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SPECIAL MESSAGE BY HIS EXCELLENCY, GOVERNOR YAHAYA BELLO OF KOGI STATE TO THE PEOPLE OF KOGI STATE DURING THE RECEPTION FOR A TEAM FROM THE NIGERIAN CENTRE FOR DISEASE CONTROL (NCDC)

PROTOCOLS

Fellow Kogites and our visitors from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC),

I give heartfelt gratitude to the Almighty God that we are alive and well in Kogi State in spite of the dire dangers we have had to live with practically from the beginning of this year.

It is no longer news that the CoviD-19 pandemic has been on a rampage through the nations of the world since the first case was reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China in November 2019.

We thank His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, His Excellency, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, GCON, SGF, Boss Mustapha, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, the Minister of State for Health for their leadership to the nation at this trying time.

We also thank Dr. Sani Aliyu and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 as well as the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) led by Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu whose direct duty it has been to honestly interpret and ensure compliance with the global and national advisories for containment of this pandemic.

Nigeria’s index case was reported on 27th February, 2020. Based on information from NCDC, as of midnight yesterday being Wednesday the 6th of May, 2020 we understand that the country has had 3145 cases of Covid-19, of which 103 have died sadly while 534 others recovered and were discharged from the various isolation facilities.

Though severely perplexed at the scale of sudden death and destruction unleashed by the novel coronavirus outbreak on every continent, we have somehow been spared its presence in Kogi State up till this moment.

We have recorded no case of Covid-19 yet although we have had numerous suspected cases which turned out to be false and plenty of rumoured cases which were found to be nonexistent when our medical team followed up to investigate.

All credit for our zero CoviD-19 status in Kogi State will go to the Almighty God Who has helped us by means and for reasons which He alone can explain. On our part as government, we have continued to make decisions and take actions which we consider best to keep our people healthy, safe and secured.

Even as we rejoice in our good fortune in not recording even a single case of this deadly disease so far, we are keenly aware of the plight of our brother states in the federation which have had to contend with the loss and suffering visited upon them by Covid-19.

To be sure, the absence of cases does not mean that Kogi State has remained untouched by the scourge. We too have known the loss of loved ones from this plague in addition to the socio-economic costs which continue to mount by the day.

We have lost 3 valued gentlemen, all of them accomplished senior citizens who resided outside the state. Among them is Nigeria’s first CoviD-19 fatality, Alhaji Suleiman Achimugu, a former Managing Director of the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC).

The deaths and losses which we have experienced have brought home to us the deadly intent and capability of the SARS-COV2 virus. This has in turn compelled us to treat it with extreme caution as a state. I will now give you an account of our stewardship by running you through a list of actions and precautions which we have taken in our fight against CoviD-19.

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF COVID-19 RESPONSE STRATEGY IN KOGI STATE
The team from the NCDC will acknowledge that traditionally Kogi State has one of the highest incidences of Lassa Fever in the country during each outbreak and has therefore developed considerable experience and expertise in combating and defeating infectious disease outbreaks.

In fact, if the Director-General, NCDC were to be here today, he will recall inaugurating a Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOC) here in Kogi State on Thursday 29th November, 2018 to facilitate rapid response to emergency public health situations like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to our high Lassa Fever incidence every other year, we also equipped a full-fledged infectious diseases laboratory early in the first term of this administration to combat it. With the exception of similar facilities belonging to the federal government, Kogi State is probably the only state in the country to possess a facility of that grade before the advent of Covid-19.

You will probably also recall that in 2017 Kogi State and Kwara State alone of all the states in the federation had an outbreak of yellow fever which we successfully managed with collaboration from the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC.

Overall, it is instructive that in spite of our so-called locational disadvantages which make us to have some of the highest infectious diseases numbers each year, Lassa Fever especially, Kogi State has also had a 100% recovery rate since 2017.

