Friday, 22nd September 2023

COVID -19: Nigeria slowly goes on lockdown

By Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt, Anietie Akpan, Calabar, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja, Saxone Akhaine, Kaduna, Msugh Ityokura, Abuja and Maria Diamond
21 March 2020   |   4:30 am
Hundreds of Nigerian students were left stranded in Khartoum, the Sudan capital, following the government’s directive that all schools be closed indefinitely over the fear of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The ever-busy lobby of the National Assembly Complex scanty, as the chamber closed its doors to the public over the pandemic… yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• Hundreds Of Nigerian Students Stranded In Sudan, As Khartoum International Airport Shuts Down
• NMA Directs All Medical Associations To Suspend Strike
• FG Shuts Three Int’l Airports
• Stranded Nigerians Recount Ordeal

Hundreds of Nigerian students were left stranded in Khartoum, the Sudan capital, following the government’s directive that all schools be closed indefinitely over the fear of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Already, the Sudanese authorities have directed the Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum to evacuate all the students back to Nigeria, even as the international airport in Khartoum has been shut down temporarily over the COVID-19 pandemic.

At home, the federal government has closed three international airports over the disease.

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 yesterday announced the closure as part of measures taken to combat the spread of the disease.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman PTF, Boss Mustapha, stated that from midnight today, the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa would be closed to all international flights.

However, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos would remain opened to and accept international flights, irrespective of the type of operations.

A statement issued by the Director of Information in the SGF’s office, Willie Bassey, enjoined all stakeholders to collaborate with Port Health Services in the identification of suspects/persons at points of entry and to bring such persons to the attention of Port Health Officers for appropriate action.

Besides, the PTF urged all Nigerians to remain calm and cooperate with the instructions already issued by the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on modes of worship and gatherings at this time, not exceeding 50 persons, assuring that adequate and appropriate information would be made available in due course.

An official memo from the office of the Director General (Protocol), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Sudan and addressed to the Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum drew the attention of the Nigerian government to the closure of all schools, universities and colleges in Sudan as a result of COVID-19 with effect from March 15, adding: “Due to these sudden measures and coupled with the fact that almost all the private and public student hostels have requested all of the students to vacate the hostels premises immediately, almost all of the volume of Nigerian students studying in Sudan are now stranded, as the airport too has been closed.

“It is pertinent to state that this has become a great source of concern to the embassy, as well as parents,” the memo stated.

However, a window of opportunity was offered to the Nigerian authorities to evacuate the stranded students with Badr Airline “with effect from Wednesday, March 18 to yesterday on compassionate grounds.”

Besides, the students, under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Sudan (NANSS), in a statement expressing the travails of the students, said the international airport in Khartoum was closed in response to the disease.

General Secretary of NANSS, Imran Aminu Tukur, explained: “NANSS made efforts to inform the Nigerian Embassy in Sudan to intervene in the matter of hundreds of Nigerian students left stranded. The Embassy said NANSS should inform all the students in Sudan that flight would be made available.

“This is to inform Nigerian students in Sudan that NANSS has been able to confirm that the information about the flight being made available has not been officially approved by Khartoum International Airport.”

Meanwhile, the former chairman of Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in the 8th National Assembly, Senator Shehu Sani, while reacting to the development, said he reliably learnt that “a plane carrying the Nigerian students will be taking off from Khartoum later today (yesterday).”

He urged the government to “give them waiver and permit them to land, so that they don’t get stranded in Sudan, as they have since been sent out of the hostels by their universities.”

A Nigerian based in the United States (US), David Ebom, and his wife, Maryann, who came to Nigeria three weeks ago to participate in the wedding ceremony of a family member, are some of those stuck at home as a result of the travel ban by the US and Nigerian governments, as they cannot go back as planned.

In a phone chat with The Guardian, yesterday, Ebom said: “First of all, they cancelled my flight when US President Donald Trump announced that there will be no flight coming in from Europe. I was supposed to have flown out through Lufthansa and they normally stop by in Frankfurt, Germany.

“So, that affected us, as Lufthansa cancelled our flight on Friday last week and on Monday that we were supposed to fly out, all of a sudden, Lufthansa said we could come and book and fly, just two hours to the time and that really affected us.

“So, I had to book another flight, Delta, that flies direct from Lagos to Atlanta, but then, President Muhammadu Buhari, few days ago, announced that 13 countries, including US, should not fly to Nigeria and no flight can come in to take us home and my children are there (in the US) and my business is there. That is what we are passing through right now. It’s pretty difficult.”

