Nigeria: Challenged to Up His Game

(file photo).
30 March 2020

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that a significant part of the legacy of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State may be tied to how he passes the COVID-19 test.

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu's name is on everyone's lips again. This time for a good cause. The governor is venerated for his leadership style in handling the novel COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Since the state recorded its first index case one month ago, Sanwo-Olu has been behind the wheel, steering the state in the right direction to curtail the spread of the virus that originated from Wuhan, Central China last December.

His first step was to activate the State Emergency Operations Centre while working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). He also ensured that the bio-security facilities in the state were well equipped with personnel to treat infected persons after an outcry that the health centres were not conducive enough. Taking further steps, a containment strategy was put in place immediately for the index case where passengers on the Turkish Airlines flight that had the infected patient, a 44 year-old Italian were advised to contact the NCDC for a Coronavirus test. By March 9, another COVID-19 case was confirmed in the state. The individual had come in contact with the index case.

The presence of COVID-19 required the Governor to up his game. It was no ordinary emergency going by the avalanche of depressing news of how the virus is wrecking havoc on economies across the globe on international news media.

These were not the early days of Sanwo-Olu's appointment when he could afford one minute of ambivalence. Each second counted.

The first public emergency that greeted the governor when he assumed office was the pipeline explosion in Ijegun area of the state that happened last year in July. Those days were marked with anxiety as the governor acquainted himself with the rigours that came with ruling a state as diverse as Lagos state. Sleepless nights, unexpected calls and meetings at odd hours were the order of the day. At his first meeting with a diverse group of journalists, the Lagos State Governor told the gathering of he was then just coming to terms with the fact that he buck on the governance of Lagos stops at his table.

However, as the class captain of the state, Sanwo-Olu is progressively rising to every occasion.

While the governor was grasping with the first few cases of the deadly virus in the state and the country as well, another emergency craved his urgent attention.

On Sunday March 15, an explosion in Abule-Ado in Amuwo Odofin local government area claimed over 15 lives and left properties burnt. Again, by Monday, the governor was on the site of the blast, sympathising with victims while assuring them of a relief package. That same day he announced that a N2 billion Emergency Relief Fund has been set up. The fund, he said, would be used to foot medical bills of victims, support displaced citizens among others. To encourage the public and private sector to donate to the cause, Sanwo-Olu announced that the state government had contributed N250 million to the fund. Responding to the SOS call, Zenith Bank donated N100 million to the fund during a condolence visit to the governor.

"For us in Zenith, we share in the concerns and the very traumatic experience that Lagos State is passing through," said the bank's Group Managing Director, Ebenezer Onyeagwu during the visit.

"We are also impressed by the rapid response from the Lagos State Government," he added.

In a matter of hours, the Lagos State Governor commuted to the Presidency in Abuja a number of times to impress the degree of carnage and why the Federal Government should help Lagos.

So far, the Dangote Group has donated N100 million worth of cement to the ERF while the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) gave N200 million.

The precarious and demanding times has brought out the genius in Sanwo-Olu. These are very much unlike the routine, even if, tasking job of securing the state, waste and traffic management and fixing the roads.

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to mount in the state, Sanwo-Olu never derailed in responding swiftly to the emergency. From buttressing the need to observe good personal hygiene to other palliative measures to curb the spread of the contagious respiratory disease which is easily transmitted from one person to the other through close contact and respiratory droplets when people cough or sneeze. Travel restrictions were put in place and he limited the number of social gatherings to 50. That number was whittled to 25 after more infected persons were identified.

"As a responsible government," the governor tweeted on Thursday, March 19, "we must take actions to protect our residents from physical and other potential threats. After consulting with our healthcare professionals over COVID-19, we are closing down schools and religious gatherings."

The governor also called for closures of clubs and bars.

He urged the public to practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary panic due to misinformation. On the state government Twitter page, tips on staying healthy and other protective measures are posted daily. The state also employed other media channels to spread the message of social distancing and protection from the virus. A hotline for persons who may exhibit symptoms of the disease was set up.

On Sunday March 22, the governor once again directed civil servants from grade level 1 to 12 to stay at home. The directive was issued as more cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the state. Further palliative measures such as closures of public parks, gyms and beauty salons were issued as the governor pleaded with the public to work together with him in combating the pandemic that has shut down many cities across the globe.

But like other countries that have been hit by the virus, the stay-at-home order required a stimulus package to help individuals and companies affected by the virus. Lagos State Government once again benefitted from the largesse of the Federal Government which approved the sum of N10 billion to the state. The United Bank for Africa (UBA) Foundation in the same manner donated N1 billion to the state out of its N5 billion COVID-19 relief support fund for affected areas in Africa.

The pan-African bank said it will fund a medical centre immediately in Lagos with beds for isolation and ICU facilities, managed and operated in partnership with Heirs Holdings' healthcare subsidiary, Avon Medical Hospital.

In addition, UBA is providing a free telemedicine platform, that is physician-led, to provide direct access to medical advice to citizens, in compliance with social distancing requirements.

In a statement, the Chairman of UBA Group Tony Elumelu said, "This is a time when we must all play our part. This global pandemic must bring citizens, governments and business leaders together - and quickly. As we see a rapidly increasing number of cases of the Coronavirus in Nigeria and Africa, the private sector has to work hand in hand with various governments, in stemming the spread of the global pandemic."

In a partnership with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), the state recently opened the newly built 110-bed Onikan Isolation Centre for COVID-19 patients.

Sanwo-Olu has also announced a stimulus package for Lagos residents. According to him, over 200,000 households, at an estimation of six people (father, mother and four children) will have access to the package which consists of bags of rice, beans, garri, dry pepper, drinking waters and vitamins. It is expected that the package will sustain the family for the 14-day period. He also opened 50 neighbourhood food markets across the state to serve as makeshift groceries for residents to buy food items on Friday, March 27.