Similarly, our Incidence Committee for infectious diseases comprising the full complement of experts and specialisations has been on ground years before this CoviD-19 pandemic. Thus Kogi State’s epidemic management structures were already up and running by the time the NCDC was giving guidelines to states on how to set them up.

In summary, I am trying to assure us that our peculiar challenges as a frequent hotspot of unforeseen disease outbreaks has over the years imposed on us unusual heights of public health vigilance. This helped us to quickly put our best foot forward long before the Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

You will notice that different from the practice in most places, we set up a Kogi State COVID-19 and Lassa Fever Squadron Committee to coordinate our response to the Covid-19 pandemic while ensuring we do not lose sight of existing epidemics like Lassa Fever which has already killed more people this year in Nigeria than the coronavirus.

We were the first state to officially release a web application which the general public can deploy to self-assess for CoviD-19 risk. That app has proved to be popular and effective in tackling fear among the populace in the face of an unknown killer disease.

We have had over 200,000 engagements with that app, over 14,000 completed self-assessments revealing scores of cases which required further investigation before CoviD-19 could be ruled out. This is great as we all know how fear and disinformation are often overlooked but highly dangerous co-travellers with disease outbreaks and other phenomena which disrupt the social order.

To improve our degree of certainty when ruling out cases, our Commissioner for Health, the State Epidemiologist and other senior medical personnel have had to personally follow up on as many of the feedback cases as possible, in both urban and remote locations. They have been able to determine in a professional manner based on the NCDC and WHO criteria that none of the suspected cases qualified as a CoviD-19 case.

Moreover, it has been over 3, 4, even 5 weeks in some instances since some of these cases were investigated and cleared and we have not had even one case of Covid-19. This goes to show that our processes are thorough enough. This is how the foundation for our zero CoviD-19 status was laid and how it is sustained till today.

Our people are adequately sensitised in all languages and locations throughout the state about CoviD-19. As much as practicable Kogites now observe social distancing, handwashing and other protocols for prevention of infection.

Sometimes, no matter how much you wish otherwise, it is not always practicable to obey these ‘covid rules’, for instance where large numbers of unrelated people have to live together in tiny spaces simply because there are no other options available to them.

Nevertheless, we continue to inform and remind the people to do their best and it is certain that they know what to do to protect themselves and their families and are making their best effort to do it. For instance, if a traveller arrives anywhere in Kogi State today, the probability that his or her presence will be noted and precautions taken by members of the community or family is high.

The Kogi State Ministry of Health has deployed health personnel to all the 239 Wards of the State, 2 focal persons per ward, who constantly sensitize the people on the dangers of the virus, communicate news or even rumours of suspected cases to the incident committee or taskforce for investigation and also assist in contact tracing.

We have set up 3 modern Isolation/Containment Centres in the State having a combined capacity of 130 bed spaces. These facilities currently lie unused. It is our prayer and our determination that these isolation centres will remain vacant until the pandemic is over.

We have provided emergency and toll free numbers for the general public to call in and report suspected cases of Covid-19 at no cost whatsoever. We have also followed many of such calls. All of them turned out to be false alarms upon investigation and did not meet the criteria from the NCDC for cases which should be sampled for testing.

In the circumstances, we cannot manufacture cases in order to be counted among the states which have recorded same. As a Governor I hear there are ‘benefits’ for having CoviD-19 cases in your state, well, I am not interested.

In addition to direct medical efforts, we have made sure that our people and their properties are adequately secured in their homes and when they venture out to seek for livelihood, effective state security infrastructures are on permanent high alert. Since this pandemic began, we have arrested at least 21 kidnappers, in addition to scores of other criminals who sought to attack our people.

We shut down schools and sent civil servants on Grade Levels 1-13 home on full pay even before the NCDC advised it. We have continued to pay them even without working for 2 months now, and will continue to do so as funds permit.

