Anambra’s Pragmatic Approach to COVID-19 By The Right Hon Pascal Agbodike, PhD Deputy Speaker, Anambra State House of Assembly
It was clear, even before it was announced on Saturday, April 25, that the Anambra State government was going to ease some key areas in the lockdown as part of the campaign against the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Governor Willie Obiano’s removal last Saturday of the restrictions on markets and open religious worship, though on some conditions, was expected. The latest set of 36 specimens tested for COVID-19 was negative. And the state’s index case had impressively been treated in mere four days, earning the state tremendous plaudits. All the traced contacts have tested negative for the disease. With no persons in any of its protective care centres any more and with no person in the state in self-isolation, the restrictions were bound to be eased. For a people well reputed for an entrepreneurial way of life, it was tough to stay a whole month plus without famous markets like Main Market, Ochanja and Osokwodu markets in Onitsha, Nkwo Market in Nnewi and Eke Market in Awka open. Millions depend on these markets daily for survival. If a less popular government had been in power, the people could have perhaps defied the lockdown. Social upheaval could have resulted. A special committee of the Anambra State House on COVID-19 set up by the Speaker of the House, The Honorable Uche Okafor, toured the state and saw the impact of the lockdown firsthand and how the lockdown is carried out in some places which are often out of public sight. I have the privilege of chairing the committee. We saw how despondency was growing in the state following the tough restrictions. We saw how more and more people were becoming desperate for survival. The state government responded to the situation by providing each of the 181 communities in the state with 200 bags of rice each for persons of 70 years and above. With the situation not abetting, each community got an additional 400 bags of rice, this time for youths. The government stopped levies paid by commercial bus, tricycle and motorcycle operators for the months and May. The government is granting a 10% tax rebate to businesses and their employees. Yet, the outcome is far from ideal. Our people would rather fend for themselves than depend on government charity or handouts for survival. It is no longer news that 48 hours after Anambra State began to ease the lockdown, states like Delta and Ebonyi and even the Federal Government followed suit. Anambra State, as the Light of the Nation, must always lead by being proactive. Governor Obiano is leading from the front. Meanwhile, the Anambra State administration has been spending humungous resources on both the prevention of COVID-19 in the state and building world-class infrastructure to manage the coronavirus in case it occurs on a grand scale. Its protection centres, known as isolation or surge centres elsewhere, include the one at the General Hospital, Onitsha, with 58 beds, the one at the Ekwulobia General Hospital with 60 beds, that at the Umueri General Hospital with 60 beds, the facility at Immaculate Heart Multispecialty Hospital in Aguleri with 12 beds and the one at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camp at Mbaukwu-Umuawulu with 240 beds. It has also been spending good money on training nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers and cleaners on the management of COVID-19 cases; it has received some assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU). Anambra is one of the states which have worked hard to check the spread of the virus in the country. As early as late January, it had commenced the campaign. It was moved by the fact that its people travel extensively throughout the world and its markets are among the largest in West Africa and always overcrowded. It is a foremost at-risk state. Yet, it has recorded only one confirmed case. Everyone accepts that its government has over the months worked exceedingly hard in this area. But it has unfortunately not received assistance from the Federal Government which has given to Lagos, the epicenter of the coronavirus in Nigeria, N10 billion and the Federal Capital Territory N5 bn to assist them in the war against the virus. Contrary to the impression created by some media reports, the lockdown in Anambra State has not been lifted; only some parts have been eased. Normal religious activities have resumed, but subject to guidelines by their leaders like wearing of masks in churches. The food and pharmaceutical markets have resumed, and the larger markets will reopen this week if their leaders agree to the demand that buyers and sellers wear face masks, have water and soaps as well as sanitizers all over the markets and maintain social distancing. In other words, key restrictions like closure of boundaries remain because COVID-19 is now spread in Nigeria via cross-state movements. Schools and the civil service have not resumed. What the government is doing is to ease the restrictions in phases and look at the implications in every instance, rather than end the lockdown in one fell swoop. This is careful thinking. Government officials in Nigeria need to learn from Anambra State to avoid creating a situation which will push the populace to the wall and compel the people to revolt. Such a revolt can make the government lose authority. If a place like Anambra State does not have one single confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case anymore, it will be wrong to continue to quarantine the people as though they were in a place like Lagos or Kano greatly afflicted by the contagion. Government policies and programmes, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo famously noted during the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime, should always have a human face. Whatever may happen, there is sufficient evidence to show that Anambra State is well prepared for the worst in the fight against COVID-19. This readiness has been deepened by the fact that the executive and legislature are working together on the project to make COVID-19 history in Anambra State. The Anambra State pragmatic approach to the challenge of easing the burden of the lockdown on our people in the campaign against the coronavirus without compromising the integrity of the fight is commendable. It shows what happens when thinking and cooperative persons are in government. And it shows how policy and policy measures can be enriched when the executive and legislative arms of government work closely for the benefit of the people. God bless Anambra State. The Rt Hon. Agbodike, PhD, is Deputy Speaker, Anambra State House of Assembly.