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CSOs blasts COVID-19 Taskforce, accuse NCDC of creating panic

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The Conference of Harmonised Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria has the federal government to take the lead in the face of the current global health crisis by championing transparency through NCDC approaches.

They also accused the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) of creating panic amongst citizens by misinforming the government and citizenry in its effort to manage the dreaded COVID-19.

The CSOs at a press conference held in Makurdi and addressed by the convener, Save Nigeria Movement, Semaka SS while stating its position alleged that the continued lockdown of the country with its attendant negative implications on the economy and life of the citizenry was as result of misinformation from the NCDC which it argued had created panic more than help in curbing the spread of the virus.

“The agency has demonstrated clearly that it’s capacity for handling this and many other emergencies is overrated and over stretched. But the NCDC is committed to sustaining negative panic in order to match with the fund at its disposal at the moment. This strategy is not only unpatriotic but fundamentally harmful to the collective survival of the country.

“By last night when the NCDC released her daily update of Covid-19 statistics, Nigeria has recorded 9855 cases of CoviD-19 infections overall, with 2856 recovered and discharged and 273 dead. Every state of the federation has had cases except Cross River State. Kogi State disputes the 2 cases she currently has, Zamfara, Bauchi and Edo States have also disputed some of the stats applicable to them. The NCDC has apologised to a couple of states for errors in her updates.

“In managing the Covid-19 pandemic, the NCDC’s modus operandi is basically to release guidelines which state governments follow, and from which they evolve what other protocols and procedures they consider necessary to safeguard their people. Fundamental practices adopted by every state so far include full or partial lockdowns marked by aggressive restrictions on movement and ubiquitous public sanitation.

“Now, Ladies and gentlemen from February 27 to this day, our country has almost gone aground in terms of the economic implications of the lockdown on the entire nation, mainly due to the spate of partial and full lockdowns imposed by the federal and state governments.

“It is clear that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 have been largely responsible for this continued lockdown of the whole nation, as governments have acted on their recommendations”.

The CSOs also urged the Federal Government to allow and support state governments to carry out research and other necessary feasibilities with a view to stemming the Covid-19 pandemic and other future health emergencies.

“The immediate reaction of many Nigerians to the NCDC’s midnight nightmare of increasing cases is that the agency now has a panic button it uses to scare the citizens and governments of Nigeria, and simply for selfish gains. If not, why then is the Covid-19 pandemic and its ancillaries the sole preoccupation of the NCDC and other public health bodies for now? Is it because it is currently the only disease which gives access to nigh unbelievable sums from the public till along with billions from the private sector?”, the group asked.

See Full text below:

JUNE 1,2020.

STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

By: CONFERENCE OF HARMONISED CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS IN NIGERIA

ANCHORED BY:

SAVE NIGERIA MOVEMENT

THEME: REALITY VS FICTION: THE COMMERCIALISATION AND MERCHANDISATION OF THE COVID 19 VIRUS IN NIGERIA BY NCDC.

Fellow Comrades, my dear compatriots, the Press, ladies and gentlemen.

As you all know, our country Nigeria is going through a major health crisis. The novel corona virus known as SARS-COV2 causes the Covid-19 disease which first appeared in 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Since then the disease has spread round the globe forcing the World Health Organisation to classify it as a pandemic.

Nigeria recorded her first or index case on February 27, 2020 when an Italian expatriate fell sick shortly after arriving from a visit home and was diagnosed with the disease. The federal government has since been battling to stem the tide of the epidemic in the country. Spearheading the nation’s efforts to combat the disease is the Nigeria Centre For Disease Control (NCDC) supported by the presidential Task Force on covid-19 and the Federal Ministry of Health.

By last night when the NCDC released her daily update of Covid-19 statistics, Nigeria has recorded 9855 cases of CoviD-19 infections overall, with 2856 recovered and discharged and 273 dead. Every state of the federation has had cases except Cross River State. Kogi State disputes the 2 cases she currently has, Zamfara, Bauchi and Edo States have also disputed some of the stats applicable to them. The NCDC has apologised to a couple of states for errors in her updates.

In managing the Covid-19 pandemic, the NCDC’s modus operandi is basically to release guidelines which state governments follow, and from which they evolve what other protocols and procedures they consider necessary to safeguard their people. Fundamental practices adopted by every state so far include full or partial lockdowns marked by aggressive restrictions on movement and ubiquitous public sanitation.

Now, Ladies and gentlemen from February 27 to this day, our country has almost gone aground in terms of the economic implications of the lockdown on the entire nation, mainly due to the spate of partial and full lockdowns imposed by the federal and state governments.

It is clear that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 have been largely responsible for this continued lockdown of the whole nation, as governments have acted on their recommendations.

This coalition of civil society organisations is here today to question whether the NCDC and the PTF have acted above board up to this time or whether they have achieved and continue to achieve lockdowns through misinformation of the masses and the Governments at all levels.

It is our well considered opinion that the latter is the case, and we shall proceed shortly to outline our concerns.