Places of worship and events which gather crowds were also banned in the beginning. We have partially reopened places of worship subject to the strict observance of social distancing and public health hygiene advisories. This is to prevent congregations from going underground and gathering in uncoordinated and dangerous manners which increase the risk of contagion.

We also banned several means of public transportation which tended to increase the level of exposure of the populace. This included motorcycles and tricycles, but as the Covid-19 prevention practices became increasingly habitual we have allowed transporters, to operate subject to some spacing guidelines.

Kogi State is a confluence point for travellers from many parts of Nigeria and we do not consider it proper to barricade off federal highways which will cut off travel between all parts of the country, and disrupt the haulage of food, medical supplies, fuel and other essential commodities.

Instead we controlled entry points into the state and indeed we have had to turn back several vehicles transporting suspected high risk individuals and products as well as non-essentials into the state.

In all other instances we designated stopping points for commuters where temperature measurements and other prevention practices were enforced while controlling their interaction with the local populace.

Outside the physical sickness and deaths associated with CoviD-19, the worst effect of the pandemic has been destruction of the economies of nations and territories and the attendant humanitarian disasters. Kogi State too was faced with this dilemma and has had to deal with it in our own way.

We made sure that the economic disconnect which drives people to risky behaviours at times like this are minimised for our people through a customised partial lockdown system which permits some level of business activities to go on while minimising the risk of contagion.

We determined early on not to shut down the Kogi State economy internally. Our people should not have to travel to Abuja or neighbouring States, all of them high risk, to scavenge for food because we locked down the state’s economy and with it their sources of livelihood/income.

This was a calculated risk at the time it was taken, and we did receive some bad press for it, but thankfully, it has now paid off. The Federal government and other states have started to ease their own restrictions too and beginning to adopt our model of partial, but well curated, lockdown.

LESSONS LEARNT
Observance of NCDC advisories remains our best approach to eliminating non- COVID-19 cases and keeping Kogi safe to the end of this pandemic. Provided that extraneous requirements are not imposed on us in order to meet an alleged target number of cases, or universal coverage of the country, by the virus we shall continue to cooperate fully with the NCDC.

Out on the field, once the advised combination of symptoms including fever (high temperature above 38°C), dry cough and tiredness are not present, our medical teams remove the individual from the list of suspected cases.

Our medical team also check for other symptoms such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea and put them into consideration during evaluation before concluding whether a case is probable for CoviD-19 or not.

Travel and contact history of the individual also help to clarify the issues of their likely CoviD-19 status, and often, a man who has not left his village in the last 6 months and has not come in contact with somebody who has can be quickly cleared. His symptoms are likely due to malaria not CoviD-19 despite the similarities. Invariably, such people have recovered after a few days and gone on with their lives.

The bottom line is that so far we have succeeded in keeping healthy members of our populace safe and uninfected by Covid-19. While we understand the reality of asymptomatic carriers occurring among the populace, we argue that the best way to track them is not by indiscriminate testing of people who have not exhibited any of the tell-tale CoviD-19 symptoms. Anything else would be tantamount to making nonsense of the checklist given to us by the NCDC and her partners like the World Health Organization (WHO).

In all of this, we have continued to work in tandem with the overall objectives of the Federal Government during this pandemic which is to minimise our exposure to the disease. We assure you that we shall never compromise on those objectives, irrespective of pressures to the contrary.

SUGGESTED AREAS OF FOCUS GOING FORWARD
We do not understand the demand for cases by the NCDC and pressure on COVID-19 free states like Kogi to comply at all costs. This raises questions on whether we are still focused on defeating the pandemic or chasing other priorities now. This is a question I hope the NCDC team here with us today can answer conclusively.

It also appears as if the NCDC criteria for CoviD-19 is changing in the country in a rather confusing, if not suspicious, manner. While we understand that the SARS-COV2 is a tricky pathogen, further widening of the covid net of symptoms may mean that practically all ailments presenting at our medical facilities may soon qualify as CoviD-19. We also request for light to be shed on this curious phenomenon by our visitors.

