Francis Ezem

Though the coronavirus also called COVID-19 started sometime in early December 2019 at Wuhan, a city in Central China with about 11 million population, Nigeria effectively began her journey through the virus on February 27, 2020 when she recorded the first case via a victim identified just as an ‘Italian’.

Due to a combination of the novel nature and the fast speed of spread of the virus, at the end of December, public health officials from China informed the World Health Organisation WHO that they had a problem: an unknown, new virus, which was causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan. The WHO quickly determined that it was a coronavirus and that it was rapidly spreading through and outside of Wuhan. As many countries across the globe in Europe, America, Asia and even Africa began to record cases of the virus, the global health body urgently declared it a global emergency and promptly developed emergency responses towards curtailing the spread. This is especially given that the virus is novel in nature and therefore neither had a vaccine for prevention nor medicines for its cure.

The Federal Government’s initial response, which many believed was not as rapid as required, came through the Federal Ministry of Health, which introduced some measure of control at the country’s international airports, especially taking of temperatures, which did not achieve the desired results, as many top political leaders and politicians failed to submit themselves for such checks.

The ministry also through the Port Health Services at the seaports placed vessels from some Asian countries especially China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea on strict surveillance. This was with a view of checkmating the spread of the deadly disease to Nigeria through her seaports and other land borders.

Under the new regulations at the seaports, all vessels coming to Nigeria from China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and any other affected countries must notify the Port Health Services, a unit of the ministry stationed at the seaports and land borders, failing which the vessel would not be allowed into Nigeria’s territory.

As is conventional with the virus, especially in terms of fast spread, Nigeria has since the confirmation of the first case on February 27, 2020, experienced a gradual but steady rise in the number of confirmed cases. Statistics show that about 31 days after the confirmation of the first, precisely on March 29, 2020, the total number of confirmed cases in Nigeria rose to 97. The country had also unfortunately recorded its first death six days earlier on March 23, 2020. This first casualty was said to be a former member of staff Petroleum Product Marketing Company PPMC. As at this time, many top government officials including some state governors, many of who travelled abroad not too long ago had been suspected to have contacted the virus, many of which turned out to be true.

Also as part of the responses, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the creation of a Presidential Task Force PTF, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Boss Mustafa to develop a workable National Response Strategy. Other members of the taskforce were drawn from the Federal Ministry of Health, including the Minister, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and officials of the National Centre for Disease Control NCDC; including its Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekwuazu, among others. Part of the strategy was to recruit and train more manpower in line with international standards, some of them being on adhoc basis.

Confirmed Cases by State as at May 8, 2020

States Affected No. of Cases (Lab Confirmed) No. of Cases (on admission) No. Discharged No. of Deaths
Lagos 1,667 1,186 448 33
Kano 547 509 20 18
FCT 336 292 40 4
Borno 142 128 0 14
Katsina 137 120 9 8
Bauchi 117 110 6 1
Ogun 113 81 28 4
Gombe 110 100 10 0
Kaduna 95 79 14 2
Sokoto 93 80 4 9
Jigawa 83 82 0 1
Edo 67 51 12 4
Zamfara 65 62 0 3
Oyo 59 43 14 2
Osun 38 4 30 4
Nasarawa 25 24 0 1
Kwara 24 15 9 0
Rivers 21 15 4 2
Kebbi 18 18 0 0
Delta 17 11 3 3
Akwa Ibom 17 5 10 2
Adamawa 15 15 0 0
Taraba 15 15 0 0
Ondo 15 9 6 0
Plateau 15 14 1 0
Yobe 13 12 0 1
Ekiti 12 7 4 1
Enugu 10 8 2 0
Ebonyi 7 7 0 0
Niger 6 4 2 0
Bayelsa 5 5 0 0
Imo 3 2 1 0
Benue 2 2 0 0
Abia 2 1 1 0
Anambra 1 0 1 0

Source: NCDC

The government also commenced the release of its initial financial intervention of N15billion to support the national response. It was gathered that Lagos, which is the epicenter of the virus got N10billion while the taskforce, which encompasses the FMH and the NCDC got N5billion as part of efforts to contain and control the spread of the virus. The Federal Government’s goal was to ensure all states had the right support and manpower to respond immediately. The government had also on March 30, 2020 imposed a 14-day total lockdown on Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory FCT, which had the highest number of confirmed cases in the country.

Even with these efforts of the governments, comprising federal and states, which had also introduced some measures to curtail the spread including closure of markets, worship centres, social distancing and regular hand washing by citizens, use of face masks, the number of confirmed cases has remained on the increase. For instance, two weeks after the first 14-day lockdown imposed on March 30, 2020 in the three most affected parts of the country (Lagos, Ogun and FCT), precisely on April 13, 2020, the confirmed cases across the country had risen to 321 and had spread to 20 states and the FCT, Abuja, which necessitated an extension.

Even with the lockdown, which many believed was not effectively enforced, given government’s inability to implement a regime of palliatives that could enable the citizens stay at home, confirmed cases rose to 1, 273 as at April 27, 2020. The pandemic had also spread across 32 out of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT with a total of 40 deaths. Then came the Kano debacle, which recorded its first confirmed case on April 11, 2020 and less than 24 hours after opening of its testing centre, about 40 members of staff of the NCDC had tested positive to the virus, forcing the agency to shut the centre. Local media had also reported cases of ‘mystery’ deaths in the city numbering over 150 in less than one week. Over 12 prominent citizens including Professors, senior Journalists and former diplomats and an Emir were reported to have died within 24 hours, thus raising fears that the deaths might be COVID-19 related.

Generally, there has been a spike in the number of confirmed cases in the last one week. This follows the decision of the Federal Government to ease out the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and FCT with effect from May 4, 2020. President Buhari had cited economic reasons, especially the need to begin to revamp the economy as major reason for relaxing the lockdown.

For instance, as at May 8, 2020, the country recorded 386 new cases within 24 hours, which is the highest ever. As at this date, the number of confirmed cases had climbed to 3, 912 while the number of deaths had risen geometrically to 117, as 10 deaths were recorded in one day. The details show that the 386 new cases were reported from 20 states as follows: Lagos (176), Kano(65), Katsina (31), FCT(20), Borno(17), Bauchi(15), Nasarawa (14) and Ogun(13), Others include Plateau(10), Oyo(4), Sokoto(4), Rivers(4), Kaduna(3), Edo(2), Ebonyi(2), Ondo(2), Enugu(1), Imo(1), Gombe(1), Osun(1)

Two states in the country, Kogi and Cross River are the only states in the country that have not recorded any case, though no test has been carried out in any of them. The governors have also been reported criticising the NCDC and the taskforce for the manner they have handled the pandemic.

While the Lagos State Government projects that the state might record over 12, 000 cases before July, many believe that Kano State will by far exceed this figure, given the rate at which the state is going; till then, only time shall tell.