The ravages of COVID-19 in the country and States of the Niger Delta have shown up the failure of governance in the six states of Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Edo, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. Poverty ravaged citizens brought low by corruption, their life support systems degraded by pollution, battle to stay still caught between hunger, thirst and a ravaging pandemic in this feature by Ibiba DonPedro, a project of the Centre for Media, Environment and Development Communications CEMEDEC.
Chief Nyesom Wike
An abrasive personality with a gravely, hoarse voice that comes in startling counter to the calm heights of the office he holds, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike has since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, found himself an unwitting champion of state autonomy against the skewed, oppressive federalism that subsists, in the country. He has since late March,2020been shouting himself hoarse in the environment of heightening conflict between his administration and officials of Federal government agencies, as tensions rise over the virus containment efforts. His efforts have received mixed reaction in the state and beyond. In early April,2020, his arrest of oil industry workers brought into Port Harcourt by a private aircraft charter company Caverton Helicopters, led to the exchange of harsh words with federal government officials, including the Minister for State Aviation Hadi Sirika. Sirika stated in the heat of the arrest that, ‘ Civil Aviation is on the exclusive list on item number three. So, no other person except the Federal Government, has the authority to legislate on it.’ Governor Wike responded saying, ‘I have said before now that I don’t have the right to close the airport, but, I have the right of saying, don’t enter my state because we want to know your status’.
In a special media phone in programme on Rhythm 93.7 FM on Wednesday, May 6, 2020Wike offered explanation of the state’s effort to contain the spread of the pandemic to give reasons for the institution of further lock down measures in the two local government areas that make up the state capital, Port Harcourt. He has kept up complaints about the neglect of the state, a place at the centre of the oil industry that daily draws an international workforce and business, in the sharing of palliatives to states including the Federal Capital Territory FCT, Ogun and Lagos State. Lagos State, the first to report an index case in February, 2020 received N10billion support in its effort to contain the scourge.
Agitations for the effective practice of Federalism are at the centre of decades old tensions between the Niger Delta communities, states and the Federal government at the centre. Yet, as dramatic as his intense encounters, face offs with officials of the Federal government, questions continue to build over the ability of Wike to metamorphose and rise above the chains of his political origins as a member of the predatory Restoration political family created by Dr. Peter Odili that rose to power, choking hold of the state and its treasury in 1999,to a new creature whose primary focus of governance is the wellbeing of people, residents and communities in the state.
Residents queue for water in Town: Source: WhatsApp
Wike has been speaking and taking sensibly tough measures against persons who flout the state’s lockdown directives, including arrests and detention. In his address to the state on Friday, May 8, 2020 following the imposition of a 24 hour total lockdown in the State capital, he declared that, ‘we will not shirk in this duty and unleash the full and severe weight of the law against any person or body of persons, who attempt to put themselves or other innocent people at the risk of spreading this disease in Rivers state’. Reminding all that, ‘ COVID-19 is a disease you cannot even wish for your enemy’. Yet, the reality of about 70 percent poverty among indigenes and residents, many of who live in waterfront slums day to day and lack access to life’s basics including access to power supply, clean water and food, raise deep questions.
A viral video of a long line of residents queued up in ‘Town’ old Port Harcourt to fetch water the morning of the 24 hour lockdown, Thursday, May 7, 2020, and a placard carrying group screaming, ‘No palliative, No lockdown’ underscore the contradictions in the core of messages and admonition to citizens to faithfully adopt the observance of sanitary habits grounded in the washing of hands and bodies after going outside, to keep the corona virus at bay and stay alive to contain and end the ravages of Covid-19 in Rivers state, Niger Delta and Nigeria. Millions of persons in cities, communities in the oil rich region struggle through life having no access to potable water to drink and for domestic cleaning purposes. The Niger Delta formed through millions of years of deposits dumped at the point of the River Niger connecting with the Atlantic ocean, has become largely a place where there is water everywhere but, inhabitants engage in life long search for clean, life sustaining water.
In many of the freshwater communities, inhabitants use the water bordering their communities for drinking, cooking and washing. This same water is largely where human and domestic waste is dumped. It is a common sight to see dead bodies of human persons and animals floating by the Nun River, Orashi and others. Communities along the fresh water bodies are known to present high rates of waterborne diseases including cholera and typhoid among others compared to their saline water neighbours who do not drink the water around their communities. These communities live in much similar primordial conditions as their forebears did for thousands of years.
