By Jamila Musa
The Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Lagos and Ogun States were the first few States in Nigeria to be hit by the rampaging COVID-19 virus early in March 2020. It all started in Lagos when an Italian who arrived the country through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport was said to have tested positive to the corona virus.
As it would be recalled, on the advice of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 the Federal Government of Nigeria on March 29, 2020 declared a total lockdown in the FCT and the other two States. The government also directed that schools, religious institutions, markets for non-essential services, recreational centres, among others should remain shut for an initial period of two weeks to ensure that the disease does not spiral out of control.
Drawing inspiration from the PTF’s activities, and lessons learnt from containment initiatives in China and some European countries where the virus had its most devastating impacts, the Honourable Minister, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello in his characteristic concern for health and safety in the FCT set to work with his colleague, the Honourable Minister of State, FCT Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu and developed corresponding internal mechanisms to complement the work of the PTF and keep the Covid-19 curve in check. Thus, they introduced pragmatic measures that not only reflected the social dynamics of the FCT but also ensured guided and systematic approach to the containment process.
Among the pragmatic steps taken by the FCTA was the setting up of the Ministerial Expert Advisory Task Team on COVID-19, comprising of private sector stakeholders and headed by a former Minister of FCT, Dr Aliyu Modibbo. The team was tasked with the responsibility of harnessing private sector support and efforts towards defeating the deadly virus. Specifically, the team was mandated to rally wealthy individuals and organisations to provide medical, financial and other material support in cushioning the effect of the pandemic in the FCT.
Under the synergy and collaborative engagement which the FCT Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid – 19 signifies, organized private sector and other major stakeholders of the FCT including the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC which provided an elegant 5 storey-building Training Center at the Idu train facility was outfitted for use as an isolation and treatment center with a holding capacity of about 400 victims, FATE Foundation, Polaris Bank, Julius Berger Nigeria PLC, Binani Group, among others who were all rallied to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), monitoring machines, furniture and air conditioners and power generators at the IDU 400 bed facility, and other necessary supports.
The wisdom behind these initiatives was to ensure the virus does not escalate in the city. As the Honourable Minister had explained, “The most dangerous stage of the disease is the one that requires all the expert facilities to be available. So, as much as possible we are using support from all the other agencies to make sure that wherever people are going to be isolated and treated will be well suitable for that and I can assure you that the external community would be well protected.” This assessment of the situation by the Honourable Minister fueled his decision to recruit a number of frontline health workers and adhoc staff who were well renumerated to operate and ensure the functionality of the centres.
Part of the systematic measures adopted to compliance with NCDC/PTF on Covid-19 guidelines in the FCT necessitated the use of security agencies as was done in other counties in the wake of the virus. To this end, the FCT Administration rallied the security organisations like the Nigerian Police Force, relevant formations of the military, Civil Defence Corps, the Road Safety, the Department of State Services, FCT Department of Road Transport Services as well as all the agencies involved in the provision of services within the FCT to enforce the presidential lockdown directive under the specified term of references.
As part of their mandates, all organs of the FCT Security Services and other government agencies agreed and worked out modalities to ensure that all entry and exit points of the FCT and by extension, other satellite towns, are manned by relevant officials to ensure that everybody stays at home or keep to the schedules of movements with exemptions given only to frontline health workers and other essential workers. The FCT administration, spared no efforts in curtailing the rampaging effects of the virus as all relevant departments and groups and initiatives including erection of temporary markets, etc were emplaced. The sensitization and awareness creation programme and also the effective communication strategy of the FCT also played key roles in the enforcement of compliance with Covid-19 control guidelines.
One striking success of the FCT initiatives on the Covid-9 was in the distribution of palliatives and household support packages. To a large extent, the handlers of the relief programme in the FCT ensured a fair and wide distribution and for proper monitoring, the administration adopted the use of live supervision and video coverage introducing transparency and accountability in the process. About 600,000 households in the six Area Councils of the FCT benefitted from the exercise. Whilst these efforts were underway, a second wave of COVID-19 hit town. The FCT administration responded proactively to curtail the damage impact of the dreaded second wave of the virus. The period also witnessed the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines in the country. However, concerned about the trepidation with which people across the country received the news of the arrival of the vaccine in Nigeria, the FCT administration devised a new communication strategy in order for the residents to agree to get vaccinated against the virus. In this regard, toth the Minister and the Honourable Minister of State for the FCT were among the first recipients of the vaccine in the FCT.
These are remarkable steps taken in the FCT to protect lives and livelihoods, but cooperation from the residents and stakeholders of the FCT is required to put the Capital on its trajectory of sustainable development.
Musa writes from Abuja