In this piece, ISAIAH BENJAMIN writes on efforts by Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai’s to contain COVID-19 pandemic in the state, and the many issues generated.
Precisely on the 28th of March, 2020 Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai personally announced that he submitted himself for COVID-19 test and disclosed that the result came out positive and he became the index case in the state, thereafter went into isolation in a private facility where he was attended to by health workers.
Meanwhile, before then a one-month lockdown was imposed on the state effective from the 26 March, 2020 as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus to the state. Ever since however, the numbers of confirmed positive cases in the state have continued to rise in spite of measures being put in place to check the spread.
The lockdown which was in place for almost 75 days with days of restocking of food items was however greeted with mixed feelings. While others commended the state government for taking such step in the overall interest of the well being of the citizens of the state, others who perhaps doubted the existence of the virus condemned the lockdown and viewed it as an act of wickedness particularly the restrictions in the opening of worship places and closure of major markets in the state. The government knowing the pains citizens were passing through distributed palliatives to the less privileged and vulnerable people as part of efforts to cushion the effect of the lockdown, again this was criticised by many who felt the palliatives should have gone virtually to almost every household in the state.
Even some of those who got the palliatives felt it was rather too small to care for their families. As part of further measures, Kaduna State presently has about three or more testing centres, the DNA laboratory, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) Shika, Zaria, and a community testing vehicle that moves from one community to the other carrying out random testing.
The Infectious Disease Control Centre (IDCC) Kakuri was upgraded to an isolation centre which it was gathered also carries out testing.
Aside from the IDCC Kakuri, the Hamdala Motel is another isolation centre while the Barrau Dikko Teaching Hospital also has an isolation unit and very recently, the Nursing school Kafanchan has also been converted to an isolation centre to cater for cases from that axis.
Recall that all Federal Stadiums where to be used as isolation centre and Ahmadu Bello Stadium Kaduna was to be used as isolation centre but nothing of such is happening there presently, this may not be unconnected to the bad state of the stadium facility. The IDCC and other isolation centres are equipped with ventilators.
The state government in accordance with the guidelines issued by the NCDC urged citizens to ensure washing of hands with soap and running water, use of alcohol-based sanitizers, wearing of face mask, and practicing physical social distancing.
Unfortunately, most persons defied this order during days of restocking and this did not go down well with the government particularly when the state was recording more confirmed cases of the virus, hence a further step to curtail the further increase was put in place which was the setting up of mobile courts to try violators of the guidelines.
Shortly after the setting up of the mobile courts located at Kakuri, Kawo and Magajin Gari, including Rigasa, Sabon Tasha and Maraban Rido as well as Rigachukun, Kaduna-Kano border, Abuja-Kaduna expressway, several persons fell victim such that at some point in two days no fewer than 605 persons were convicted accordingly for violating the lockdown orders.
In a statement signed by the commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Kaduna State Aisha Dikko, she disclosed that about N1,909,600 was realised as fines from the convictions, adding that 41 offenders were given community service. The number of violators has increased with more money generated as fines. It will be recalled that Kaduna State set up the mobile courts on April 24, to summarily try curfew violators, in its efforts to preserve public safety, following the State Executive Council’s directive.
In the statement, the commissioner said that ‘’a breakdown of the offences shows that people were convicted for not wearing face masks in public and violating the restriction of movement order.’’ According to her, “Within the two days, Gabasawa mobile court had the highest number of convictions on Friday, where 75 violators were fined a total of N67,500, adding that the Abuja-Kaduna ‘Tollgate’ ‘’followed next with 66 convictions but with a higher fine of N529,500. Magajin Gari mobile court had the lowest culprits of 17 people, who were fined N75,000 collectively. But the Sabon Tasha court had the lowest fines of N40,000. The scenario certainly must have changed now.’’
The Attorney General warned against violations of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Partial Lockdown Order 2020, adding that offenders shall, in addition to being fined, may undergo community service for a minimum of seven days. She said: ‘’In addition, violators may have their motorcycles, tricycles or motor vehicles impounded and forfeited to the government.”
According to her, violation of stay at home order and not wearing face masks attract a fine of N5,000 each. On the other hand, not maintaining physical distance attracts a fine of N7,000, unauthorised riding of motorcycles and tricycles during the lockdown, as well as driving motor vehicles, trucks and buses, attract N5,000, N10,000, N20,000, N30,000, N20,000 respectively.