Rivers State: COVID-19 Power Play: The Best In The Past
As the COVID-19 pandemic settles to hunt down victims in oil rich Rivers State, soundbites of fierce contestation have increasingly taken over the airwaves as two power blocks lock horns in Rivers State. The infection figures in Rivers state at the weekend following the activation of testing facilities in the state is currently 206 infected persons. The number of dead is 14 persons. A low intensity conflict pays out between the state and Federal government with dramatic moments including the arrest and isolation of two pilots and passengers of a Caverton Helicopter flight into the state on April 7. Rivers State, capital of the oil industry has largely shutdown like much of the country. Citizens in some parts of the capital Port Harcourt, including spaces of pulsating population density like Mile One, Mile Two and Mile Three have been held down at home, their streets and homes cordoned off by security personnel for seven weeks. Yet, a daily stream of personnel from the oil companies, service companies continued to pour into the state borne by helicopter. And following the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease in Kano and the repatriation of millions of almajiri, who roamed the streets of Kano and other Northern states, studying under Islamic teachers and begging to survive, Rivers and the other core Niger Delta states find themselves under siege by food trailers attempting to sneak in herdsmen and hordes of almajiri from states in the North. The State’s effort to prevent these illegal entries has elicited support from many citizens and censure from others, mostly opposition politicians. These include loyalist of Rotimi Amaechi who fought a bloody battle with the support of soldiers to wrest the state from Wike in a failed 2019 election bid.
As stoic residents carried on with the tough to bear further burdening of their lives, the State Governor, on Monday May 4, 2020 without any consideration of the impacts of his order announced a 24 hour complete lock down order on two local Government areas in the state, Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor. The order which took effect on Thursday, May 7, 2020 is to be in place for an indeterminate period.
Since March 26,2020 the state has been on a partial lockdown. Shops, market, offices, schools and all business places shut down mostly in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas, two out of the 23 Local Government Areas of the state.
By April 2020 an incensed governor Wike had announced further restrictions that saw a tightening of the lockdown measures on Creek Road Market, Yam zone, Nembe Waterside, Abali Park, markets and housing areas in Diobu up to Rumukoro, placed on complete siege and the streets taken over by the often brutal men of the Task force set up to enforce the lockdown.
Five years after he became governor in 2015 and digging into the first year of his second four year tenure scheduled to end in 2023, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike runs a state suffering decay, deep insecurity, burgeoning poverty through unemployment, a dead, once upon a time vibrant Industrial layout at Trans Amadi and dearth of healthcare facilities. Two major healthcare facilities, the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH Choba and the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital(Braithwaiten Memorial Hospital) in the Old GRA have been designated isolation, treatment centres. The UPTH has been marked an isolation, treatment and testing center for COVID-19 with testing equipment funded by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC and Total E&P Ltd. The governor informed listeners during the radio programme that the state government had not received any funding support from the Federal government.
Like a place cursed with a drought by angry ancestors, the state is a haven for happy water vendors making fast money as the empty water reservoirs inherited from administrations before him remain empty, their towering heights impossible to ignore features to remind of governance failure in the 20 years of civilian governance in the state.
The reservoirs once stored and delivered potable water to households in the city. These reservoirs, one each located on Moscow Road in the Old GRA, Waterworks Road, Rumuola, Nsukka Street Mile One Diobu, Rumumasi are mostly non functional today, except for that in Rumumasi which is maintained by Shell. These facilities are legacies of planned urban development put in place by the colonial, Eastern regional and military governments. The colonial administration which planned and built the city of Port Harcourt, left a planned, functional city with modern infrastructure including green areas with running water taps in the parts of the city called “Town ‘ by locals as they left in 1960,when Nigeria gained independence from the British. Following the events around the Nigerian civil war, leading to the creation of Rivers State in 1967, the ‘golden’ years of the state under the Alfred Diete- Spiff administration (1967-1975) berthed. Diete-Spiff was a 24 year old naval officer in Lagos, whose appointment as governor of the new state was made in the tense days leading to the onset of the civil war. He is credited with laying a firm foundation for the human and infrastructural development of the state. Rivers state created out of the old Eastern region and its capital Port Harcourt, was a thriving centre of commerce, art and culture that were sources of pride to indigenes. Under military rule, Colonel Dauda Komo who was military administrator in 1993-1996, is noted to have continued in the tradition of excellence in governance started by Diete-Spiff. Locals recall with nostalgia, his Neighbourhood Water Scheme, launched to ensure that water flowed in Port Harcourt. It also focused on the provision and reactivation of water projects across the city and state. Unfortunately, with the 1999 return to civilian governance, the political space in the state was taken over by a mix of political godfathers and sons with eyes fixed firmly on the resources of the state, have no place for service to citizens, the essence of democratic governance. In Rivers state, politicians like primates freshly released at feeding time, have embarked on a feeding frenzy administration after administration, looting resources with which they fund lavish lifestyles for themselves and families, build hotels, palatial homes and other property, that are now empty silent places in the Government Reservation Areas, Port Harcourt and other cities.