While addressing journalists, the governor said tougher decisions may be taken as the state is noticing a stage trend of community transmission of the disease.

"We have started to see a trend that suggests we may be entering the phase of community transmission of the disease. In response to this, we are formally launching our Neighborhood Markets scheme. We have 50 large public-school premises across the state that can accommodate temporary open markets where we will have essential food items and household items available for sale at affordable rates.

"These Neighborhood Markets will operate every two days, and will help achieve a number of goals that are all in line with the guidelines of the health authorities. The markets will reduce journey times for the residents. By extension, it reduces the time people will spend in public and will also help to maintain social distancing requirements."

The governor also hinted that a curfew may be put in place if the indices keep rising while disclosing that fumigation of the state is already taking place. At that conference, Sanwo-Olu also signed the Lagos State Infectious Diseases Regulation 2020 into law to give legal backing to the ongoing enforcement of restrictive measures being taken by the State Government to contain the spread of the virus.

The regulation, Sanwo-Olu said, prescribes stringent penalties to defaulters of directives and guidelines issued by the government to stop community transmission of COVID-19.

One key area that Sanwo-Olu is likely to face greater challenge is in data collection. The ability of the state government to clearly identify families that fall under the targeted 200,000 households will determine how successful the plan will be.

This is when the wisdom and consistency of successive governments in Lagos may pay off. For instance, Lagos State was the only state that appointed its own paid enumerators to work side-by-side federal enumerators during the 2006 National Population Census. Again, the usefulness of the Lagos State Residents Agency (LASRA) can't be overemphasised at this time.

With his resilient efforts to free the state from the virus, Sanwo-Olu would need to reach more grassroots where misinformation is prevalent and rules discarded. With low enforcement measures in these remote areas, residents are still at risk of contracting the virus.

Indeed, Sanwo-Olu's legacy to a large extent is dependent on how he passes the Coronavirus test. It is the first major challenge he is confronted with since he assumed office. So far, he's done remarkably well such that Reno Omokri, former media aide to ex-president Jonathan Goodluck Tweeted that President Muhammadu Buhari should hand over to the governor if he can't lead.

The Tweet was among a series of comments made by the author in regards to President Muhammadu Buhari's lackadaisical attitude towards the public over the spread of the disease. Unlike the President, Sanwo-Olu made it a habit to always address the public on the situation on ground every week. By doing so, he allayed fears and helped to stem the proliferation of fake news. His Twitter page is always full of updates on the condition of the state. Perhaps, other states should learn from the leadership model that Sanwo-Olu is unknowingly setting.

QUICK FACTS:

*Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu is venerated for his leadership style in handling the novel COVID-19 outbreak in the state

*Since the state recorded its first index case one month ago, Sanwo-Olu has been behind the wheel, steering the state in the right direction to curtail the spread of the virus that originated from Wuhan, Central China last December

*Sanwo-Olu has activated the Lagos State Emergency Operations Centre while working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)

*The Lagos State Governor has also ensured that the bio-security facilities in the state are well equipped with personnel to treat infected persons

*Lagos State put a containment strategy in place for the index case where passengers on the Turkish Airlines flight that had the infected patient, a 44 year-old Italian. They were advised to contact the NCDC for a Coronavirus test.

*By March 9, another COVID-19 case was confirmed in the state. The individual had come in contact with the index case

*The first public emergency that greeted the governor when he assumed office was the pipeline explosion in Ijegun area of the state that happened last year in July

*On Sunday March 15, an explosion in Abule-Ado in Amuwo Odofin local government area claimed over 15 lives and left properties burnt

*Sanwo-Olu announced a N2 billion Emergency Relief Fund for victims of the explosion to foot medical bills of victims, support displaced citizens among others

*The state government contributed N250 million to the fund. Zenith Bank donated N100 million to the fund. Dangote Group donated N100 million worth of cement to the ERF while the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) gave N200 million.

*Travel restrictions have been put in place in Lagos State. Sanwo-Olu has also limited the number of social gatherings to 50. That number was whittled to 25 after more infected persons were identified

*On Sunday March 22, the governor once again directed civil servants from grade level 1 to 12 to stay at home. The directive was issued as more cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the state. Further palliative measures such as closures of public parks, gyms and beauty salons were issued as the governor pleaded with the public to work together with

*Lagos State Government benefitted from the largesse of the Federal Government which approved the sum of N10 billion to the state. The United Bank for Africa (UBA) Foundation in the same manner donated N1 billion to the state out of its N5 billion COVID-19 relief support fund for affected areas in Africa

*In a partnership with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), the state recently opened the newly built 110-bed Onikan Isolation Centre for COVID-19 patients

*Sanwo-Olu has announced a stimulus package for Lagos residents. According to him, over 200,000 households, at an estimation of six people (father, mother and four children) will have access to the package which consists of bags of rice, beans, garri, dry pepper, drinking waters and vitamins. It is expected that the package will sustain the family for the 14-day period

* He also opened 50 neighbourhood food markets across the state to serve as makeshift groceries for residents to buy food items on Friday, March 27

*Sanwo-Olu has signed the Lagos State Infectious Diseases Regulation 2020 into law to give legal backing to the ongoing enforcement of restrictive measures being taken by the state government to contain the spread of the virus

Indeed, Sanwo-Olu's legacy to a large extent is dependent on how he passes the Coronavirus test. It is the first major challenge he is confronted with since he assumed office. So far, he's done remarkably well such that Reno Omokri, former media aide to ex-president Jonathan Goodluck Tweeted that President Muhammadu Buhari should hand over to the governor if he can't lead

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