Immediately the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Nigeria on February 28, 2020, the Niger State Government did not leave anything to chance as it began contingency plans instantly.
Naturally, Niger State is expected to be apprehensive because of its strategic location, its large territory and the number of states it shares borders with. More so, the state is a transit route from major parts of the country to the FCT.
Immediately after the confirmation of Nigeria’s index case, the Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, instituted proactive and comprehensive measures towards containing the virus.
Among the measures put in place was the setting up of a 28-member state task force on COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to the State Government, Ibrahim Ahmed Matane, with the commissioners of relevant ministries, Director General of the Niger State Emergency Management Agency, General Manager, Niger State Environmental Protection Agency, (NISEPA), as well as religious and traditional leaders, as members.
The governor instructed the state Ministry of Health to establish emergency operation centres across the state to detect and keep close surveillance on the possible outbreak of COVID-19 and other related diseases.
This instruction was immediately followed by setting up of quarantine and isolation centres across the state, fully equipped with drugs, medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Millions of naira was approved and released for the upgrade and purchase of medical facilities in the state.
Other steps taken before the state recorded the first case of COVID-19 were massive public awareness and sensitisation about the virus and capacity building and refresher training for medical workers on epidemic prone diseases.
As the virus continued to spread wide across the country, it became expedient for the governor to close both public and private schools, as well as tertiary institutions in the state.
He also announced the prohibition of any gathering of persons beyond 20 and disclosed the state government’s resolve to ensure compliance to all preventive measures advised by the NCDC, especially the physical distancing and hand washing routine.
On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the governor imposed a daily curfew from 08:00am to 08:00pm in the state. All these were done to reduce the exposure of the people to the virus.
The government was, however, sensitive to the plight of the people and thereafter relaxed the restrictions to be from 10:00am to 12:00pm daily.
Eventually, when the privilege was abused, the governor announced a total lockdown of the state for two weeks, beginning from Monday, April 13, with the exception of organisations and persons providing essential services.
After the index case in the state was discovered in Limawa area of Minna on April, 11 2020, the state task force swung into action by evacuating him to one of the health facilities already prepared and completely locked down the area in order to curtail any potential of the virus spreading.
The state government then reviewed its 2020 budget downward from N155bn to N98bn in order to be in tandem with the situation at hand.
Despite the paucity of funds, as a responsive government, the administration of Gov. Bello provided palliatives in different dimensions to make the lockdown of the state easy for the people to cope with.
After the state made it a law for all the people to wear face mask, provision was made for them and distributed to the people.
The state government, also in an effort to make the people comfortable while observing the stay at home order, engaged with the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), which led to improved electricity supply from six to eight hours daily to 12 to 15 hours daily.
Taking cognisance of persons who earn their living daily and cannot go out due to the lockdown, and the extremely poor, the state government distributed food items through the local government councils across the state for onward delivery to the people, and the distribution is ongoing.
The state COVID-19 task force has been working tirelessly in ensuring that the virus is kept under control so that it does not overwhelm the state’s health facilities.
The committee monitors the level of compliance with the stay at home order, physical distancing and the hand washing routine, with a mobile court instituted to ensure enforcement. It holds a weekly review of the whole situation in order to make appreciable progress.
So far, Niger State has only six confirmed cases with no death from COVID-19 and no threat of community transmission, and the governor has ordered mass testing to know the true status of the state.
All these successes cannot be said to have been achieved without challenges. Niger State has faced major set backs in the area of security: banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling. The threats of these activities confronting about seven local government areas of the state can best be described as even worst than the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is coming at a time of dire security challenges in Niger State, which has over burdened the state’s finances.
Therefore, is no better time than now for President Muhammadu Buhari to extend all the necessary support, both financial and material, to the Niger State Government, as well as other states bordering the state, as it strives to contain the twin ill of insecurity and COVID-19.
Mrs. Mary Noel-Berje is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Niger State