Twenty years on, the coming of COVID-19 and the reality of false narratives of spectacular tales of outstanding performance and development have been stripped bare. COVID-19 and its aftermath has set off still evolving tensions between those governing and the largely impoverished governed in Rivers and the Niger Delta states compelled to endure a lockdown in the midst of growing hunger.
Abandoned Health Care facilities:
In Rivers State, the reality of over twenty years of looted public funds and missed opportunities to structure a framework for developing infrastructure and human capital in the state following the termination of military rule, 1999 return to civilian governance led by locals in each state, is pushed to the fore of public discourse as COVID-19 stretches its knarled fingers of death from its originating countries to Nigeria. Rivers State along with Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom is one of the richest oil bearing states. Yet, the vast majority of its populace are desperately poor. As state governments battle to lock down citizens who have been left to fend for themselves, scratching a precarious survival out of the stony, barren edges of life to which they have been pushed, as a combination of greedy, vicious local politicians, some of them members of violent cult groups which have come to occupy the spaces of power and governance in the states and Local Government Areas, share up huge monthly allocations paid to these tiers of government. These same breed of politicians dive to swallow as well, a hard fought for 13 percent derivation funds paid to oil bearing states. Figures from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics NBS, indicate that in seven months of 2019 January to July alone, nine oil bearing states, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Edo, Abia, Imo and Ondo states shared the sum of N302.8billion Naira as 13 percent revenue. Of this amount, Delta State received the highest sum of N94.4billion,followed by Akwa Ibom with N70.8billion.Rivers received N54.1billion,Bayelsa received N56.1billion and Edo N10.5billion.
Through sustained embezzlement by public office holders at all levels, millions of naira have disappeared in scam projects ostensibly crafted to provide potable water for millions of citizens in Rivers State since the take over of power by civilians.
For eight years until Dr. Peter Odili left office in 2007, Port Harcourt became a city of water sold in plastic jerrycans, hawked in carts throughout the city by mairuwan, itinerant water sellers from the North. Under the Odili administration, a waterworks plan, valued at several millions of naira to boost water supply, revamp and remodel the water supply system in the state working with South African experts and announced to drumbeats, remained a mirage. The reservoirs standas nothing more than hollow concrete memorials to small minded failure that summarises the rot of an administration run by a man whose massively funded media megaphones, hailed in superlative terms.
White Elephant Projects:
Abandoned syringe production factory, Iriebe:
At a time of glaring deficit of healthcare infrastructure thrown up by the demands to contain COVID-19 and its ravages, an example of the reality of millions of naira spent on opaque projects is the abandoned Syringe manufacturing factory at Iriebe on the Port Harcourt-Aba Road, a project of the Odili administration. Much fanfare and hype greeted the commissioning of this project touted as a first step in the domestication of the production of syringes and other medical equipment by the Dr. Peter Odili government that ran the state from 1999-2007. Today, as COVID-19 rages and nations are caught in a panic propelled race to provide solutions in the area of needed medical equipment, the syringe factory lies in ruin, its premises overtaken by weed. Other abandoned health facilities include the Kelsey Harrison Hospital on Emenike Street Diobu, Port Harcourt, the abandoned old hospital on Hospital Road, the corruption submerged former Maxillo dental Health Care facility at Garrison Roundabout in the capital, contrived by the Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi administration which ran from 2007-2015.
In a statement released in response to the challenges thrown up by the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Austin Tam George, a communications expert and one time Commissioner for Information in Rivers State, who in 2017 resigned his appointment, a path uncharted in the 20 years since the return to civilian government in 1999,gave insights and proffered solutions that would give greater mileage and impacts beyond the lifespan of the pandemic and current focus on ‘lockdown, food aid and contact chasing’ to longer term impact areas of, ‘Investment in education, focus on agriculture, health and wellbeing, rural and urban development and leadership. He emphasized the urgency of thoughtful, creative leadership to turn the fortunes of the state around noting that, ‘ We need to start an important conversation on how we can identify and put forward the kind of leadership that can recreate Rivers State. We have lost a lot of grounds and our state has probably reached that point where, even ‘good governance’ will no longer be enough to turn things around’.
