Three days ago, the Delta State Governmnt, under the watch of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, effected a total lockdown of the state as part of measures to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this interview conducted yesterday by telephone with The Pointer, , the commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, responded to questions on how the government assesses the response of the public to the order and other related isues. Excerpts

Into the third day of the two-week lockdown ordered by Delta State Government, how will you describe the level of compliance so far?

We must commend our people across the 25 Local Government Areas. Despite the pains associated with the stay-at-home order, which we acknowledged even before asking them to sit at home, they have been able to show a lot of cooperation. We sympathize with our people and we do hope that we all go through this to combat the coronavirus.

In Delta State, we were reluctant before now to decide that our Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa took much earlier because we believe that the best way we can combat this virus is for every part of the country to, at least, for 14 days, maintain some form of restriction of movement. After all, the more the people move, the more the virus is spread.

Having seen the effect of the virus in more developed countries and those places that refused to take the kind of decision we took in Delta State, the best thing, we realized, is to take steps to prevent it and the best way to prevent it is to stop the virus from moving and stopping the virus from moving means that people must stop moving and so we must commend our people.

Of course, the security agencies have been very wonderful in patrolling the length and breadth of the state, particularly to forestall incidents of crime and criminality.

If you were to award marks, what will you say is the level of compliance in your view and assessment?

The level of compliance is way above 75 per cent. You know certainly that whenever a decision is taken, it is expected that there are those who, either because of pecuniary interest, will want to do otherwise. However, there has been a very strong compliance on the part of our people.

A core element of this restriction is the social distancing segment. Do you not think that it remains a problem from the fact that, for necessity sake, markets and a few other essential services are still operating?

Markets are not open; we only created some temporary markets where they can maintain some reasonable spacing. No market is open. Shops that are not qualified as essential are not open and even in the state capital, when you also move round urban centres in the state, you can see that apart from those on essential services, every other person has seen the need for the lockdown.

The issue of social distance is a measure that some persons may be in their home and not even maintain it but even at that, it is not as dangerous as it is when the whole place is open for people to move about.

We want, to a very large extent, try to isolate the virus if some may have contacted it before now so that it is restricted to, either a family or a household and if it so, we have given out phone numbers in which case if anybody falls ill, he complains.

Once such a person reports, we isolate the individual for treatment and it gives us the benefit of preventing the person from infecting other persons in the society-that is the essence of the lockdown.

In the cause of the lockdown, if there is any person who is sick, we plead with our people to take advantage of those phone numbers that have been given out and then report so that the medical experts can take it up.
Let me also inform you that even before now, while we are pursuing the preventive option, we have also tried as much as possible, to train a large number of our medical practitioners-doctors, nurses, public health practitioners and a host of other persons in the medical profession -all to prevent being laid down by the effect of coronavirus if it gets into the state.

Do also remember that we have intensified what we have done by creating four isolation centres and we do hope and pray that it does not come in. We are not praying for it but we are confident that if it does not come, those facilities will not be wasted as they will still be available for handling other illnesses, because, coronavirus is not going to suspend the other sicknesses that individuals come up with form time to time.

Looking at the enforcement of the lockdown order, it will appear that there are incidents of skirmishes between security agencies and those expected to sit at home. What do you have to say?

It was only in Warri that we had a case but it had nothing to do with the lockdown enforcement. That we ordered that people should stay at home and then the security personnel to enforce where necessary, does not mean that we suspended the regular responsibilities of security agencies.

Security agencies, daily, have the responsibility of ensuring that criminals and those who engage in criminality do not take advantage of the law- abiding citizens. They have to continue to do that job, despite the stay-at-home order, which is their responsibility.

What happened in Warri was a very unfortunate situation. It was not a case of security men on duty trying to enforce the lockdown order. It was the regular security patrol that stopped a man who was driving in a vehicle that had tinted glasses and a covered number plate. We were told that he was asked to stop but he drove past, instead.

