The ultimate measure of good governance is in the protection and advancement of the wellbeing of the people. In validating leadership responsibility, the former United States President, Harry S.Truman once said, “Buck stops here!” This goes to show leadership responsibility and proactiveness, which has been overwhelmingly demonstrated by the Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like President John Fitzgerald Kenedy did during the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962, Governor Sani Bello has adopted continuous engagements in ensuring that the right steps are taken towards mitigating the spread and impact of the pandemic.
Immeadiately the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in Nigeria on the 28 February, 2020, the Niger State Government did not leave anything to chance, as it began contingency plans almost instantly.
Following the rapid spread of the virus to almost all the states of the federation, each has different number of cases, depending on its vulnerability and the preventive plans it has put in place.
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. Moreso, the state is a transit route from major parts of the country into the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
In fact, Niger State can best be described as the hinges that connects the northern and southern parts of the country hence, it’s susceptibility. Despite its vulnerability, the state has been able to cope with this global pandemic.
Immediately after the confirmation of Nigeria’s index case, the Niger State governor, his excellency, Abubakar Sani Bello in his effort as a leader who is responsible for the wellbeing of his people, instituted proactive and comprehensive measures towards containing the virus.
Among the measures put in place is the setting up of a 28-member state taskforce committee on covid-19, headed by the Secretary to the State Government, Ibrahim Ahmed Matane with the commissioners of relevant ministries, Director General Niger State Emergency Management Agency, General Manager, Niger State Environmental Protection Agency, NISEPA , as well as Religious and Traditional leaders amongst others.
The Governor then instructed the state ministry of health to establish emergency operations centres across the state to detect and keep close surveillance to the possible outbreak of COVID19 and other related diseases in the state.
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. Millions of naira were 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 creation and sensitization about the virus and capacity building and refresher training for clinicians on the epidemic prone diseases.
As the virus continue 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, the 25th of March 2020, the Governor imposed a daily curfew from 8am to 8pm in the state. All these were done by His Excellency, Abubakar Sani Bello 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 10am to 12pm daily
Eventually, when the privilege was abused, the governor announced a total lockdown of the state for a period of two weeks beginning from Monday, 13th April, with the exceptions of organisations and persons providing essential services.
As a leader that leads by example, and coupled with his interaction with other eminent personalities, His Excellency, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello went into isolation and instructed his cabinet members and other key government officials to do same.
His blood sample was subsequently sent for laboratory examination, which turned out negative.
After the index case in the state was discovered in Limawa area of Minna on the 11th of April, 2020, immediately, the state taskforce swung into action by evacuating him into one of the health facilities already prepared and completely locking down the area in order to curtail any potential of the virus spread within the community.
The state government then directed NISEPA to disinfect the whole area and other public places like the city centres, markets and places of worship in the state.
However, the committee ensured there was enough food for the people resident in the Limawa area for the period of two weeks lockdown imposed on the area. This was in order to cushion the effect of the lockdown.
The impact of COVID-19 has affected Nigeria’s economy negatively and by implication, the economy of the states.
The Niger State government then reviewed its 2020 budget downward from one hundred and fifty five billion to ninety eight billion naira, in order to be in tandem with the situation at hand.
Despite the paucity of funds, as a responsive government, the administration of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello provided parliatives in different dimensions to make the lockdown of the state easy for the people to cope. The state ministry of water resources and dams development supplied portable water consistently to hard to reach areas in Minna and major towns of the state.
After the state made it a law for all the people to wear face/nose mask, provision was made for them and distributed to the people.
The state government also im an effort to make the people comfortable while observing the stay at home order, engaged with Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC, which led to improved electricity supply to consumers from 6-8 hours daily to 12-15 hours daily.
Taking cognisance of persons, who earn their living daily but now cannot afford to 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 in need at the ward levels through the polling units. This was done in two phases to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, and still ongoing.
The state covid-19 taskforce has been working tirelessly in ensuring that coronavirus pandemic is kept under control, so that it does not overwhelm the state 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.
The story of Niger state COVID-19 response will not be complete without the mention of donor organisations and good spirited individuals, who out of genuine concerns and their benevolence joined the fight against the virus via donations of various medical supplies and food items.
So far, Niger state has only 8 confirmed cases with no death of COVID-19 and no threat of community transmission, though the Governor has orderd testing has frantically commenced to know the true status of the state
All thanks to the measures put in place by the state government ably led by the visionary leadership of his excellency Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, the philanthropic gestures of private and public organizations, as well as the general public, especially religious bodies.
These successes cannot be said to have been achieved without challenges.
Niger state has faced major set back in the area of security, banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling….. The threat of these activities confronting about seven local government areas of the state, could be best described as even worst than the COVID-19 pandemic, as the state experiences major attacks of this nature virtually every 2-3 days with people dying, some taken away while some people lose their wealth.
However the government of the day has devised different methods of addressing the challenge but yet the bandits remain undaunted in carrying out their nefarious attacks.
Meanwhile the administration of Governor Abubakar sani Bello is determined and committed to dealing decisively with the bandits so as to bring succour to the people of the affected areas.
For the past three years the state has been battling with the influx of these group of people, canvassed and collaborated with the federal government but yet the banditry has continued unaided which calls for serious concerns.
This action is taking its toll on the financial resources of the state, while the bandits are taking advantage of the vast forest land area as well as the about 12 border Checks surrounding the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic is coming at a time of dire security challenges in Niger State, which has over burdened the state finances. There 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 Niger state, as it strives to contain the twin ill of insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would be recalled that Niger State has been facing immense security concern in the last few years, owing principally to spill over from Zamfara, kebbi and Kaduna, who are contending with security challenges and share borders with Niger State.
Mrs Mary Noel Berje is the Chief Press Secretary to the Niger State Governor.