We will defeat COVID-19, but I don’t want any casualty —Makinde
The governor of Oyo State, Engineer Seyi Makinde, on Monday, tested positive to Coronavirus otherwise known as Covid-19. In this interview monitored on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) radio stations and the privately-owned Fresh FM 105.9, the governor, who phoned in from isolation, addressed the residents of the state on the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that there was no cause for alarm, despite testing positive to the virus. He also spoke on part of the extensive measures taken by his administration to end the spread of the virus in the state.
HOW are you feeling?
Well, I am okay. I am feeling okay. Like I posted on my Twitter account yesterday (Tuesday), you all know that I took the test for Covid-19, as I promised and everybody knows what the result was.
Can you confirm to us again? There are those who probably were unable to even access your Twitter page.
Well, the result came out positive. So, I have the virus. I delayed the test because I promised that we have to get the Diagnostic Centre in Ibadan going and that once we got it going, I would be the first to get tested through that facility. So, the medical team came to my house, where I have been self-isolating, at about 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 28 and they took my samples. I waited for the result and during this time, of course, I was anxious, but I kept busy with some of the works at hand, especially on Covid-19. But we also have other issues that we have to deal with; security issues and other issues of state, palliatives, what do we do if things get more difficult and challenging and all that. So those were what I had been doing and when the result came out eventually, just yesterday, it was positive. So, it is what it is and we have to deal with it.
While chatting with Fresh FM 105.9 live on Saturday, you did say that the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) asked all governors that attended the last National Economic Council (NEC) meeting to, as a precaution, self-isolate since one of the attendees tested positive. Is it fair to say that could be the likely source of your exposure to the virus?
Well, the truth is that yes, all governors who attended the National Economic Council meeting were advised to self-isolate once one of the attendees tested positive. So, based on that advice, I started self-isolating a week ago. In fact, I had to cancel the face-to-face State Executive Council meeting for Tuesday last week because of that. What we are dealing with right now is that well, I have done the test, it is positive. I have the virus; so, it is something that we know is real and we have to deal with it.
Having tested positive, can you describe how you are feeling right now? Because reading on your Twitter handle yesterday (Tuesday), you said you are asymptomatic. How are you feeling?
Well, I still don’t have any symptom. As I am talking to you, I can take my body temperature, I have a thermometre and it will read it out to you [thermometer reads temperature as 36.5 degrees Celsius]. But the fact that I have no symptoms is why I have been insisting that people should maintain social distancing, follow hygienic practices and stay at home, because we don’t know who you are interacting it. It may be someone with COVID-19 without even knowing it. So, even a gathering of 10, the maximum that we allow in Oyo State may still expose you to COVID-19. The last time I had malaria was six years ago. I am not someone who is comfortable sitting in one spot, so it is really a top war for me that I will have to be confined to my sitting room and bedroom at the moment. But I have always known that the work we are doing comes with a certain number of risks. Despite this, we have resolved to serve the people of Oyo State. I am a long distance runner; I run marathons, so to me, this is an additional battle that I hope to win by the grace of God. But the bottom line is; first, Coronavirus is real. Two, we have to halt the way we interact with ourselves, at least, until we have a handle on the disease itself.
What is your message to the residents of the state, who still have doubts about the existence and reality of COVID-19? Some of them may be listening to us right now.
Okay, first, you know we had a rally, I believe two weeks ago and then I have seen the video that has been circulating on social media, which is being misinterpreted to mean that I doubted at any time, the existence of Covid-19. The reality is no, I actually never did. I had used Covid-19 in the same metaphorical way that their leader in the All Progressives Congress (APC) did when they were fighting over the national chairmanship and he said, well, the virus has gotten into the APC. So, I made a joke out of it [his statement] and the video has been circulating that I said there is no Coronavirus; that it only exists in the APC. Well, it was a metaphor. But to the good people of Oyo State, I want to say again: COVID-19 is real. So, they must follow all the measures government has put in place to prevent, contain and control this virus. When we say stay at home and maintain social distancing, wash our hands with soap and water or use hand sanitisers, regularly, those are the things that we have to do to defeat this virus. And I know how resilient we are as a people; we will defeat it, but I do not want any casualty. I don’t want anybody to lose his or her life while we are at this and I don’t also want people to doubt the sincerity of this government. They gave us the opportunity to serve them and that is exactly what we are going to do.
There is this impression that Covid-19 is a disease of rich people. So, one hopes that it is not just the privileged people that are being tested. What is being done to ensure that the testing centres quickly come up so that as many people as possible can be tested?
