Gov Emmanuel Fully Committed To Protect A’Ibom From Covid -19

…No Country Or State Was Ever Prepared For Coronavirus


. . . Coronavirus (Monster) Is Beyond
Politics, Ethnicity, Religion – Charles Udoh

Mr. Charles Udoh is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Akwa Ibom State. He is a thorough bred banker with over two decades experience in the sector. The information commissioner in this interview with Crystal Express took time to analyze Akwa Ibom government’s efforts at preventing the dreaded coronavirus from penetrating the state and plans to tackle it if it’s encountered.


How prepared is Akwa Ibom State Government to fight the COVID- 19 menace?


Way back in 2016/17, we had set up an emergency response centre not because we anticipated coronavirus or any affliction but was conceived after managing the Reigners Bible Church collapse crisis. The state governor directed the Commissioner for Health to set up the emergency response centre and team. The idea was to ensure that for any major challenge, there will be a first aid to deal with it. Nobody had ever anticipated that we would at any point in time have an epidemic or crisis of this magnitude that will overwhelm the world. Akwa Ibom government is facing the challenges squarely just like the world leaders. Luckily also in 2016, we had invested heavily on our secondary health care facilities; the idea had been that for any resident in Akwa Ibom State it won’t be up to one hour for one to see a world-class hospital with facilities in the state.


From Etinan to Ikot Okoro, we have ensured that the dream is alive. We have also within the period under review, upgraded our specialist hospital. We met a hospital that only the ground floor and partially the first floor was completed. There was no roofing, rain water still penetrated the building. We only had one scan machine and MRI machine. But today, we have 11 ventilators, installed new theatres, installed intensive care units and dialysis machines in the hospital. The hospital has been massively upgraded to cope with any emergency. Speaking realistically, no one ever imagined that there will be a situation like the world is being confronted with. To that extent we have invested heavily in health care so that we can handle issues when they arise. The truth remains that no country or state was ever ready for what we are witnessing now. We have done our own bit. People raised dust over the number of ventilators we have. The truth is that ventilator is not the cure; it only aids a sick person towards recovery.


I actually didn’t want to be dragged into the arguments of ventilators because we don’t need such distraction now. In a situation like the one we have found ourselves now, what is paramount is how to prevent the menace from coming into the state, since there is no cure or vaccine. What is also important is to let our people know how to prevent the disease from spreading here. Even if we have 1000 ventilators in an outbreak, it won’t be enough as factories are shut down; so seeing them to buy is not easy. Today, as a state we have 129 ventilators –11 at Ibom Specialist Hospital, 4 at Government House Clinic and another 4 at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital. In terms of awareness, we have done massive awareness campaigns using the traditional media – radio, television, print and even get to speak to a cross section of the society from transport workers to traders, mechanics, farmers, church leaders, security agencies, local channels and others. The idea is that centrally you can’t pass information to get to the nooks and crannies of the state and society. So we agreed that the best way to do it is to use this medium to take it down to everybody, no matter where they are. Look at the religious bodies for instance, we organized meeting with all religious leaders and briefed them and they are expected to go down to their various congregations and pass the information to spread downwards. That is what we have done too to show preparedness.

This week the State Security Council had a meeting where all the service commanders met with the governor and came up with some resolutions which are already trending in the media space and also ensure there are restrictions where necessary, and that people don’t flaunt the laws restricting gatherings and others. As a state, we have done all we can to show our level of preparedness.


The state has been partially locked down by some restrictions on human activities. Are there palliatives from government to cushion the effects?


It is not yet on the front burner but as a government we will consider that after looking at the resources available. I won’t tell you that the government will do this and that because the prevailing economic situation may not allow us to do certain things. So what we advise after paying salaries to workers is to ensure that people stay at home and observe all the rules we set up by government and the ones by the World Health Organization and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which is to ensure respiratory hygiene and observe social distancing and we will review the situation as the case demands. Recall that we have set up an incidence management committee whose mandate is to meet on a daily basis, review and advise the government on the next step to take or the way forward, so that government can take decisions and inform the people.

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It appears there are internal squabbles between the State Health Commissioner and Unions in the health sector. What is the situation at present?

In every situation where human beings are involved, there is bound to be conflict. It happens even between husband and wife, brother and sister and even among family members. Usually it is said that not what happens to you that counts but how you react to it. The story was in the social media, but government has intervened and ensured that the issues were amicably resolved. Government set up a team involving myself, Commissioner for Health and others and we met and resolved all grey areas.

I am happy to say that we have buried the hatchet and all the grievances are now in the past. The health care professionals rose from the last meeting we had with the Governor and pledged to work together. All the banana peels that would have hindered a smooth working relationship between them and the government have been removed.


There is this lingering rumour that there are foreigners that visited the state recently for medical outreach in Eket and other parts of the state who later developed symptoms of COVID- 19. What is your take on it?


