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South East, Covid-19, and the dangers of leaky borders

By Isaac Nweke

That the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst existential threat to mankind in recent history is a given. As I pen this piece this morning of Monday May 4, 2020, the world has recorded 3,580,202 infections out of which 1,159,219 had recovered, while a whooping 248,452 lives have been lost. Needless going into the economic loses as the global economy has been literally frozen.

Back home in Nigeria, between the confirmed index case, an Italian, on February 27, 2020, and this Monday morning, the figures have spiked to 2,558 cases, 87 deaths, and 400 recoveries. Our economy is also in shambles, if we ever had one.

Beyond managing the established cases, enormous efforts have gone into prevention of community transmission of the infection. And the South East states have excelled above every other regions in this regard.

The latest (May 3, 2020) update by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, show that the South West has so far recorded 1,282 confirmed COVID-19 cases and attendant 38 deaths.

The North West recorded 566 cases with 24 deaths. North East recorded 275 cases and 14 fatalities. North Central, including the FCT, recorded 313 cases and 3 deaths with the FCT accounting for 278 cases and all the fatalities. The South South recorded 104 cases and 9 deaths, while the South East recorded 18 cases six recoveries, and zero fatality.

Meanwhile, it is imperative to note that virtually all the South East cases were not due to community spread, but were actually imported into the region despite the lockdowns, interstate border and transport shutdowns. While the two initial cases in Enugu is understandable since they came into the state from the United Kingdom before the shutdown of the state borders and were well managed and discharged, it worries, however, that the subsequent cases found their ways into the region and states from other parts of the country.

For instance, the third COVID-19 case travelled out of the state on March 28, returned from Plateau State on April 14, developed symptoms on April 21. He subsequently tested positive on April 28. The fourth case, who works and lives in Lagos, travelled back to Enugu State on April 22 and took ill. The state’s COVID-19 Response Team immediately isolated him at one of the isolation facilities and his test came out positive on May 1. Another four confirmed cases (two adults and two children), hail from Bauchi State, but live in Enugu. They travelled to Jos with Enugu’s third COVID-19 case and eventually tested positive on return.

There was equally a news report about a Kano woman, who took ill after returning to her Abakpa Nike, Enugu base from Kano. The state’s Multi-Sectorial Response Team was also alerted and the woman and her entire neighbours were immediate taken to the isolation centres. But the result was not out at the time of writing this piece.

One thing that can easily be deduced from these cases is that they all came in from North or South West (Lagos). The question then is, how did they manage to find their ways into Enugu despite the lockdowns and border closure? For instance, the Lagos case travelled all the way from Lagos State, where the FG’s restriction was supposed to be in full force at the time, travelled through Ibadan, Ore, Benin, Asaba, and also crossed the Niger Bridge into Onitsha at a time the total lockdown imposed by Governor Obiano’s administration was in place. Then he crossed Awka, the state’s capital into Ugwuoba, Enugu State and into the state capital despite the lockdown put in place by Governor Ugwuanyi. And all these, despite tens of security posts between Lagos to Enugu. Nigerian security agencies, I hail una. Una try well.

I was therefore not surprised that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi recently embarked on personal monitoring and enforcement of the border shutdowns along the Enugu/Kogi and Enugu/Benue borders. It was during this operation that the Nigerian Army checkpoint around the Nsukka came alive, intercepting and turning back over 30 vehicles loaded with passengers, who were passing through the state. Some of the passengers, who were mostly from Northern parts of the country, according to news reports, covered themselves with bags of food items. But with utmost respect to patriotic Nigerian security personnel doing their job well, one is almost certain that the about 150 passengers could have found their ways into Enugu and probably some of them beyond Enugu into other South East and South South States but for the Governor’s presence on that fateful day. Yet, the question is, how long can the Governor or any other South East Governor personally supervise enforcement? And even if they choose to leave other matters of state and be on the road, can they possibly be at all the borders at the same time?

After all the hide and seek game by the Kano State Government, the Leader of the Presidential Task Force Committee on Covid-19, intervention in Kano State, Dr. Nasiru Sani Gwarzo, confirmed to the world last Sunday that coronavirus was responsible for the hundreds of “mysterious” deaths in the state. Already, there is so much southwards migrations out of the North. Various states in the South have intercepted trailer loads of people from the North. And trust criminals, possibly the Boko Haram, who are facing enormous pressures in the North East the Lake Chad Basin as well the bandits terrorising the North West and North Central to take advantage of the situation to infiltrate the entire southern region. Even the Nigeria Governors Forum is crying out loud over the breach of presidential order on interstate movements and influxes across state borders. Yet we have lockdowns and “lockups” everywhere.

There comes a time in the life of a people when they must decide to do right things for collective good. President Muhammadu Buhari, the Inspector General of Police, service chiefs, and heads of other paramilitary agencies charged with the enforcement of lawful directives for containing COVID-19 must call their men to order. They must be reminded that security posts are neither ShopRite nor any market place. This is a “do or die” matter. It is a matter of life and death, including their own lives.

But while they work on straightening unscrupulous persons, who are bent on sabotaging government’s efforts to contain the pandemic in the region, the South East governments don’t have to depend entirely on the security agencies again. I therefore totally endorse and recommend to the rest of the South East Ugwuanyi’s decision to co-opt the State’s Forest Guards, Neighbourhood Watch personnel, town unions, traditional rulers, youth leaders, Council Chairmen, Ward Councilllors, etc. in the enforcement of the border shutdowns and interstate movement. They should even consider engaging the masquerades.

Push has come to shove and all hands must take our fate in our own hands. All hands must be on deck to safeguard the South East because with COVID-19, prevention is always better than cure.

_Nweke lives in Awgu, Enugu_

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