Despite the dangers of Covid-19 to Nigeria and her constituent units like Kogi, we must focus on not becoming so distracted by it that our attention is totally removed from existing outbreaks like Lassa Fever, malaria, other communicable and contagious diseases and natural disasters like flooding and crop failure; Insecurity such as banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram etc. In fact, in one night a State was attacked where over 47 persons were killed in their cold blood. Our gallant military personnel were killed in their numbers.

It has been proven that over 95% of COVID victims are expected to recover within weeks. This is not so with failed crops or persons internally displaced by natural disasters like flooding. Most years Kogi State is usually the epicentre of terrible flooding and has to deal with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs). We must therefore have some freedom of movement so we can start to prepare before this rainy season progresses much farther.

Therefore, if we cower too much before CoviD-19 and do nothing to anticipate and prepare for preexisting and cyclic challenges, we will fail our people in other critical areas. And we must never forget that some of these problems if neglected can exact higher mortality rates and humanitarian costs than the Covid-19 pandemic.

For instance, if several local government areas experience flooding as happens every year, how do we maintain lockdown while families are drowning in their homes or social distancing during evacuation of several hundreds of thousands of citizens? We must therefore insist that the NCDC and the PTF open a window in their CoviD-19 advisories to accommodate our concerns and above all guarantee us succour on these equally pressing matters.

Moreover, as I am sure the NCDC must have noticed by now, Social Distancing is a practical impossibility in most urban areas in Nigeria, including Kogi State. Many homes are multi-tenanted and many people share utilities. Since it is projected that CoviD-19 and its effects may not disappear suddenly or soon, we call on the NCDC to design ‘Personal Distancing’ precautions instead which will help our people start a return to normalcy.

Focus must shift deliberately and immediately to homegrown solutions for sustainable support of livelihoods, security of lives and properties and food security. This will involve judicious use and augmentation of the Federal Government’s Social Safety Net Programme and sundry palliatives by individual states.

The NCDC and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 are therefore urged to come up with answers for us in this regard.

CONCLUSION
Nothing is altogether new under the sun. Whether the coronavirus or CoviD-19 or SARS-COV2 is natural or artificial and whether it came out of China or elsewhere by happenstance or hostile action, WE NEED AN EVOLVING SYNERGY BETWEEN SCIENCE AND COMMON SENSE, MEDICINE AND GOVERNANCE TO BEAT THIS PANDEMIC.

As leaders the burden is on us to refuse panic, fears, confusion, pandemonium and act intentionally to create a semblance of normal life for our people while taking adequate precautions to keep them as safe as possible. Enough of advertising, publicising, marketing and glorifying Covid-19. Let’s demarket it. We don’t need the product in Nigeria.

Once again, I thank the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Federal Ministry of Health and of course the NCDC for all they have done and will continue to do until this pandemic is contained and crushed.

In particular, we thank Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for sending us a fact-finding and validation team today. They have arrived the state and we welcome them.

Once the team is through with disinfection and allied NCDC protocols for persons arriving from high risk locations, we will interact fully with them, trusting that we can work together to enhance our chances of keeping Kogi State COVID-19 free. We also hope that we can get answers from them on some of the concerns expressed earlier in this address.

My good people of Kogi State, thus far has God helped us. We assure you again that we have never hidden, we are not hiding, nor will we ever hide, any case of Covid-19 in Kogi State. Ignore any statement to the contrary and treat it as nothing but malicious and dangerously instigatory propaganda which Government is already handling as appropriate.

Please rest assured too that both I and my administration accept as a sacred duty our responsibility to ensure your wellness and welfare. We shall therefore continue to do whatever needs to be done to make sure that COVID-19 does not set foot in Kogi State.

God bless Kogi State.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thank you for listening.

YAHAYA BELLO
Governor, Kogi State
Thursday 7th May, 2020