Small Rich State, poor people
Gov. Douye Diri
Bayelsa State currently with 21 persons recorded to have tested positive for the corona virus so far, lost its coveted profile as a corona virus free state as it recorded its index case within the last days of April, 2020. One person also died of COVID-19. The affected person, said to be a 49 year old woman is currently undergoing care at the State government hospital, Okolobiri. Consequent upon this dire development, stricter measures to curtail movement of persons and contain the possible spread of the virus in the state have been announced by the Bayelsa State governor Senator Douye Diri. These include a week long 24 hour curfew that shut the entire state down in April. Yet danger of spread looms. Neighbours of the family of the index case in the estate in Yenagoa where they live, had cried out about the possible danger of contracting COVID-19, as family members of the infected person, were said to be walking free without isolating themselves or subjecting themselves to testing and quarantine. Based on this, relatives of the infected person and anyone seen to have had contact, have been isolated.
Presently, the week long curfew introduced by the State government at the end of May has been extended. Only civil servants from grade level 12 and others engaged in essential services are permitted to go to work, while social distancing rules are being enforced.
Community COVID-19 palliatives intervention by Ijaw Monitoring group
The terror ignited by COVID-19 among citizens amid the paucity of healthcare facilities, including those for testing underline the glaring deficit in this area which cannot be concealed under media hype. Beside the Government Health Centre at Okolobiri employed as an isolation and care centre, the only other health facility of note, is the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa. Much hype has always trailed the conceptualisation and actual construction of health care facilities in this small, oil and gas rich state. The state depends almost exclusively on monthly allocations from the sale of crude oil, shared in Abuja. The administration of first civilian governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, conceived, began work on a huge 500 bed hospital project located in the city centre which took off, stalled and was eventually abandoned, its skeletal structures like ugly scars on the city’s face. Under the administration of the immediate past Governor Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, a lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives, sustained hype trailed the commissioning of a health care facility, the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre BDC, touted as the answer to the penchant of affluent Bayelsa State citizens and other Nigerians to travel to places including Dubai, India, the United States, spending foreign exchange in millions of dollars in search of medical solutions. Focus on the centre was further heightened in August 2018, when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of the country visited and spoke in gushing tones about the centre on the occasion of its commissioning, ‘The same things you can get anywhere in the world, are available in Bayelsa. Why do you have to travel? Wherever we can get best service, let’s spread it. When I was here in February, I saw the standard of the facilities that could be used by all Nigerians. There is no need for us to go to Dubai, United Kingdom or America for check up’.
Today, as COVID-19 wreaks devastation in human life and national economies, huge amounts of resources spent on expensive facilities such as the BDC appear like white elephant projects of little utility in the face of real emergencies. The BDC, showcased on its well set up website, parades modern equipment for radiology, endoscopy, cardiology, optometry and wellness.
Yet, the dearth of medical facilities to handle medical emergencies such as that presented by the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the absence of a culture of care for the welfare of the governed is real. Although some of the pressures posed by the crying need for physical medical infrastructure, has been relieved somewhat by the intervention packaged as a 200 bed medical facility to be located at Igbogene courtesy the oil industry, more lack stares both the governed and state in the face. The pressure of great need and deprivation faced by the vast majority of people in the state despite its status as oil rich, was graphically demonstrated by an event in Sabagreia, where a widowed Mother of six children said to have been caught stealing some bunches of plantain from someone’s farm, was unfortunately paraded on social media. The positive outcome of this sad development is an effort by a group of Ijaw women on the platform of Ijaw Women Connect IWC, incensed by this shaming to rally some economic empowerment for her. Even this reach out reflects the imperative to return focus of the Bayelsa state government to addressing the social and economic needs of the ordinary citizens post COVID-19. In the area of response through palliatives, the Bayelsa state government had made provision for the supply of food items including rice to the ‘most vulnerable’ in the state. Most of those targeted did not get any supplies. In response to this reality, a second round of palliatives was organised with a food bank set up at the Banquet Hall near Government House, Yenagoa. The governor Senator Diri who placed local government chairmen in charge of the distribution of palliatives of rice and other food items, cautioned them to put aside consideration of party affiliation and ensure that the food gets o the vulnerable, saying ‘whether PDP or APC, the underlying thing is they are Bayelsans, they are your brothers’.
