*pledges relief package to Nigerians
*converts stadia, pilgrims camps to isolation centers
By Chesa Chesa
President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday night finally addressed Nigerians on the Covid-19 pandemic spreading across Nigeria, and announced the lock down of epicenters of the disease, Abuja, Lagos and Ogun from Monday night, 30th March 2020, for two weeks.
In a much anticipated broadcast to the nation, Buhari promised relief packages to Nigerians affected by the prevailing scourge, and directed that stadiums and pilgrims camps across the country be converted to isolation centers and makeshift hospitals to take care of patients and contain the spread of the disease.
The President curiously ordered the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with State Governments to sustain the school feeding program during this period, even while acknowledging that schools have been closed because of the pandemic.
He also directed a three-month moratorium and relief on all repayments for the Tradermoni, and similar loans government granted to small time businesses which would have been affected by the Coronavirus outbreak.
Besides, Buhari directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately, while Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks.
With 97 persons having tested positive for the disease in Nigeria as at the time of his broadcast, the President declared that “our agencies are currently working hard to identify cases and people these patients have been in contact with.
“The few confirmed cases outside Lagos and Abuja are linked to persons who have travelled from these centres. We are therefore working to ensure such inter state and intercity movements are restricted to prevent further spread.
“Based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC, I am directing the cessation of all movements in Lagos and the FCT for an initial period of 14 days with effect from 11pm on Monday, 30th March 2020. This restriction will also apply to Ogun State due to its close proximity to Lagos and the high traffic between the two States.
“All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period.
“The Governors of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Minister of the FCT have been notified. Furthermore, heads of security and intelligence agencies have also been briefed.
“We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases. We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other States.
“This order does not apply to hospitals and all related medical establishments as well as organizations in health care related manufacturing and distribution.
“Furthermore, commercial establishments such as;
a. food processing, distribution and retail companies;
b. petroleum distribution and retail entities,
c. power generation, transmission and distribution companies; and
d. private security companies are also exempted.
“Although these establishments are exempted, access will be restricted and monitored. Workers in telecommunication companies, broadcasters, print and electronic media staff who can prove they are unable to work from home are also exempted.
“All seaports in Lagos shall remain operational in accordance with the guidelines I issued earlier. Vehicles and drivers conveying essential cargoes from these Ports to other parts of the country will be screened thoroughly before departure by the Ports Health Authority.
“Furthermore, all vehicles conveying food and other essential humanitarian items into these locations from other parts of the country will also be screened thoroughly before they are allowed to enter these restricted areas.
“Accordingly, the Hon. Minister of Health is hereby directed to redeploy all Port Health Authority employees previously stationed in the Lagos and Abuja Airports to key roads that serve as entry and exit points to these restricted zones.
“Movements of all passenger aircraft, both commercial and private jets, are hereby suspended. Special permits will be issued on a needs basis.
“We are fully aware that such measures will cause much hardship and inconvenience to many citizens. But this is a matter of life and death, if we look at the dreadful daily toll of deaths in Italy, France and Spain.
“However, we must all see this as our national and patriotic duty to control and contain the spread of this virus. I will therefore ask all of us affected by this order to put aside our personal comfort to safeguard ourselves and fellow human beings. This common enemy can only be controlled if we all come together and obey scientific and medical advice.
“As we remain ready to enforce these measures, we should see this as our individual contribution in the war against COVID-19. Many other countries have taken far stricter measures in a bid to control the spread of the virus with positive results.
“For residents of satellite and commuter towns and communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods will surely be affected by some of these restrictive measures, we shall deploy relief materials to ease their pains in the coming weeks.
“Furthermore, although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with State Governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding program during this period without compromising our social distancing policies. The Minister will be contacting the affected States and agree on detailed next steps.
“Furthermore, I have directed that a three month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect.
“I have also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all Federal Government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.
“For on-lending facilities using capital from international and multilateral development partners, I have directed our development financial institutions to engage these development partners and negotiate concessions to ease the pains of the borrowers.
“For the most vulnerable in our society, I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately. Our Internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks.
“We also call on all Nigerians to take personal responsibility to support those who are vulnerable within their communities, helping them with whatever they may need.
“As we all pray for the best possible outcome, we shall continue planning for all eventualities.
“This is why I directed that all Federal Government Stadia, Pilgrims camps and other facilities be converted to isolation centers and makeshift hospitals.”
While acknowledging the inconvenience that may arise from these measures, the President stressed that “in Nigeria’s fight against COVID-19, there is no such thing as an overreaction or an under reaction. It is all about the right reaction by the right agencies and trained experts.
“Accordingly, as a Government, we will continue to rely on guidance of our medical professionals and experts at the Ministry of Health, NCDC and other relevant agencies through this difficult time.”
He commended the Director-General of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Iheakwazu, for his efforts in containing the disease, and urged all citizens to adhere to guidelines as they are released from time to time.
“So far, in Lagos and Abuja, we have recruited hundreds of ad-hoc staff to man our call centers and support our tracing and testing efforts.
“I have also requested, through the Nigeria Governors Forum, for all State Governments to nominate Doctors and Nurses who will be trained by the NCDC and Lagos State Government on tactical and operational response to the virus in case it spreads to other states.
“This training will also include medical representatives from our armed forces, paramilitary and security and intelligence agencies”, he stated.
He further thanked development partners and donors for their positive response as well as government agencies and health workers, and tasked all Nigerians to strictly comply with the guidelines issued by relevant authorities.