Maybe the security personnel were suspecting some¬thing fishy; then they went after him. The state government has ordered an investigation and it is only when the results are out that we can take a proper position.
The Governor had already directed senior government officials to visit the family which they have done. They have met with the father of the deceased and we have con¬doled with his family even as investigations are ongoing.

It is after that that we can inform Deltans on what the issues are but we urge our people to maintain silence and remain calm and understand that security agencies have the responsibility to protect the rest of us and so if anybody, for any reason wants to harm security men or try to make their jobs difficulty, that person will not be helping society.

We urge people to try as much as possible, to be law-abiding because if you want to attack security men or take the law into your hands, which will not be the right decision to take, it will not be good. We do hope and pray that nobody does that because the consequences may not be too good for anyone of us and that is why we urge our people to remain calm as justice will be served.

There have been reports of occasional breaches of the lockdown by travellers into Delta State, especially at the Ebu axis where they take an informal route called the Abacha Settlement. How has the government responded to this?

The issue is that before now, Anambra State, our neighbour , did not lockdown and because of that, some individuals claimed they were travelling in that direction. But many states have now locked down and nobody can claim to be going anywhere.

We are also pleading with Edo State to also see the need because, as you can see, the numbers (of cases) are growing there. This is not the time to take decisions based on political considerations; this is the time to make drastic decisions that will save the lives of our people.

Once every state locks down to arrest the spread of this disease, nobody will just wake up and claim to be travelling without rendering essential service. The security agencies have been direct¬ed to, try as much as possible, and make sure that individuals do not undermine the decisions taken by the state government for the safety of us all, except one is yet to see what is happening in Italy, the United States of America (USA) and Spain. If anybody has seen that and still wants to go ahead and ignore it, then it may mean that the devil has taken a better part of such a fellow but we are confident that we do not have such fellows in Delta State.

We are very optimistic that, after the 14 days, we would have been able. to a large extent. beat our chest that our state is indeed free. At the moment, we will continue to say that we do not have any incident confirmed because we do not know (now) if there are asymptomatic carriers. The fact is that within the 14-day lockdown, if there are such cases, the tendency to manifest will be quite high and once that happens, it allows us to isolate the person for treatment so that , at the end of the day, we will have a healthier society.

We give God all the glory that, at this moment, we do not have any confirmed case in Delta State.

Governor Okowa did say that the results of the three persons tested from the state which turned to be negative were very elating. Since then, have there been more samples taken?

Somebody has to be sick first. Because of the cost, it is obvious that the entire country, not even the USA, has the resources to test every citizen. Ordinarily, the best thing to be done is to subject everybody to test and discover those who have the virus but since we do not have that and we are waiting for case-management, the best thing is to isolate those cases when they occur through this lockdown.

At this moment, we do not have individuals who have reported ill along the line of the symptoms of corona¬virus and, to that extent, we continue to give God the glory for the safety He has brought us. We also pray that other parts of the country will receive the same healing so that they, too, will have cause to rejoice that they are free of COVID-19. We do hope and pray that since they have not taken real decisions as to how to stop the spread, they still need to do so that coronavirus is truncated and everybody will have a new lease of life.

What is your message to Deltans concerning the lockdown?

We thank them for their cooperation and we also plead with them that, on a day-to-day basis, we are reviewing the situation. When the time comes for us to give them other information, we will not hesitate to do so.

While we continue to urge well-meaning citizens of the state to be their brother’s keeper, if you have something, please, give to your neighbour while the government continues to provide all other essentials to manage this health crisis. We thank those who have come forth and, as we make progress, we will be able to gather some palliatives and make it available to our people.

Some groups have started making contributions and even as members of the State Executive Council, we have contributed as much as N5 Million and so we are urging other privileged persons to make contributions so that if they can raise some money to assist the state, it becomes easier. Let us not have the impression that the state has all the money that it has to do all it needs to do, after all, it is the same state that is providing all the medical equipment and training personnel to be deployed if there is an outbreak.

I am a member of several committees and I do know that much is being done by the state to ensure that this situation does not get out of hand. Let well-meaning individuals also come to the aid of the state so that, at the end of the day, we will all be our brothers’ keepers.

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