Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor of Oyo State, Mr Seyi Makinde, Mr. Taiwo Adisa, in this interview, addresses the immediate reactions of the state government to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
In recent times we have heard reports that a lot of migrants have been infiltrating Oyo State; is that occasioned by the partial lockdown?
Not really. The partial lockdown was meant for the benefits of the people of Oyo State. It was targeted at ensuring that the people who live in Oyo State are able to largely fend for themselves within the lockdown period. A number of persons advocated what they called total lockdown, but Governor Seyi Makinde strongly believes that not a few would suffer as a result of the said total lockdown. He is aware that some 70 per cent of our people live on daily pay. The governor said that the said total lockdown did not amount to a one-stop solution to this pandemic. And he insisted that we had to balance the situation between public health and economic realities. How do you lockdown such class of people?
So, we prepared a window by which the people in the state can visit food markets and markets for essentials really. That was why the Task Force on COVID-19 went for a dusk-to-dawn curfew instead of the said total lockdown. The governor also immediately announced the closure of the secretariat, government offices, schools, religious places and non-essential markets.
Now, the issue of influx has been a sort of double-edged sword. There is this advertised nationwide inter-state lockdown on movements. But it has not really been effective. The nature of our international borders has also not been of help to a state like Oyo. We have seen people travel from Togo, Ivory Coast, Burkina Fasso and other African countries. They come in through the several unmanned routes.
Also, recall that this is the beginning of planting season. There is a bond that exists between the people of Oke-Ogun, Ogbomoso and some farming locations in Oyo State with people of those West African States I mentioned. The people are familiar with the so many unmanned routes that enter Nigeria. We have seen some spikes from such entries.
But locally, you see people moving from Maiduguri to Lagos, Sokoto to Ibadan and all manners of locations. Our investigations show that a number of such travellers risk the several bush paths and unmanned locations around the state to get themselves to the South-West. Some also hide inside vehicles that convey foodstuffs. The nature of human beings is that once there is a small window of exception, they tend to exploit that. That’s why you have seen many states sending back these and that number of local migrants in recent weeks.
I said this is a double-edged sword in the sense that, ordinarily, states are supposed to take responsibility when such migrants are arrested, but I have seen that rather than compound local problems, states have devised means of returning the migrants to where they took off. In the case of Oyo, for instance, we intercepted 11 Sokoto migrants and the governor insisted we ought to test them. Eventually, they ended up spiking the figures for the state as four of the 11 tested positive. The same is true of the migrants from other African countries who got tested.
So, how effective would you say the measures undertaken by your government has been?
The measures have been effective to the extent that almost all the steps Governor Makinde announced in Oyo on March 20 have now been adopted by the Federal Government. The governor, who is the chairman of the Task Force in the state, is of the firm belief that rather than go for half measures, we should take steps that will be defined by science and logic. He said that as much as this is an uncharted course, we have to be well guided, look at the immediate environment and adapt the protocols to our situation. The state is aware that it doesn’t have the resources to feed every resident. When we did a basic calculation, looking at the eight million population, it ran into billions per day. We don’t even have the statistics to determine who is there to be fed. The data we inherited was used for political reasons. So, it can’t serve this purpose. The state government commissioned the collation of data for the poorest of the poor and opened the window for people to be able to go to markets for food and other essentials.
As you can see, that brought down the tension a bit and from there, we were able to quietly collate the needed data. That was why we were able to distribute the palliatives starting from the immediate past week.
And there are so many things I believe other states need to learn from Governor Makinde in handling the palliatives issue. There is this thinking that in getting to buy food and other items, we should ensure we positively influence the local economy. That informed the decision to largely go for items that are locally produced. The elubo (yam flower) is locally produced. Garri (cassava flakes) is locally produced; and to that we added beans and vegetable oil. You can see that in getting such items that will go round 120,000 households, the local economy has been positively affected.
As the Yoruba say, when you are crying, you can still see. The governor ensured that the people are the main beneficiaries, even though we have a pandemic at hand. Besides that, the state is giving special palliatives to farmers. They don’t really need elubo or garri. Most of them said the palliatives they would appreciate were seedlings and farm implements. So, the farmers, many of whom are already smiling to the banks as a result of direct purchase of elubo and garri from them, will also get support for their farms.
Added to that is also the curfew that Oyo State put in place. I heard a lot of funny things from some All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders when Governor Makinde announced the curfew. Some asked whether it was confirmed that the virus only worked at night. But the truth of the matter is that those who work at night run the higher risk of spreading the virus. Night clubs and drinking joints can easily contribute to the spread of the virus. So, we shut the town down from 7:00 p.m. And I am sure this has really contributed to the low rate of figures we have recorded. Remember that Oyo State was number three on the national log at a point. Despite the fact that we are doing mass testing here, the figures put us at number 12 in the country right now. The ratio of infection in the state so far stands at about four per cent, while our African brothers have contributed nine per cent of the state’s positive ratio.
How are you handling criticisms by some politicians who continue to doubt that the governor actually tested positive and the fact that he is running solo by not locking down?
I observe that a number of politicians who have criticised the governor in recent time, particularly leaders of the APC in Oyo State, many of them need education about the coronavirus. It’s a pity that people who somewhat mould opinions in certain areas are the ones displaying ignorance about a global pandemic.
One of them said he didn’t believe that the governor had the virus because he was not really down. That is part of the lack of knowledge problem upon which the world is in a lockdown. The virus behaves in different ways as the experts have said. Some people would have symptoms and others would remain asymptomatic. The experts talk about viral load and all that. Those politicians talking need to just read a bit about this virus so they won’t go about confusing their supporters.
Already, we have identified community ownership of the risk communication messages as a problem, and it is not unlikely that some of the sentiments being expressed by the politicians are causing the apathy among the people to appreciate the risk factors.
Let me, however, educate them that Governor Makinde had gone into isolation effectively on March 24. He was at Agbami Isolation Centre on March 23 and even on that date, he didn’t stay long in the office. A week after, he tested positive and another week after his test turned negative. So, what’s confusing in that? And he came out to tell the world what he took to boost his immunity while in isolation. He did that to kind of demystify the virus. You know we were hearing of stigmatisation and all that. To those doubting Thomases, I will just tell them to get more education about COVID-19. The virus behaves differently on different persons and scientists are still coming up with details on why some persons are asymptomatic and why others are not.
As to whether the governor is running solo. I have stated before that lockdown is not in itself a final solution. If you lockdown and you don’t apply other precautionary measures, you are still on the same spot. Here in Oyo, we adopted the partial lockdown; kicked off mass testing, which is dovetailing into community testing in at least 10 locations; plan to test at least 10,000 persons; we have decontaminated critical spots and we have continued to emphasise other protocols as established by the Nigeria Centre for Decease Control (NCDC) and the World health Organisation (WHO) with intensive public enlightenment.
As far as we are not running foul of the medical and scientific protocols so far established for this uncharted route, the state will continue to interpret models and scenarios that work for its immediate environment.
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