I have heard some of our people say the Coronavirus is for the rich. Let me say this, anyone can contract the virus. So, we all must exercise necessary precautions like the washing of hands regularly with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitisers and keeping social distance. On the testing centres, at the meeting of the Task Force that was held yesterday (Tuesday), I asked the incident manager and commissioner for health that we should wrap up our capacity, so that within the shortest possible time, we will be able to test close to 10,000 of our people. Right now, the entire country has only tested not more than a thousand persons. But in Oyo State, we have that capacity to test close to 10, 000 of our people within the shortest possible time and we are working on it. Professor Temitope Alonge, in the update that he will give today [Wednesday], will address the issue as well.
In the Twitter post in which you announced that you tested positive, you said a former Chief Medical Director of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Professor Temitope Alonge, has taken over from you as the head of Oyo Covid-19 Task Force as you concentrate on your recovery efforts and personal medication. Will you assure the people of the state that this will not in any way diminish your commitment, determination and efforts at defeating and combating the pandemic in the state?
Well, even though I was head of the COVID-19 Task Force in the state, it’s really not like I was making unilateral decisions or I had been trying to project myself as the expert. It was a collective effort. I mean, you look at all the members of the Task Force, they were carefully selected due to the positions they are currently occupying or the expertise that they possess. We’ve also been bringing people in to still join it. Yes, Professor Alonge will be the head of the task force, he will give daily briefings while I recuperate. However, I will continue to work with the Covid-19 Task Force as head of the Oyo State Government. We have a meeting at 3 p.m. [on Tuesday], I have asked them to call the meeting. I’m still going to be a part of that meeting through video conferencing, I will contribute and moderate, where possible. I still hold the vision of what we want to do in Oyo State.
So, you are still very much in charge?
Pretty much. I am going to be recording some videos and also some audio materials, to keep the people of Oyo State abreast of what we are doing. The prevention of the spread of COVID-19 in Oyo State is a joint effort by both the stakeholders and everyone in the state. So, you have my word and I am saying it clearly to the people of Oyo State, that we will continue to take all necessary actions to ensure that Coronavirus is contained in Oyo State. And just like they know me as a long-distance runner, I hope the people are listening. If I can outrun and outlast the virus, which I am sure, by God’s grace, I will do, so also will many of our people in Oyo State.
Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti states are on total lockdown as we speak, with the calls for total lockdown of Oyo State appearing to be on the rise. Is the possibility of total lockdown of Oyo imminent?
We expected that Oyo State should also be a priority to the Federal Government. But what we found out is, at the federal level, people expect you to come and bow before you can get what ordinarily belongs to your state. However, we are engaging them. But my own target for Oyo State is that we must be self-sufficient. The state is big enough to be a country on its own. In landmass, it is bigger than Rwanda, a country in Africa. In terms of resources, we have enough, though, they were not developed because we believed so much on money from the Federation Account. So, a new Oyo State will be the one that anything coming from the federal level will be additional resources. On the issue of Covid-19, we are engaging the Federal Government. This is an emergency and we believe that Oyo State deserves more than we are currently getting from the Federal Government in terms of support. We have to take our destiny in our hands as we move along. Even, the money we are getting from the federal allocation right now is not up to what we need to pay salaries. We must run on our own speed and that is what we are working towards.
On the issue of whether lock down is imminent or not, when I called into the Fresh FM 105.9 programme, last Saturday, I said everything that could be done to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Oyo State is on the table. We will continue to assess the situation and take additional measures where necessary. Yes, Lagos can be on lock down, Ogun can be on lock down, Oyo State, yes, people have been saying have a total lock down and then I have been asking them questions: what will be the benefits here? Are there alternative courses of action for us to take? If you ask people not to come out, you lock down the market places, there are people who live on what they sell today – the profit from today’s activities is what they will eat tomorrow. There are a lot of people like that within our environment. So, are there alternatives available to us? Can we do selective lockdowns? That’s why I imposed the curfew, to say look, if it is unnecessary for you to be out, stay at home. Right now, I have given the order that there should be curfew from dusk to dawn. What that tells us is we should not engage in unnecessary movements. We have analysed the situation. Experts too have weighed in on the matter and they said wherever we are having challenges is where we should shut down and sort out the challenges therein.