Impressive Response, Yet Welfare Concerns Remain
Dr Ifeanyi Okowa
Delta State presents a profile of three persons infected and eight persons dead. Of the six core Niger Delta States, Delta appears to be most prepared to contain the challenges presented by COVID-19, including ensuring the safety and placing as priority, the wellbeing of the people of the state and deployment of the State’s resources in service to citizens. With a medical doctor as governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta went to work, as soon as COVID-19 berthed the country with the announcement of the index case in the country in Lagos on February 27, 2020, and the fate of Suleiman Achimugu who eventually died March 23, 2020 in Abuja. The state announced the setting aside of 11 medical centres spread across the state for the isolation, diagnosis and treatment of persons who may contract the corona virus. Recently, announced a testing centre located in Asaba Specialist Hospital in the capital, Asaba. The facility said to have been made possible by the Pan African Network for Disease Outbreak, Research and Rapid Response PANDORA Group and Irrua Specialist Hospital, an infectious diseases center of excellence based in Edo state, would speed up the number of persons tested in the state.
As the portends of the pandemic dawned and the need to keep citizens safe indoors became imperative, Delta State government established a food bank to enable residents access food, to mitigate the impact of the lock down imposed to contain the deadly COVID-19. Still, discontent has trailed the implementation of these measures as the consequences of lock down bites. A social critic in the state, Comrade Sheriff Mulade who spoke with media, called on the government to relax the rigors of the curfew by 5-6 hours to enable residents earn a living to sustain themselves and families, advising that, ‘Our Governor, Senator Dr. Okowa should leave his comfort zone at Government House and move closer to the people because there is no other better, critical time than now for the governor to show empathy and sympathy to Deltans who voted or him massively in the 2015 and 2019 general elections’.
Communities in far flung riverine communities usually cut off from the government, have been calling for more support of food palliatives and the deployment of marine ambulances to take care of infected persons in the face of the scourge.
Edo State: High Infection Rate, Ready Facilities
Gov. Godwin Obaseki
Edo state recently in the news as the unfortunate location for the Lassa fever epidemic, is under pressure as the Corona virus pandemic makes its deathly round of states in the country. The Irrua Specialist hospital, a centre of excellence for testing and management of infectious diseases has been in focus and major space for managing the state’s infected cases. Over 40, 000 persons have been tested , one of the highest figures for testing in the Niger Delta. Currently, 284 persons have been reported to have contracted the virus, the highest of the Niger Delta states. The death figure is 13 persons. The state under Godwin Obaseki, a seasoned technocrat and one time banker, has so far demonstrated the competence to handle the simple task of managing men and resources to run the affairs of the state. Obaseki also set up a food bank to handle the distribution of palliatives under a task force headed by the Deputy Governor Phillip Shuaibu. The state government also opened a 40 bed isolation centre, with a 10 day curfew announced on April 20,2020. Obaseki has as well, displayed the ability to dodge political traps in his ongoing face off with his predecessor Adams Oshiomhole, in the vicious run up to the governorship elections in the state that will determine if he gets his party’s nod and if he wins the elections, a second tenure. COVID-19 and its commanding control of every space it touches, has somewhat reduced the intensity of the political battles that played out up to the first weeks of 2020. The scourge has however returned focus to the reality of growing poverty in the state.
Though Edo State covers a much smaller acreage in terms of oil and gas production than Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom State, in a country whose whole economy is structured on a framework of oil sales and receipts, even the production of a barrel of crude oil counts. Edo with its population of over 3million and 18 Local Government Areas, depends on monthly allocations from the federation account for carrying out government business, development planning and execution. Edo also boasts vast acreages of agricultural land and is the site for the Okomu forest reserves from which it generates several billions annually in internally generated revenue. Edo is noted for the cultivation of palm oil and derivative produce, rubber and boasts a thriving local food production sector.
Yet, Edo state is not spared the baleful reality of overwhelming poverty among its populace. Indeed, the state shares in the ugly underside of wretchedness and drift, laid bare by the ravages of poverty, an incompetent political class engaged in looting the commonwealth, a culture of rot that has entrenched itself in the state as in its neighbours, in the past decades since its creation in 1967 as part of Bendel State and later Edo state in 1991. The state has become a metaphor for the indignities of human trafficking as thousands of citizens, mostly young persons flee the state in steady stream in search of a better life in Europe and other countries.
As in the other states in the Niger Delta, the ravages of COVID -19 that has shutdown millions in the efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic, offers the government and governed space for a return to discourse about development that puts the people of Edo State first.
