Coronavirus: Rivers has no coherent strategy – Dakuku Peterside

The Cironavirus is perhaps the hottest issue of public concern at the moment. It is threatening and killing humans. It is running economies aground, forcing men, women and children to remain behind closed doors and changing the way we do things.
The Telegraph  reached out to Dakuku Adol Peterside, immediate past Director General of NIMASA for his views on a number of COVID 19 related issues. This is how the interview went:

Telegraph: As you are probably aware,  the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases within Rivers State has risen from three to six. What do you think the sudden surge in the number of affected persons means for the people?.

DAP: It portends danger for our people and calls for concern. It might interest you to know that Rivers state is among the frontline states where the least test have been conducted. Unfortunately setting up test centres in the state in collaboration with NCDC is not part of the strategy of Rivers State Government. The implication is that what we hitherto considered low number of Covid 19 cases is not a true reflection of our situation. Now that the numbers are rising the government of Rivers State working with NCDC and other stakeholders, need to urgently review their strategy.
Two important components must be given priority consideration in the new or reviewed strategy. First, we need to raise our game in sensitization and education of the people especially in the LGAs. Some people still do not believe that the virus is real. And as you know the new phase of Coronavirus is community infection. The second strand of a reviewed strategy should focus on how to ramp up the number of persons tested for the virus. Without conducting test, we may continue to live in denial and expose our people to more danger. Common sense should tell us that due to oil industry activities and inflow of foreigners, our level of vigilance and proactiveness should be above average.

Telegraph: Many states have come up with containment strategies as the fight against the virus intensifies. What is your assessment of the efforts that are being made to fight the spread in your state?

DAP: The government of Rivers State has taken some bold and timely measures within its limited capacity to protect Rivers people from the deadly Corona virus. However, let me state that the Government can only give what she has, implying that Rivers state government’s actions are not without its shortfalls and inadequacies, leaving room for improvement.
Globally the fight against the epidemic stands on a tripod- the government , the experts and the people. I did not see much of the people play active role in tackling this virus and I do not believe we made optimal use of the experts; if we did it is not reflected in our approach to the pandemic in the state. From my vantage position, I did not see a coherent strategy to tackle the virus neither did I see much collaboration with NCDC and other health professionals in our fight against the virus.
I thank God that we still have low numbers and my hope is that these figures are the reality, and not out of lack of tests. Two areas the State Government came short of the people’s expectation is in managing the economic fall out of the lockdown and, timely and appropriate communication with the people of the State.
Most residents are at loss for the direction the government is going at any point in time and the intentions. They were also at a loss to discern who the enemy is, whether it is the virus, hunger or the government.

Telegraph: The outburst of the PDP and the slant of the party’s comments suggest that politics may have crept into the ongoing fight to keep Nigerians alive. Is the attack on the President at this time justified?

DAP: With more than 1,200 confirmed cases now in Nigeria, a good number of fatalities and a growing spread across more states within the country, I would expect that no one will bring in politics into a weighty issue as this, this is a matter of life and death.
A non-partisan approach has helped many western countries confront the virus and keep their people safe. The least I expect from political leaders is collaboration and putting the life of the people first before other considerations. Only those who survive this deadly pandemic, can talk about politics. It is only God Almighty that knows who will survive it or not. This is an enemy that does not know partisan lines or issues of the rich versus poor. This is no time for politics at all. The PDP statement was in bad taste.

Telegraph: Hunger has become a critical issue as the lockdown in parts of the country intensifies. There are calls which imply that allowing people to return to their businesses in order to put body and soul together might be the best palliative at this time. What do you think?

DAP: Fundamentally, it is fair to acknowledge that the ultimate intent of the lockdown is to help contain the spread of the virus rather than punish the people and to a considerable extent, this is helping to curb the spread across states. However, I agree that hunger is threatening the people as much as the virus. I also agree with those calling for a review of the lockdown as presently observed.

A group in Lagos, ANAP foundation, has suggested what it calls “ intelligent lockdown “.
The idea of an intelligent lockdown envisages that most economic activities should be allowed to resume cautiously while intensifying public enlightenment and awareness of the importance of behavioural changes such as Social Distancing in public places and in public transportation, wearing masks, improving sanitation as well as the provision of water in public places to facilitate washing of hands.
Intelligent lockdown includes the continued suspension of large public, social and religious gatherings till such a time that we are sure we have contained this deadly virus. However, we must not undermine the need for a sustainable approach to relieve the masses from the tough fangs of hunger. A hungry stomach, they say, cannot hear. In summary the current mode of lockdown is as dangerous as the virus.

Telegraph: Lagos has been widely seen as the epicentre of the spread of the virus. Now, the number of deaths in Kano has become astonishing. What does this trend portend for Nigeria?

DAP: Kano by reason of population density, closed communal lifestyle of the people and being centre of commerce in the North, is a time bomb as far as spread of Coronavirus is concerned. Unfortunately the government started by living in denial and now the bubble has burst. The people were misled not to observe all of the protocols recommended by the experts and they flagrantly disregarded preventive measures. With series of deaths in Kano and exponential rise of number of infected persons, Kano needs help both from the federal government, international community and the people of Nigeria.
Thankfully, the Federal Government is swinging into swift action. We should not see the development in Kano as isolated as it has potential to affect the entire northern Nigeria and the country as a whole.

Telegraph: You have been linked with efforts in your home state to bring succour to the most vulnerable of people in our midst. What motivated you to come up with such a move?

DAP:: Personally, charitable giving is not alien to me and in overwhelming situations like this, it is indisputably of the essence. In that regard, I worked with my family foundation, DAP FOUNDATION, to raise support to the most vulnerable and poorest of the poor amongst us, knowing that this lockdown will have severe impact on them.
Most of our people depend on daily wages. It is tacit knowledge that when these persons are exposed, other persons are equally exposed. As a family, we had hoped to reach out to more families in the rural areas but we had some challenges. I am happy that other good spirited individuals and groups have also embarked on one form of palliative or the other to support the needy among us.
Supporting each other is the whole essence of humanity. I am also involved in a number of other such initiatives working with like minds .

Telegraph: What advice  do you have for the Rivers people and indeed all Nigerians as we end this interview?

DAP: This pandemic, like the ones that came before it, will come to an end . No pandemic lasts forever. As we do all we can to survive through the rainy day, let us take time to reflect on all we have gone through, the sovereignty of God, the transient nature of life and develop and all-new relationship with God and our fellow human beings.
For the Government, it is time to press the reset button and recalibrate. Government actions in many cases fell short of the people’s expectations. Infrastructure deficits were clearly exposed, especially in the area of healthcare. Things will never be the same again, but we must keep hope alive and think towards a better life in a post-covid19 era.

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