When the outcry of the lockdown became much and following series of consultation with relevant stakeholders including traditional and religious leaders, Governor el-Rufai opened up the state after 75 days of partial lockdown, following the invocation of the Quarantine Act and the Kaduna State Public Health Law, to impose the Quarantine Regulations on March 26.
In a state broadcast, Governor el-Rufai paid tribute to the good people of Kaduna State, for their immense sacrifices during the two and half months as containment measures against COVID-19 were implemented. The governor said that as from Wednesday, 10 June, 2020, the Quarantine Order will be amended to permit a significant reopening of the state, especially businesses and places of worship.
He however said that schools and markets will remain closed because, at the present stage of COVID-19 containment, it is still considered unsafe for markets and schools to reopen. He promised that the government will ‘’keep engaging with the relevant stakeholders on the matter, to determine the appropriate timing and conditions precedent.
‘’Businesses can reopen, subject to the provision of thermometers for temperature checks, sanitizers or handwashing equipment and physical distancing measures within all facilities. Working hours will be 9 am to 3 pm daily,’’ he said.
The governor further said: ‘’Church services are allowed only on Sundays and Mosques are allowed to conduct only Friday Jumat services, for the time being, subject to compliance with the safety stipulations above.’’
el-Rufai maintained that transport operators must reduce capacity to not more than two passengers per row and not more than 50 per cent of capacity, adding that the ban on intra-state travel has been lifted but government officials will continue to control state boundaries to reduce unauthorised interstate travel.
‘’Within the state, security checkpoints will be allowed only to enforce compliance with the night-time curfew. During the day, any violations of the adjusted Quarantine Order like failure to wear facemasks, etc. will be enforced by Operation Yaki, KASTLEA, the Vigilance Service, and our Mobile Courts,’’ he said.
According to him, ‘’Supermarkets and providers of personal services such as hairdressing and barbing salons can reopen; hotels can fully open, but with their restaurants and bars offering only room service.’’
The governor warned that restaurants may all reopen after decontamination, but are still restricted to takeaway services, adding that ‘’Public servants will be summoned back to work in phases to be announced by the Head of Service.’’ el-Rufai counselled that after the opening up of the state, ‘’the next step of staying safe while pursuing socio-economic activities is strictly in the hands of each individual.
‘’While we require individual citizens to practice personal responsibility, the places where they work, worship or shop and the vehicles in which they travel must also protect their health and safety,’’ he clarified.
The governor pointed out that ‘’this requires that all sectors of society understand and discharge their responsibility for safe reopening, including the specific steps they are required to take.’’
According to him, government officials embarked on a series of sensitisation and consultations with stakeholders in the last two weeks as part of conditions for reopening the various sectors, in order to promote this wide understanding.
The governor said that government officials submitted the draft guidelines for debate at those meetings and ‘’we have considered the contributions, suggestions, and feedback received from the stakeholders in concluding the detailed re-opening protocols being published for each sector.‘’
el-Rufai warned that ‘ any facility or sector that generally violates the guidelines will be closed down under the Quarantine Order No.2 of June 2020 that I will sign today for immediate gazetting.”
While urging citizens to take responsibility and comply with these measures, he further warned that ‘’this relaxation will be reversed in the event of a spike in COVID-19 infections or unsatisfactory compliance levels with the conditions, and total quarantine re-imposed to preserve health and protect lives.’’
el-Rufai appealed to people who are 50 years and above to restrict their movement, in spite of the fact that restriction of movement has been lifted in Kaduna State.
‘’As we open up, we advise older people to stay home as much as possible, and avoid condolence visits and attending congregational prayers. Older people above 50 years should avoid receiving visitors. If you must receive, please wear a facemask and stay two meters apart from your visitors. Younger people that may be infected but showing no signs of the disease can easily infect older people,’’ he counselled.
To a great extent issues of physical social distancing may have equally been thrown to the bin. The increasing number of confirmed cases in the state which stands at over 1,000 and occupying the 9th position on the ladder of infection is worrisome. Whether this increasing figure coupled with the outright disregard for safety guidelines may warrant another lockdown in the state, only time will tell.