Cross River State:
Governance As Circus Under COVID-19
Prof. Ben Ayade
Despite the deadly realities in terms of human fatalities and economic shut down, threats of deepening poverty which COVID-19 presents, to the people of Cross River State, a theatre of the absurd plays out whenever Prof. Benedict Ayade, governor of the state mounts the rostrum to speak on the state’s effort at containing the impact of COVID-19 in Cross Rivers State. Ayade, a professor of environmental microbiology has largely moved to tackle the raging virus in ways that are nothing short of comic. Currently, Cross River State is the only one in the region that has posted no infection figure. This reality is rooted in the zero testing posture of the state administration.
Prof. Ayade, has always demonstrated a proclivity for the dramatic even on issues as serious as governance under COVID-19 pandemic. He appears to deliberately court controversy. At the onset of the panic propelled measures put in place nationwide to lock down populations across the country as a corona virus containment measure, Ayade upped the dramatic dance by marshalling a group made up of his aides, state government officials to the states border with Akwa Ibom at the Itu bridge, where they kept vigil watching for persons sneaking into the state. The governor has called on the Federal government or funding support to close the states border with Cameroun. Cameroun has registered over 1000 infected persons.
As concern and censure trailed Ayade’s position echoing her boss’s stance, Dr. Etta Edu, Commissioner for health and Head of the Cross River State Taskforce on COVID-19 containment declared, ‘Our need for the time being, is not a 300 bed isolation centre or 100 ventilators. What we need now is funding to completely shut down our borders to Cameroun with over 1000 cases and other (Nigerian) states which have recorded any cases’
A group, Efik Leadership Foundation has accused Governor Ayade of endangering lives of citizens through his eccentric ways of responding to the pandemic in the state. According to the group in a statement signed by its Board Chairman Richard Duke and Chairman, Good Governance, Timothy Esu, “The state Government has done very little to train, equip and deploy health personnel, build and equip healthcare facilities, laboratories and isolation centres in the state, drive home the message about the importance of testing, physical distancing and personal hygiene and generally prepare to contain the disease in the state. Yet, in contrast, the state government has also made a big public relations show of distributing food items among a few communities in the state and locking down the state at its main land border at the Itu Bridge, even as other land and riverine entry points along the state’s borders are very much in use’.
Many observers view the approach of the governor, an environmental microbiologist as eccentric and too dramatic a strategy to contain a pandemic as deadly as COVID-19. There are concerns that his antics may send wrong signals especially in the hinterland where people carry on as if there is no pandemic wreaking havoc.
The governor spoke of his conviction that the solution to COVID-19 spread rests in the hands of Africans themselves. Ayade reaffirm his position that the vaccine for the virus could be sourced from the antibodies of those who had recovered from the virus. He proffered the solution to this disease while addressing thousands of unemployed youths who came out for employment relating to COVID19 containment in the state, in Calabar on April 21, 2020. While addressing the youth,, he made the point that provision of jobs and healthy living could go a long way in solving the virus challenge, including HIV. He reiterated his opposition to the current practice and that the test method for the coronavirus was wrong.
Ayade said, “I think Africans should come together to the realisation that it is not vaccines. It is healthy living. Give people jobs. Thabo Mbeki once told the world, ‘don’t tell us about giving us HIV drugs in South Africa. Give us money let us improve our agriculture.’ Let everybody have a job and is working and living healthy. HIV virus will disappear; the same thing with coronavirus. It would sound very controversial but you should know that I am talking from a sound intellectual and scientific background. The virus itself, the test method itself, the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test method is an unreliable method and is never to be used for diagnostic purpose but genomic sequencing, for just research purposes. But the PCR is being used, test kits are being produced. Test kits manufacturers are making cool money. If I test you and you are coronavirus positive, what do I do? There are no vaccines. There is no established approved international treatment protocol.
.“However, you have also announced that some people have recovered. Those people who have recovered, why don’t you go and take their serum? Their serum shows that if they have recovered, it means they now have antibodies against the virus (Let the serum undergo laboratory process and mass produce a vaccine). Why can’t the Federal Government put money in the research and production of that vaccine in Nigeria? We have professors of virology, intelligent Nigerian professors of virology lying waste in the universities.
“With the money you have now, you can set up a proper vaccine production plant, a first of its kind, a world-class vaccine. And very easy. I teach immunology in the university. What do you do? That healthy man you said has recovered, you have discharged 19, you have discharged 20, that means those people are strong and healthy enough that their antibodies they have generated, you can extract it and use.
The state has been engaged at the state owned Garment factory, producing millions of face masks for distribution to citizens. A law on the wearing of face masks in public is strictly enforced by the administration under a ,’No mask, No movement,” policy.
