Nigeria: COVID-19 Pandemic - Nigeria Heads for Total Lockdown

24 March 2020

Nigeria is heading for a total lockdown as the coronavirus pandemic escalates across the globe.

The federal government yesterday said Nigerians should be ready for tougher measures to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19.

It directed civil servants from grade level 12 and below to stay at home from Tuesday (today) until further notice.

This was contained in a circular signed by the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, titled 'Compulsory stay at home of non-essential public servants on grade level 12 and below.'

The circular said, "Government is concerned about the welfare and safety of all public servants just as it is about other Nigerians.

"All public servants are, therefore, strongly advised to follow the measures being put in place by government to curtail the spread of the pandemic.

"All other categories of officers who will be at work are strongly advised to limit the number of visitors they receive to the barest minimum," the circular said.

Earlier, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while addressing newsmen in Abuja, said the Presidential Task Force on the Control of Coronavirus led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, had recommended some tougher measures.

"We are hoping for the best in our efforts to contain the disease; but we are prepared for the worst. The truth is that things may yet get worse than they are now, hence the need for all hands to be on deck. Tougher decisions may yet be on the way to contain this disease. But whatever decision is taken will be in the best interest of Nigerians," Mohammed said.

He said if the country wanted to control the pandemic, then the citizens must also be prepared to suffer some inconveniences.

The minister said though the issue of market closure was under the purview of state and local governments, closing them should not be done without proper planning.

"We must not forget that a huge percentage of our economy is informal - people who go out every day to make a living. If such people are not allowed to go out every day, you might have unintended consequences. We are studying every option, but we will not rush to take decisions that will lead to another pandemic," he said.

Mohammed lamented that the government's effort to fight the pandemic was being undermined by fake news and disinformation, urging Nigerians to visit the website or social media platforms of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for genuine, up-to-date information.

"Suddenly, coronavirus pundits are popping up everywhere, in particular on WhatsApp, prescribing choloroquine (which has not been approved for treating coronavirus), garlic, and hot bath, as the cure-all for the disease. We implore Nigerians to follow the directives from the relevant authorities," he said.

He also decried some religious leaders' decision to flout directives to avoid large gatherings. He said the federal government would not hesitate to use the police and the military to enforce social distancing.

"The federal government is aware that some political and religious leaders have either denied the existence of coronavirus or have defied the directives to avoid a large gathering.

"Leaders of all hues must show great responsibility at this time. They must avoid putting the lives of not just their followers but also those of the general public in danger," he said.

While urging the federal lawmakers who just returned to the country from foreign trips to self-isolate, he said the federal government would do everything possible to ensure that its directives were followed "even if it means issuing executive orders."

States take tough measures

The Edo State government yesterday confirmed one case of COVID-19, just as Governor Godwin Obaseki banned gatherings exceeding 50 persons.

Briefing journalists yesterday in Benin, the governor said they have developed action plan to cope with the pandemic.

"In order to give effect to our social distancing policy, gatherings of more than 50 is prohibited in Edo State till further notice," he said.

According to him, all public servants below grade level 12, with the exception of those providing essential services should work from home till further notice.

In Ebonyi, Governor David Umahi banned all forms of public gatherings including weddings and burials in the state so as to curb spread of the dreaded coronavirus.

The governor also directed civil servants in the state to work from home beginning from tomorrow with the exception of those on essential duties.

Umahi however warned traditional rulers and council chairmen against shielding any person suspected to have contacted the deadly virus.

Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State has also directed civil servants on level 12 and below to remain at home for the next 30 days except for those providing essential services.

El-Rufai, who expressed disappointment at what he described as "the shocking level of complacency by residents who ignored the restriction directives issued last week," also said markets, which constitute a source of large gatherings will be locked down except for traders selling food and medicines who were permitted to open their shops.

Governor el-Rufai further stressed that the state government will not hesitate to impose a state wide curfew, should that become the only means to enforce compliance and make everyone understand the collective danger faced.

In Niger State, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello yesterday announced a daily curfew between 8am and 8pm till further notice.

The governor made the announcement in a broadcast to the state, during which he also directed state civil servants on grade level 1 to 12 to remain at home, except those on essential duties. The Kogi State government also yesterday directed civil servants to work from home.

The work-from-home order, according to a statement by the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, only affects civil servants on grade level 1-13, while those on grade level 14 and above are to report to their offices.

It however noted that those on essential services were to continue to report at their work places.

In Rivers, Governor Nyesom Wike yesterday directed all public parks, night clubs and cinemas to remain closed till further notice.

Wike, in a state broadcast, also directed religious groups to temporarily stop all forms of open worship.

Governor Wike equally directed local government council chairmen to ensure that public burials and weddings do not take place in their respective areas.

Kano State government also yesterday announced the suspension of official engagements.

It also asked the Ministry of Tourism and Culture to liaise with owners of event centres in the state to suspend all activities till further notice.

In a state-wide broadcast yesterday, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje said all official events that attract people gathering together have been suspended.

AGanduje added that people should try and avoid gathering of more than 20.

The Head of Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus in Benue State, Dr. Sunday Ongbabo, yesterday warned residents in the state to limit their travels as the country continues to battle the spread of the disease.

Fear in Bauchi as gov goes on self-isolation

Meanwhile, there is fear in Bauchi over the report that Governor Bala Mohammed is currently in self-isolation after having contact with the son of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Atiku, on Sunday, confirmed that his son had been taken to Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital after he tested positive to COVID-19.

There is palpable fear within the government circle, especially among officials who travelled together with the governor and traditional rulers as well as important personalities who interacted with him in two separate occasions including ground breaking of 2500 housing units in Dungal village and the emergency stakeholders meeting held on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

A statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on media, Mukhtar Gidado, said the self-isolation by Governor Mohammed was "sequel to the report from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that the son of the former vice president of Nigeria, Mohammed Atiku Abubakar, tested positive to coronavirus upon his return from an international trip through Lagos."

"It would be recalled that Governor Bala Mohammed who also recently returned from an official trip in Lagos met with Mohammed Atiku Abubakar on an Aero Contractors aircraft where they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

"So far, the governor did not exhibit any symptom of the disease, but based on the recommendations of the NCDC, he will remain in isolation in order to avoid the risk of spread of the disease," the statement said.

The governor was absent yesterday at an emergency state executive council meeting chaired by Deputy Governor Baba Tela.

Meanwhile, the two commissioners that accompanied the governor for the trip were also asked to go on self-isolation and testing for the virus.

Prayers suspended at National Mosque

The management of the National Mosque Abuja yesterday announced the suspension of five daily congregational and Juma'a prayers and other activities in the mosque complex.

This is coming on the heels of an earlier statement by the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), under the leadership of its President General and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III.

"The open space market and restaurants attached to the mosque are also to be closed," the management said.

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