I want to clearly state that it is unfortunate that some people want to politicize the situation that it is as serious as this. I also read and followed the report and as a government, we decided to investigate. I personally called one of the doctors that were mentioned and he emphatically said there was nothing like that. The leader of the delegation sent an open letter to the state government stating the real situation and debunking the social media claims. I want to plead with people to tread with caution. The individual that spread the rumour at a time like this is so malicious. Even if such information was true, the right thing to do would have been to contact the government and divulge the information not on public space. If the young man was so sure of the information, he would have named the people involved since he claims he knows them. He could also have quietly given government the names so that they can be traced and the needful done. It is total falsehood and I am happy that the leader of the medical mission from the USA has come out to debunk the falsehood that was perpetuated by the young man.


What is the implication of COVID-19 in an economy of the state like Akwa Ibom which is predominantly civil services oriented?


The governor has said that what may be more scary will be the aftermath of the menace. It is not just the economy of Akwa Ibom State but the global economy that has taken a massive hit. If the situation is not sorted out as fast as possible they way it is going, we can only pray for divine intervention for solution. The global economy is shifting down, Asia, Europe, the USA, Africa and even Nigeria are all shutting down. That means businesses are suffering. Again, don’t forget that there are many people who survive on day-to-day jobs and businesses. If the situation continues, it is going to have a massive impact on them, the economy of not just the state but the country. The oil prices have continuously been on the downward slope and much lower than what we have as our bench mark in the budget.


Secondly, if you look at the shutting down of economies of the world vis a vis the fact that the Nigerian economy depended on imports sooner or later, what we have in the shelves will dry up and pressure will build up and this is the reason all hands must be on deck. The monster at hand is beyond politics, ethnicity, religion and must be collectively tackled. Sadly, you can see the number of government officials who are already victims. The situation is very scary.

Could the problem be associated with the sudden stoppage of the massive Ibom Bluesea Science Park project?


Definitely the global economy is shutting down. For us to actualize the Ibom Bluesea Science Park, the investors who are Chinese do come from their base and our airports shut down for now. Again, because of the pandemic, there is no way we could go ahead with the job for we gave a press release asking offices to shut down and businesses to close. Medical experts say the virus has 14-day circle and we want to see how we can handle it. With the lockdown of the next 14 days, if nobody comes out positive, that means we are clean and we will resume our normal life. The security commanders met and part of what we agreed is that commercial tricycles (keke) henceforth should carry 2 passengers at a time to observe the social distancing, the mini buses have been directed not to carry more than one person per row, private vehicles should not carry more than 2 persons at the back and one on the front seat. We have asked all public parks, shops, eateries, markets and restaurants to remain closed except those selling essential foodstuffs and drugs and other essential commodities. We have asked that all boundaries remain closed. All social gatherings are hereby suspended including marriage and burial ceremonies. Places of worship must strictly observe social distancing of not more than 20 persons per gathering in addition to having hand washing facilities such as running water, soap and sanitizers. Government is very serious about it and the security chiefs will ensure they are effectively enforced. The new laws will last for the next one month up to April 30t but if need be, we will review it. The situation at hand is very serious and must be addressed seriously.
The reality is that nobody was prepared for this situation. It is an emergency situation. What we have done is to adapt as the situation arises. Our security commanders are meeting regularly to finalize modalities for effective implementations of the resolutions. Again, in every human situation, the situation at hand calls for concerted and united efforts devoid of any political colouration. It affects all of us, so everyone must play a positive role to ensure that we overcome the present malaise.


With people who eat from their daily toils quarantined, has government considered beefing up security to avoid increase in criminality?


We are aware that the security commanders are meeting regularly to ensure there is no loophole in security architecture.


Our security system has never been confronted with a situation like this and you and I have never been confronted with this. Therefore, as experts in security matters, I trust that they are going to handle the situation, and like I said earlier, government will keep reviewing the situation and take actions where necessary.


Have you considered mounting more enlightenment campaigns so that people will not fall prey to fraudsters operating online, demanding people’s details to get government palliatives?


We have done all levels of enlightenment that we should do and we are still doing. We also believe that people should be discerning enough to understand that government will never ask you for certain things, not your BVN numbers. If government wants to give any assistance or palliatives, there should be a channel of communication. Either the chief press secretary to the governor, the secretary to the state government or the commissioner of information will issue a statement and even when issued and it is not on the state government official online and social media platforms, then it should be thoroughly verified. Important government information is posted to government website and online platforms. Whatever we release goes there first before people start reposting and re-broadcasting.


What is the fate of the capital projects and the completion agenda of the state government?


Government places much premium on the lives of her citizens. Therefore, all ongoing projects have been temporarily suspended. We need life before talking of completion agenda. We have an emergency situation at hand and all hands must be on deck to deal decisively with the situation.

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