The state also rolled out 50 small bright red cars for use by the Task Force, a move faulted by some observers in the state who would have preferred the purchase of ambulances instead.
Cross River State faces deep financial challenges being wholly dependent on the monthly income from the Federation allocation. The state was one of the oil bearing states until it lost that prized status, following a Supreme Court victory in the matter of disputed oil well ownership with sister state Akwa Ibom in 2012.
Today, Cross River is the poor relative among the states of the main Niger Delta. Poverty has laid a firm hand on the state despite its rich resource base of massive spread of arable land, solid minerals, impressive tourism potentials that include the Obudu cattle Ranch, the Obudu hills, The Carnival at Christmas, water bodies, the Calabar Export Promotion Zone Tinapa and cuisine that is the envy of many other states and peoples in the country.
An imperative exists for Cross Rivers State post COVID-19, to re-plan a development strategy to include a focus on agriculture, food processing , tourism and Information and Communication Technology.
Akwa Ibom: Oil Wealth, Hyped Development and Poverty
Gov. Emmanuel Udom
Akwa Ibom State Governor since 2015, Emmanuel Udom, a banker turned politician presents as a calm, contemplative person and public officer. He works quietly without the bluster associated with his predecessor, Godswill Akpabio, who in 2015 singlehandedly installed him as governor of the oil rich state. In a terrain notable in the recent past for violently brutal politics, political killings and secret cult affiliation of many in politics, a reality as normal as sunshine on a regular day, Udom has achieved feats including holding his own against his former godfather Akpabio and returning for a second tenure in the face of the savage, low intensity war that played out in the state, during the 2019 elections in February and March that year. Akpabio, who having been compelled and squeezed by powerful forces in Abuja to decamp to the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, wanted to return to the Senate on the APC ticket as well as remove Udom, his former protégé replacing him with Nsima Ekere, the APC governorship candidate and former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC.
Udom has since carried on the business of running the affairs of the state without much drama, until COVID-19 with its compelling powers of exposition and hypnotic dance steps set foot in Akwa Ibom in March 2020. The state from then has moved from one intense COVID-19 drama to another. First act was the drama of denial in which the state government though the antics of Dr. Dominic Ukpong Commissioner for Health, struggled to showcase the state as one free from the ravages of COVID-19. In one of the scenes, the State’s Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Aniekeme Uwah was redeployed on the basis of taking 31 samples from suspected cases for corona virus testing instead of 10. This action was faulted by the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA in the state. In the most recent demonstration of poor understanding of the gravity of threat from COVID- 19, Gov Udom still floating in a cloud of denial, has clearly failed to demonstrate the sort of leadership expected of someone who rose, acquired experience working in a structured institution as he did in the banking sector. Udom is clearly still in denial about the deadly threats to Akwa Ibom people constituted by persons sneaking into the state from states in the North such as Kano, found to have high infection rates. He declared that,’ There are 3G cameras at our borders. We monitor every movement at our situation room. It is there at Itu, Ikot Abasi and other busy borders. We don’t take pleasure in noise making. The fact that you don’t see me jump on trailers does not mean we are not doing our best,’ clearly taking a jibe at the efforts of his western neighbour Gov Wike and Eastern neighbour Prof Ayade, whose vigilance has unveiled the tactics of unidentified persons being sneaked into the states in trailers, along with produce from the North.
Photo: businessday.ng: Palliatives being shared
Akwa Ibom holds much promise as one of the richest states in the Niger Delta and country, in terms of oil and gas resources. But, this has not translated into a thriving space of prosperous, empowered people. Yet, as civilian governance began and firmed its hold following the end of military rule in 1999, Akwa Ibom presented as one of the states in the Niger Delta with great promise. Oil and gas rich state, hardworking populace, fertile soil and a man who turned out to be arguably the best among the first governors, the set of 1999-2007. Victor Atta was urbane, well educated, an architect and businessman, a politician who had made friends across different ethnic nationalities and political spaces. Attah, on assumption of office set up structures to effect the transformation of Akwa Ibom from its stubbornly rural status to a space of modern promise borne on the provisions of its oil state profile. He managed to lay the foundation for the promise of transformation, framing an infrastructural master plan which touched Uyo the state capital but, not much else in the rest of the 31 Local Government Areas of the state.
Nothing captures the story of heartbreaking poverty in the midst of great wealth in Akwa Ibom like the Ibu Okpom story. The community is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the sea. Before the advent of Exxon Mobil, the main oil and gas multinational in Ibeno Local Government Area and most of Akwa Ibom State, oil communities in the area were self-reliant, their main occupations being fishing and farming.
