(By Iheanyi Ezinwo) – In January 2020, the world was shocked to hear the news of COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China, which soon began to spread death to other parts of the world. The development suddenly left the most advanced countries of US, United Kingdom, Italy, France in panic mode. Streets were deserted; schools, entertainment and worship centres were closed, while close contacts and handshakes were forbidden. As the world watched countries with the most modern medical facilities struggle to manage the emergent health challenge, the World Health Organisation predicted that Nigeria would be one of the high risk places for the spread of the virus.This warning prompted the Federal Government to strengthen surveillance at five International Airports in the country to prevent the spread of the respiratory disease. Eventually, the Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airports were shut down.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection in NIgeria was announced on 27 February 2020 when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the virus. A second case was reported in Ewekoro, Ogun State, of a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the Italian. As at April 29, the country has recorded over 13000 infections and over 40 deaths. In Rivers State, the State Executive Council was proactive, setting up an Inter-ministerial Committee chaired by the Commissioner of Information and Communications. Pastor Paulinus Nsirim. Their duty was to engage a cross section of stakeholder groups to pass the prevention message , and this was before the index case was recorded. The committee also set the right agenda for the state, printing flyers and producing gingles on the need for the citizens to stay safe. An Emergency Operation Centre was also set up, and the state was ready. Besides, training of health personnel for contact tracing and treatment made it possible for the first two cases to be free in two weeks.
For Governor Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State, there was no idle moments, especially because of the strategic economic importance of the state, serving as the headquarters of the Hydrocarbon industry and also a major commercial hub in Nigeria. He made the right choices, the right decisions and at the right time to ensure the safety of those who live and do business in Rivers State. In a statewide broadcast March 20, 2020, the Governor ordered the closure of all schools in the state and urged religious organisations to restrict their activities as a precautionary measure to check the spread of the virus to the state.
He also empowered the Ministry of Health to set up intervention resources, including the training of 158 Surveillance and Ad hoc personnel, one treatment centre, holding centres in two Teaching Hospitals and all General Hospitals in the state are fully functional. All Health workers in private and public sectors were trained and briefed on Infection Control Measures and appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment , Hand Sanitizers have been procured , Infrared termometers procured and stock piling of other commodities and equipment and redoubling of surveillance at Airports, Seaports, Waterways and Land routes.
In furtherance of his resolute determination to achieve success in his resolve to protect Rivers people in the face of danger, the Governor in another broadcast March 23,2020 ordered the closure of all public parks, Night Clubs and Cinemas; set up border surveillance posts a, local government monitoring teams , bans public burials and weddings and directed religious organisations to temporarily stop open worship. While pleading for understanding. The Governor said: “In view of the fact that the disease spreads fast through body contact, social distance has become imperative if we are to contain the spread”. He directed Local Government chairmen to ensure that public burials and weddings do not take place in their respective domains, adding that government will continue to review the situation and adjust accordingly. He also called on the citizens to minimize family visits and consider using telephones to communicate.
Prompted by the news of an infected person who almost beat security checks at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and board to Port Harcourt, Governor Wike, on March 25, 2020 directed the closure of the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa to traffic will and sought the cooperation of the relevant government agencies. He came up with Executive Orders to give legal backing to actions of government in checking the spread of COVID-19 in the state. On March 19, 2020, the Governor signed the Quarantine Executive Order and the regulations to restrict movement and close the borders. The Executive Order RVSG-01 2020 Pursuant to Sections 2, 3, 4 and 8 of Quarantine Act, CAP 02 , Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and Regulations 11 of the Quarantine (Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other infectious diseases regulations .
On April 20, Governor Wike also signed another legal instruments to strengthen the state’s capacity to fight the spread of Coronavirus. The legal instruments: Executive Order RVSG-02 No. 3 -2020 and Quarantine (Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other infectious diseases) Regulations (No. 2-2020) will empower the Rivers State Government to set up a Border Patrol Task Force, empower the Chief Judge to set up mobile courts to try offenders of the coronavirus regulations and stipulate non custodial sentences for offenders. The third Executive Order was to check sabotage on the part of the security agencies through the appointment of a Task Force to man the borders for the protection of Rivers people.
To reduce the chances of people contracting the coronavirus, the Rivers State Executive Council directed that all civil servants from Grade Level 1-10 to remain at home from March 27. All markets were to remain closed with effect from March 28, 2020, and Council Chairmen were empowered to confiscate goods of defaulters. Commissioners and Special Advisers were also directed to monitor compliance to the directives in their areas. As efforts were being intensified to check the spread of COVID-19 n the state, requests by the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited and other companies for the restrictions to be relaxed because of their activities could not be granted, they were however assured of consideration when it is safe to do so. The position of the Rivers State Government was that, human life remained more important than any business activity.
Two pilots working for Carveton Helicopters, who violated the Executive Order on restriction of movements were arrested and arraigned. They were later released and Management of the company also apologized to the State Government for the breach. Twenty two Staff of Exon Mobil were also arrested for violating the order on restriction of movement and later released. Other violators were promptly punished, even as total lock down were imposed on parts of the state that treated with contempt deliberate efforts of government to check the spread of the respiratory disease in Rivers. To cushion the pains of the lock down on the citizens, the State Government is currently distributing palliatives worth two billion Naira to the poor and elderly in the 23 Local Government Areas of the state, including non indigenes.
Speaking with Notable Outcome in his office in Port Harcourt, Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, said: “I am proud to be associated with the administration of His Excellency, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State because he has shown the kind of visionary leadership that every one who is well meaning and right thinking will understand that this man really has what it takes to govern a state like Rivers State.
“ One of the most important achievements of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike in the course of the first year of his second term has been the provision of purposeful leadership in the fight against the spread of Coronavirus.
“Governor Nyesom Wike was the first to sign Executive Order; the first to order the closure of borders and schools. He is the first in everything. That is what you find with a man who understands the dynamics of governance”, he stated while reminding Rivers people that actions of government was based on the understanding that their lives count more than any other thing else. He therefore advised the citizens not to live recklessly but to respect the directives of government and stay safe.