How COVID-19 is impacting political, socio-economic activities in Imo
• Prof. Iwu takes charge of preventive committee
Although Imo State has not recorded any confirmed case of the novel Coronavirus in any part of the 27 LGAs, the government of Hope Uzodinma has devoted efforts to ensure it does not enter the state. This is in spite of the virus already ravaging parts of the country and the world at large.
The governor constituted Imo State COVID-19 Prevention Committee, chaired by a professor of Pharmacognosy and former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Maurice Iwu. The composition includes several other professionals from related medical field and other associations. This has increased heightened awareness at the grassroots and the lockdown of the state, including banning of social gatherings (weddings, naming events and burials, social parties among others), closure of churches, all entry borders points, for the initial 14 days. All markets and motor parks were ordered closed by the governor in his broadcast.
These measures took off penultimate Monday while residents were directed to stay at home.
Uzidinma unveiled six state-of-the-art isolation centres took place on Friday, April 3 with the major one at Woddi Wellness Centre, Orlu Road, Owerri. Others are at Okigwe General Hospital, Aboh Mbaise General Hospital, Orlu General Hospital, Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, and General Hospital, Umuguma, which were commissioned simultaneously. 28 ambulances and 100 Hilux vehicles for Operation Search and Flush were also provided and released to health officials and security operatives.
Fumigation of the three cities in the state (Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe) was also ordered and would later be extended to other rural areas.
However, residents are complaining that the restriction order has prevented them from pursuing their legitimate economic activities from which they could make money to fend for their families. They argue that neither the state nor the Federal Government was yet to give them any palliative/stimulus package to cushion the effect of the lockdown. At the time of filing this report, nothing from the government has reached the residents. Only a few lawmakers were cashing in on the current situation to openly gather their constituents, even without observing social/physical distancing, to distribute a few sanitizers and food items.
A known herbalist resident in Owerri, Mr. Alex Manu, claimed that he could offer remedy for the virus, wondering why people were suffering because of it.
He said: “I need to be given the opportunity. I can cure it. The suffering people are going through is not necessary. “
Political activities, others in lockdown
Despite all the precautionary measures and awareness, many people in Owerri city still hug, stay close, and even shake hands. But washing of hands is also gradually crippling in, but only a few elite and educated ones do so with running water. Some business owners and restaurants have provided buckets of water fitted with taps and placed in front and entrances of their businesses.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, issued a statement a day before Palm Sunday, warning Christian faithful in the state from gathering, saying, “Ban on church services, public gatherings will be strictly enforced tomorrow by Imo State Government. The government of Imo state wants to make it clear that the order prohibiting church services and banning all forms of public gatherings, including the indefinite closure of all markets, is still very much in force.
“Imo people are consequently advised to adhere strictly to this order. In this respect, the government wishes to make it clear that there will be no church service anywhere in the state. Residents are advised to stay indoors and worship in their individual homes.
“Security agencies have been given firm directives to apprehend anyone seen on the streets tomorrow for whatever reason, or any other time. Those who disregard this warning will only have themselves to blame. The Coronavirus threat is real and we must not take unnecessary chances.”
Motorists, including commercial intra-city buses, known as ‘Bus Imo’ are, however, plying their buses though they have devised means of evading being apprehended. The police, army and other security operatives have mounted roadblocks at certain points in Owerri and border areas. Motorists are complaining of extortion. In some cases, they pay N100 before being allowed to pass. But the state’s Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), a Superintendent of Police, Mr. Orlando Godson Ikeokwu, said such report was yet to get to the authorities, noting. “The command is yet to receive such report. I am just hearing such.”
Traders are doing business outside market areas and have cash in on the situation to charge exorbitant prices. In most cases, the food items have doubled by 100 per cent. A cup of garri sold at N50 before, now goes for N100.
Non-payment of two months’ (February and March) salaries of some civil and public servants before the lockdown posed another blow to the lockdown, prompting some persons, even church leaders to intervene, making a case for the residents. Institutions that complained of non-receipt of their salaries include Imo State University, Owerri, Imo Council for Arts and Culture, Imo Broadcasting Corporation, and Imo Polytechnic, among other parastatals.
Emelumba stated in a statement: “The salaries of all civil and public servants Imo State have been paid on 26 March, 2020. His Excellency the state Governor Hope Uzodimma has directed the banks to credit the workers with immediate effect.
“Also, the salaries of all staff of tertiary institutions in the state have been released to the relevant institutions for immediate payments. However, the institutions are advised to ensure that any of their staff with BVN or account number issues is cleared before his or salary is paid.”
Also, the Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Fabian Ihekwueme, pleaded for understanding of the underlining precepts of the lockdown.
In a meeting between Iwu and some leaders of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), headed by Apostle Iheanyichi Godson-Ibechi, last Tuesday at the body’s secretariat in Owerri, the Imo COVID-19 committee chairman told CAN that the state government recognised the need to work with them as critical stakeholders in execution of government’s policies and programmes, hence the interaction. He also urged them to disseminate the reasons behind the closure of churches to the faithful.
Iwu, a Papal Knight of the Catholic Church, recognised that they were at war with the enemy (COVID -19), stressing: “When we are at war, people depend on our intellect. The church leaders are ambassadors, and God will blame us if we do not utilize our intellect. As of today, there is no case of COVID-19 in Imo State.”
In their reactions, the Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Ohaji/Egbema, Dr. Chidi Collins Oparajiaku, “Church has need to meet this week (holy week). If this is denied us, at least it will be part of history mark till eternity.”
Bishop Stafford Nworgu, in his contribution, demanded: “Churches should be allowed to pray and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. We do that observing social distance 20 or 50”
The General Overseer of Charismatic Ministries, Dr. Cosmas Ilechukwu, insisted that the church leaders should always be carried along by the state government. Imo State chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), and the leader of the Seed of Life Evangelical Christian Mission, Bishop Titus Akanabu, cautioned that putting churches under lock and key was inimical to God’s kingdom.
The next few days would determine the political tilt of the issue in the state.
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