On how he is coping with the situation, Ebom said: “I am so lucky that my mother-in-law is there taking care of my children and I am happy they are back from school staying at home and I communicate with them on a daily basis and make sure that they are not to go out and there are enough things, like foodstuffs, for them to eat.

“For my business, I have my personal assistant who opens all my mails, scan and send them to me and I monitor them from here, because I have a system that monitors my office wherever I am.

“But certainly, the situation cannot be the same as when you are on ground. We all pray this trying period comes to pass, because it is affecting lots of things.”

Another Nigerian, Mr. Ross Alabo George, a geospatial consultant for ECOWAS, told The Guardian that the travel restriction has stalled his planned travel to the United Kingdom (UK) and France next week.

“I am supposed to travel to the UK next week. Apparently, now I cannot embark on the trip. I know of a lot people who have set up their travel plans. January to March is usually a quarter of planning, setting structures in place and all that,” he said.

George, who is among a team of consultants working on the Geospatial mapping of a six-lane road from Lagos to Ivory Coast, said the travel restriction would adversely affect the project.

“We are actually on an international project. We have just finished the field survey in Ghana. I have a meeting in the UK and France to look at results. Now, this is where the global economy will be hit hard.

“The second and third quarter is project quarter. They are six months of active implementation of plans. For us, it has affected us. We have work meetings in Europe, but all have been suspended,” he added.

UK-based Oluwatimilehin (surname withheld), who arrived Nigeria two weeks ago with initial plan to return to his base tomorrow, said: “There is hardly anything I can do about it than to wait it out. Actually, I came in with my friend, who is also a UK-based Nigerian. We had planned to visit Nigeria briefly long before the COVID-19 situation, but unfortunately the situation got out of hand a couple of days after we arrived Nigeria.

“I came back to oversee my businesses and resolve some family issues that have been done, but unfortunately my friend and I can no longer return tomorrow as planned, because of the federal government travel ban due to the pandemic.

“However, I don’t have any problem with the ban because from the feedbacks I get, the situation is worse in the UK and I feel grateful to be in Nigeria at these times.”

He added: “As the case is right now with the pandemic, I am not in a hurry to return home, ban or no ban. Even if the travel ban is lifted, I just might not return to UK until the virus is contained, because irrespective the panic situation, Nigeria is safer than most places. Things are difficult in the UK, people barely go out of their homes and it is almost impossible to get basic food and household items from stores, as they are all closed down, companies are shut down, and basic means of livelihood are unavailable.

So, trust me, I would rather be here in Nigeria and feel safe with the preventive measures than be in the UK, although, I wish my family came back with me. If I had envisaged the sudden turnaround before I left for Nigeria, I would have taken my wife and kids along.

“I’m somewhat frustrated, because they are struggling with the lockdown and lack, but I believe things will settle in no time. I can only be optimistic at this point,” he enthused.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has directed all medical associations that have declared industrial actions against their management to suspend all actions and assist in containing the global pandemic in Nigeria.

In this regard NMA urged the Association of Resident Doctors (ARDs) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Gombe State, ESUT-Parklane and Kaduna, as well as NMA in Cross River State to report back to work and treat Nigerians.

Briefing journalists yesterday in Abuja, President of the association, Dr. Francis Faduyile, assured that the national NMA would take over the dispute and interact with the different organs/agencies of government to address the issues that led to the strike action.

He observed that the gesture was geared towards treating fellow Nigerians, notwithstanding the inhuman treatment meted on its members nationwide, warning that NMA would not hesitate to take appropriate action(s) against government organs/agencies that fail to reciprocate this gesture by honouring agreements with their workers after containing the COVID-19 scourge.

He called on the federal government to provide all the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the different hospitals, so that health personnel can adequately and appropriately manage their patients.

The NMA president also requested that isolation wards be upgraded all over the states of the federation and the FCT for proper treatment of those infected.

He stated: “The NMA has, therefore, set out the following guidelines towards the management of COVID-19 in Nigeria. All medical personnel have been directed to respond positively to this national emergency.

“We call on all doctors, both in private and public health facilities, to be at their duty posts to promptly treat Nigerians who reported to their hospitals. We call on all health professionals to ensure that they observe international best practices when treating their patients.”

Faduyile implored all state NMA to set up a five-man committee of health professionals, including doctors, pharmacies and nurses, to monitor the level of preparedness and management of hospitals, while calling on the public to follow all instructions given by the government in an effort to contain this disease.

According to him, the national NMA committee on Emerging and Re-emerging Disease would be strengthened to interact with the federal government in an effort to see that COVID-19 scourge is contained and wiped off the country.