure. It is a movable item. So what we have done is that we created that isolation centre, we have the oxygen jars and from that place to the General Hospital, it doesn’t take 10 minutes. The General Hospital, Ikot Ekpene, is the only hospital in the state where oxygen are produced for other hospitals.”

The Health Commissioner explained that COVID-19 has various symptoms and it is only when one has difficulty in breathing that a ventilator can be used. He stressed that ventilator is not the only equipment needed in the treatment of the disease. Dr Ukpong added, “So, the doctors know. Or your saturation is not adequate, they will give you the oxygen to increase your saturation.

“If you go to a place where people with COVID-19 test positive with just a cough or fever, you don’t use oxygen. It is only when the difficulty comes that you use the ventilator. And if you have pneumonia and have difficulty in breathing, that’s when you use ventilator that people are shouting about.”

The Commissioner said added to 13 in Ibom Specialty Hospital, the state has three (3) in Government House. He added “We have the ones we fix in cars and can move immediately. It is a matter of letting us know. We have three doctors in that hospital. We created a room for them. “Throughout the period we had Lassa fever, we have not had any case there. So we don’t keep things like that there. There could have been damage, so we have to keep it where it would be used.”

Commenting on the rift between the health professionals against him, the Commissioner said it was unnecessary. He said, “I did not invite NMA because first of all, I had talked to NMA on Wednesday. Another reason is that NMA is the highest body in the delivery of health care services. If anyone should know better about coronavirus, it should be medical doctors.”

Nevertheless, with the face-off between health professionals and the government, how would the state fare if the virus incidentally breaks out?

State Governor Brokers Peace

After a preliminary meeting with the health professionals on Saturday March 28, 2020 with the Secretary to the State Government, the Governor finally met with health professionals on Sunday night of March 29, 2020 to iron out issues.

Interestingly, peace was finally brokered as health professionals promised to work in unity with the State Government to contain the virus if it breaks out.

Consequently, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, in company of the leadership of health professionals visited Ibom Specialty Hospital on Tuesday, March 25, 2020 for on the spot assessment of facilities in preparedness to contain the virus in case it breaks out in the state.

Be that as it may, it is the belief of many that the true test of the state’s preparedness may be in the coming days if the virus eventually breaks out in the state.

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