Mr.Femi Falana, SAN

(By Femi Falana) – Having regards to the disturbing increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and the warning of health experts that the worst is not yet over in Nigeria, the fight against COVID-19 should be carried out in a more organised manner by the federal and state governments. Since public hospitals are in shambles in Nigeria, the NCDC cannot afford to combat COVID-19 in a slipshod manner.

The coronavirus pandemic appears to be on the ascendancy in Nigeria due to the inconsistency and double standards of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and lack of coordination on the part of the federal government in addressing the health crisis. Without any scientific basis whatsoever, the federal government decided to limit the imposition of lockdown to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States.

The other state governments decided to impose partial restrictions in their areas of jurisdiction in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, northern governors have since announced their decision not to impose any lockdown on their region. Based on that curious decision, the members of the public have been mounting pressure on the governments of the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun States to lift the extended lockdown imposed by President Buhari on Monday, April 13.

While the NCDC has directed anyone who tests positive to COVID-19 to report for treatment in isolation centres, yet for the treatment and monitoring of the former chief of staff to the president, the late Mr. Abba Kyari was allowed to be treated in a cardiological centre, a private hospital in Ikoyi, Lagos State. Since then some influential people who have tested positive to the coronavirus are said to have insisted on treatment in private hospitals without official authorisation. Unfortunately, Mr. Kyari passed on last Friday. Embarrased by the unfortunate development, the Lagos State government was reported to have said that the hospital was granted permission to treat COVID-19 patients. But the health minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has categorically asserted that: “As at today, there is no private hospital that has been accredited to manage COVID-19 cases in Nigeria. There is none in Abuja here that I know of. But I think Lagos is looking at some accredited hospitals and there is one large hospital in Lagos that has called me that it wants to become a coronavirus treatment centre.” Since no private hospital has been accredited by the NCDC to treat COVID-19 patients, the circumstances of the death of Mr. Abba Kyari ought to be investigated by the federal government.

As if the fundamental breach of the rule of COVID-19 Guidelines on treatment of patients was not enough, a crowd was allowed to participate and witness the interment of the remains of Mr. Kyari. Thus the NCDC Guideline that mass gathering be avoided to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 was violated with impunity. Apart from defying the directive on social distancing, some members of the crowd disregarded the wearing of face masks. And in a rather bizzaire manner, a man who had taken part in the burial ceremony pulled off his Person Protective Equipment(PPE) and left it beside a car in Maitama District, Abuja. Upon the conclusion of the burial ceremony, video clips have been trending in the social media showing the crowd and the serial breaches of the NCDC Guidelines by highly placed public officers and other members of the public at the burial site.

…the greatest tribute that can be paid to the deceased and the other 18 citizens who have lost their precious lives on account of complications arising from COVID-19 is for the federal, state and local governments to embark on fixing and equipping public hospitals without any further delay.

Furthermore, even though the COVID-19 Guideline on social distancing has not been lifted, some governors have suspended the lockdown for Juma’at prayers at a time that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have banned any gathering for prayers and pilgrimages. In view of recent reports, which have confirmed community transmission of the cononavirus disease, the lifting of the ban for religious purposes ought to be reviewed. After all, the governments of Ondo and Rivers States, which had lifted the ban on religious gathering for Easter celebrations had to reverse the decision on the basis of advice of the Nigerian Medical Association.

Having regards to the disturbing increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and the warning of health experts that the worst is not yet over in Nigeria, the fight against COVID-19 should be carried out in a more organised manner by the federal and state governments. Since public hospitals are in shambles in Nigeria, the NCDC cannot afford to combat COVID-19 in a slipshod manner. The NCDC should henceforth operate without bending the rules to satisfy partisan political interests. In particular, the NCDC must ensure that the burials of all other victims of COVID-19 are carried out in strict compliance with the prescribed rules and guidelines. It is pertinent to point out that the NCDC Guidelines have the backing of the law as they have been incorporated in the 2020 COVID-19 Regulations made by President Buhari pursuant to the Quaratine Act, Cap Q2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

From the foregoing, it is indisputable that there is an obvious lack of a coherent COVID-19 policy. This puts to question the seriousness of the federal government in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. No doubt, President Buhari has paid glowing tribute to the late Mr. Abba Kyari. But the greatest tribute that can be paid to the deceased and the other 18 citizens who have lost their precious lives on account of complications arising from COVID-19 is for the federal, state and local governments to embark on fixing and equipping public hospitals without any further delay.

Just last week, the British prime minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, who was discharged from a public hospital in London after his treatment for COVID-19, was full of adulation for the National Health Service (NHS) of his country. That should be a sober lesson for members of the ruling class in Nigeria who usually spend public funds on medical treatment in foreign medical centres.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), writes from Lagos.
Adapted from Premium Times