Things have however changed according to the natives, thanks to regular unaddressed oil spills. Fisher-folks no longer record high yields as oil spills destroy aquatic life in the waters, the people’s sources of protein and economy. Oil spills also cake the soil, make agriculture impossible and contaminate their source of drinking water. The result is economic displacement and disempowerment translating into unemployment, hunger, youth restiveness, social vices like robbery, militancy, prostitution.
”Before, our husbands used to go to sea for three months and come back with plenty of fish and crayfish. Now, they come back with empty nets; customers who book in advance are unable to get back their money. Women before just put on the pot, go to the backyard and catch some fish for the family. Now, we buy everything from other places and there is no money,” Mrs Florence Uti, one of the women narrated.
In the absence of healthcare, pregnant women turn to traditional birth attendants and spiritual centers. These operate without basic hygiene and items as simple as antiseptics, hand gloves, mackintosh, etc., and in very squalid airless shanties shared with a generator repairer.
Though TBAs charge a paltry N1000, less than $5, many husbands because of poverty, are unable to pay up. Four mothers, all in their 20s were being ‘detained’ for this indebtedness when National Point visited the community in 2015. Normal delivery costs N20,000 in a conventional clinic.
The story is the same in nearly all of the oil host communities in the state. Clearly, the government should address more vigorously, the use of service delivery, transparency and accountability in public service.
Government should cultivate and nurture an environment that will accelerate poverty reduction and enthrone sustainable development.
To play an active role in enthroning good governance, civil society has to emerge as a strong voice in the development process.
The state which has 45 COVID-19 infected persons, according to NCDC release, two persons died, has despatched palliatives of garri, flour, rice and beans to some of its 31 local government areas. But, civil society organisations monitoring the distribution noted that the amount distributed was paltry and the process marred by focus and privilege to persons based on political affiliation, a poor scorecard for one of the most resource endowed states.
The complaints of poor distribution of palliatives were commonly heard in all the 6 states of the Niger Delta exposing a troubling reality and imperative for change. These concerns for transformation of the baleful Niger Delta realities, were echoed in recent comments by concerned Niger Delta personalities.
Moses Siasia, a youthful governorship aspirant in the 2015 governorship elections in Bayelsa State and re knowned crusader for Niger Delta economic development and founder of the Niger Delta Young Professionals Forum, NDYPF expressed worries over the, ‘continued lack of visible evidence to suggest that, there are serious efforts by key stakeholders in government towards ensuring that the Niger Delta region attains meaningful economic and infrastructural development’.Siasia calls on all stakeholders, irrespective of political party affiliation to work on the imperative of putting the welfare of Niger Delta people first.
Indeed, an urgency exists for government at all levels, the States and Local Government Areas, LGAs in the Niger Delta to employ the opportunity offered by the COVID-19 experiences and manifest gulf between the essence of democratic practice and the governance realities to re-engineer the relationship between officials, governance institutions and the governed. These realities include the primitive focus on planning for elections won through the deployment of armed militia and cult groups, moving from one election cycle to another, simply playing politics and concentration on holding on to power and access to the region’s considerable wealth, rather than development that has people at its core.
Civil society, community pressure groups including women, traditional institutions, professional bodies and Diaspora organisations need to respond to the loud cries of ordinary persons in the communities, LGAs, states of the Niger Delta as a call to action, engage the tiers of government to return the wellbeing and happiness of citizens as the overriding reason for governance. COVID-19 and its impacts have shown up officials of the LGAs and state governments as generally poor managers of the region’s considerable material and human resources, the reason for the nearly 70 percent poverty rates in the region. Beside the outright theft of public resources, most governors engage in clowning or ostrich denials, or deploy excessively draconian tactics to compel compliance over lockdown, in place of pragmatic steps to provide palliatives of food, clean water, power supply and respect for citizens rights, even as they are encouraged to obey COVID-19 containment rules, including stay home orders.
Expecting thousands of starving families who live on less than N72 daily to simply stay home, lie down and die amounts to hoping for the impossible, a fact amply captured by Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice, CEPEJ head Sheriff Mulade when he pointed to the glaring conditions of lack in his state Delta , ‘ As our governor and other political office holders are making adequate provisions for their close family members and political aides in this very trying period of our nation’s history, the government in order to avoid cases of untold hardship and other eventualities should make adequate plans to supply electricity food , water, sanitisers and other essential items to the poor and vulnerable in the state’.
COVID-19 is a call for a new social contract between the people, those in government and those who ever aspire to governance position at all levels.