President Muhammadu Buhari's decision to extend the 2 weeks lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states plus the Federal Capital Territory as contained in his speech to Nigerians yesterday evening is the right measure at this time. In taking this position Nigeria is joining other countries in the world who are taking difficult measures to deal with the challenge of COVID-19.
The decision of the Nigerian President is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organisation whose Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that it will be a mistake for countries to ease the restrictions of movement of people's this time.
The WHO Chief says control measures must be lifted slowly and it should not be done all at once. As if on cue, France, one of the worst affected countries in Europe slammed a further 3 weeks extension of its own lock down, effective until May 11th.
Daily Trust has reported last week that the President was not quick enough in taking the measures needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the early days of the challenge. Some of those measures included the stoppage of international flights, closure of international borders, etc.
We are happy to note that on the matter of extending the lockdown in the 3 areas in Nigeria, that is Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory where more than 70% of the current infections have been found, the President did not succumb to pressure of some religious and business leaders among others who appear not to appreciate the challenge before us.
Daily Trust is however concerned that states like Katsina that relaxed the ban on religious gathering on the day that they recorded the state's first index case, and Cross Rivers State where the governor seem to relish in flaunting his professorship instead of heeding the advice of the scientific and medical community. The bigger concern is with the measures taken by the most populous state in Nigeria, Kano state where an index case was confirmed a few days ago.
With its concentration of people living cheek in jowl, the governor and other leaders of the state need to appreciate the problem at hand and take decisions that may not go down well with some in their community but which may be in the interest of the greater majority. At times like this, leaders should not see themselves as being in a popularity contest but in taking the best decisions based on the advice of the medical and scientific community.
In his second broadcast to Nigerians in as many weeks, President Buhari said he is taking the decision to extend the lockdown after due consultation with the relevant health experts. He used the opportunity to salute health workers whom he called our heroes and to whom he devoted two paragraphs of the 60 paragraph speech.
"At this point, I must recognise the incredible work being done by our healthcare workers and volunteers across the country especially in frontline areas of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
"You are our heroes and as a nation, we will forever remain grateful for your sacrifice during this very difficult time. More measures to motivate our health care workers are being introduced which we will announce in the coming weeks," he said.
Daily Trust agrees with the President that though it is a difficult decision, it is a necessary one in spite of its huge negative economic implications.
Daily Trust believes that beyond the extension, federal and state governments as well as the private sector should get together to dramatically increase testing of the infection. We are impressed with the kind of support that the private sector has given to the authorities in raising funds and providing supporting materials to fight the COVID-19 challenge.
We are concerned that Nigeria seem to be lagging in increasing its testing capabilities in a big way. It is discouraging to note that Nigeria is lagging behind some other African countries. An example is cited of Ghana with a fraction of Nigeria's population and an economy less than ours but has been able to test more people for the disease than Nigeria. A report has shown that Nigeria has been able to test only 5,000 people in 6 weeks while Ghana has tested 37,000 in 4 weeks.
We are mindful of the efforts of the National Centre for Disease control, NCDC, in increasing Nigeria's testing centres from a few to nearly a dozen now. Far more than this needs to be done and that is why we encourage government and private sector to come together and fashion out how best to face this unprecedented challenge.
A collaboration of such nature could also lead to some local manufacture of some of the sorely needed equipment like Personal Protection Equipment, PPE, face masks among others at a time when importation may not be an option given the way many countries need the same items for their own local needs. At the end of it all, it is our hope that the COVID-19 challenge will lead to a fresh start in overhauling the Nigerian health sector that is in such a terrible state.