The last thing we will do is to enforce a total lockdown which, I think, must be based on fact. So, right now, the fact, figure and advice from the experts is that we should be reviewing our situation and observing data that we are getting every now and then to take a logical decision. We won’t do anything in Oyo State because some people are doing it. I see that as eye-service. We will do something that will be effective and bring about a good result to the state. Remember that my background is engineering and I kept saying to people that as an engineer, you take decisions that are based on logic and fact. This (COVID-19) is an uncharted territory. We kept on interacting with the experts to find out what are the facts emerging.
To directly answer your question on whether total lockdown is imminent, everything is on the table but it has to follow a logical pattern and it will need the input of experts. We are not just going to lockdown because everyone is locking down. I have been watching CNN and the most successful place right now in containing Covid-19 is the Czech Republic. And one of the things they brought out is that they made a law that if you must leave your house, you must wear a mask. It may be that route for us to go. I have asked them to start evaluating that. If we must make that law and say that everybody that must go out must wear a mask, then, how about those who cannot afford it? Can we make masks locally? Can we get our artisans and our tailors to commit to that with the government supporting? So, those are the types of solutions we are looking for.
One is aware that the World Health Organisation (WHO) came out yesterday with a directive that the use of face masks should be limited to those with Covid-19 and should not be a matter of every individual. That is also an issue. One is just trying to bring this up in relation to what you just said.
Well, we are all in an uncharted territory and that is why I pity those people who, rather than reflect deeply on where we are and what we are faced with, they are choosing to play politics with it. Its people that are alive that will play politics in 2023. Somebody called me yesterday and said ‘oh, I heard that you tested positive to Covid-19.’ That he did the test and it was negative. So, I said to myself okay, you are negative now, but has Coronavirus been defeated yet? This is a long thing. The person who has not tested positive today should be cautious. We all have to help one another and help our society to chase this and defeat it. That is what I am talking about here. And to buttress what you said, bring all the ideas on and we will look at them. But we must follow a pattern, it must be logical. The experts will weigh in on them and that is important, because that is the only way one can validate decisions that are being taken.
One major topic of discussion now is the provision of palliatives to people when eventually the state is possibly locked down. You once said the state is working on it?
Talking about the palliative measures, we paid N11 billion on the 25th of every month as salaries to workers in the ministries, agencies and parastatals, as well as those in the local lovernment service because we want the money to go into the economy of Oyo State so that the people can go to the market to stock up their houses. So, there will be palliatives and we have already started working on them. We don’t want middlemen to hijack the process so much so that it won’t get to those we are really targeting. Data is a major challenge we are battling with. On the part of the government workers, at least we have control over their own data but what about the rest including widows, traders and the unemployed ones who are vulnerable? There has to be a link to reach them. We are looking at an efficient channel to reach them. I have told the Commissioner for Women affairs and Social Inclusion, Hajia Fausat Sani and the Commissioner for Special Duties, Barrister Bayo Lawal, that we are insisting on two elements; efficiency and accountability to get this done. They are working seriously on that. Once the two elements are present, the palliatives will go out. Once again, I want to assure the people that we won’t spend the money which belongs to Oyo State recklessly. We will ensure that the resources of the state will be used to get the maximum value to the people.
Will you confirm whether contact tracing has commenced on individuals, aides, cabinet members and friends that may have been in contact with you since the NEC meeting took place and whether those individuals have also gone into self-isolation?
Yes, I can confirm to you that I took the test the same time as the Secretary to the State Government and when the result came out, they said one tested positive and the other, negative and it turned out to be that I came out positive and she came out negative. So, everyone that has had contact with me, we are asking them to go into self-isolation and as soon as any of them shows any symptom, then they get tested.
Finally, what is your word of advice and assurance to the good people of Oyo State on all government measures, market closures, social distancing, curfew and the need for them to cooperate with you and government in case there are further measures that you may want to reel out?
Let me give the assurance that Oyo State Government will continue working with data from the Emergency Operation Centre, and we will do everything in our power to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The Diagnostic Centre, the virology laboratory of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan is operational now. It has been accredited by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). So, we can now test a lot more people. Also, the Infectious Disease Centre at Olodo, with a capacity to take 100 cases, will be fully operational by the end of this week. I had actually thought after my result yesterday, that would be the first place I would visit this morning but unfortunately, that won’t happen because the test came out positive. So, I want to again, urge everyone in Oyo State to continue to follow the directives of the Covid-19 Task Force and together, by the grace of God, we will defeat this virus and get our economy and our lives back on track. Coronavirus will pass over and become a story but let us comply with the directives from the government. This is your government and we will always put you at the centre of all we are doing.