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This state of the union address is aimed at drawing the attention of Nigerians and the world to salient points and suspicions which deserve critical evaluation beyond the mere window dressing they are currently receiving.

1. LOCKDOWN: Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Comrades, the country has been on lockdown from March 30, 2020 to this day. We are yet to get clear cut timelines as to when the lockdown will be totally lifted for public life which is the live-wire of the economy to re-commence.

To worsen matters, while Nigerians sink deeper into poverty by the day due to the limitation or outright cessation of their livelihoods, not much progress has been made by the NCDC against the Covid-19 pandemic as it is clear to the nation from the NCDC daily updates that cases continue to skyrocket.

The civil service, businesses and individuals have become almost paralyzed due to the effect of this lockdown. The growing number of cases may not be entirely the agency’s fault as there is currently no known cure for the disease worldwide, but is it not inherent in the NCDC’s responsibilities to the nation to devise how we can live and not die under lockdown?

Now, let us juxtapose the Nigerian situation against, for instance, the USA or even China. The US has far more CoviD-19 casualties than anywhere else in the world but they are not obsessed with lockdown as a long term solution. Even when Wuhan and the whole of the Hubei province was on lockdown, the Chinese authorities kept the rest of the country open.

In both instances the national authorities exerted tremendous effort to maintain as much normalcy as possible across the unaffected parts of the country, guided by their own disease control agencies. They were always mindful of the negative impact on the economy and how it would ultimately affect the masses psychologically.

But ironically, in Nigeria, it is agencies like NCDC whose responsibility is it to research and restore confidence in the masses that is feeding the Government with scary unsubstantiated statistics upon which lockdown is hinged.

To us, in the civil society sub-sector, and indeed to vast swathes of the Nigerian populace, we have arrived at the conclusion that not only is the NCDC negligent in the broad strokes of her mandate but she has become the curator of a suspicious scheme to commercialize this epidemic at the expense of the national economy.

2. PROPOSED VACCINE BILL: We are by now all aware of the sudden introduction of a bill in the national assembly to make the vaccination against Covid 19 virus compulsory. Not only that, but certain sections of that bill look suspiciously like they are intended to criminalise citizens’ rejection of compulsory vaccination. Worse, many of the powers ceded to the Director-General of the NCDC in that bill are so far-reaching and all-encompassing that only the President should exercise them.

We decry the attempt to set up the head of the NCDC as a co-president in this country and the agency itself as a Gestapo organisation empowered to take away the liberty, property and sundry other constitutionally secured freedoms from populace under guise of public health. What is life if it is lived in breach of humanity?

We are not oblivious of the allegations of financial inducement from foreign agents levelled against state actors, especially the leadership of the house of representatives in the presentation and unprocedural haste to pass that bill before it was halted by vigilant members supported by public outcry.

If such actors and their collaborators are not restrained by the rest of us, they will present an existential threat to the nation, sooner than later because the proposed compulsory vaccination bill also has serious national security implications.

We are all aware of the alleged and highly publicised commercial interests of certain global figures like Bill Gates in the passage of that suicidal bill. These issues are weighty and answers scanty so we are unable to see a clear path to their resolution. Unless and until the authorities introduce more transparency to the process, we believe that the national attention is being diverted by dire daily updates from the NCDC signifying and glorifying an inexorable march of the disease which is questionable. We call all citizens to mass vigilance in this regard.

3. TESTING: We live in a country of about 200 million people. We are told of a mutation of the coronavirus, the SARS-COV2, which spreads like wildfire. Yet, the NCDC, while advocating for long periods of lockdown is unable to fire interest in the very least of her responsibility, which is testing. While calling for tests given a stated set of symptoms, the NCDC has failed to demonstrate a reliable, responsive testing feedback mechanism.

First, the number of Nigerians tested across board in half a year is still less than 100,000 out of over 200 million people. How do we commend that in terms of per capita testing?

Second, the testing criteria has changed with dizzying inconsistency till we are no longer sure if the test is for the ubiquitous malaria or still for CoviD-19. The current advisory is to test everyone with a baseline symptom of fever where there is one other symptom from a list which includes difficulty breathing, sore throat, headache, bodily aches and pains, and diarrhoea. This in effect practically means every Nigerian, at least once every month. How is this feasible?

Third, the NCDC itself has admitted to a backlog of samples in her testing facilities numbering in the thousands. We are not sure therefore how testing is an accurate measure of safety from the virus if people have to wait indefinitely to get results after swabbing.

Fourth, the lives and livelihoods of citizens remain virtually locked down while we blunder through this trial and error.

China is up and running. The USA has been forced out of lockdown by the George Floyd protests and citizens are certainly not going to accept a return to it whatever happens next. We are now saying it loud and clear that while Covid-19 is real and has even proven fatal, albeit in a very low percentage of cases, it is time we got real about reopening life and living for Nigerians.

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It is our contention that the NCDC has the duty of applying her humongous and prioritised budget (kudos to Mr. President) to research how we can best do that. They must not wait for civil unrest or some other force majeure events to force a catastrophic reopening. They must now stop the fear-mongering and get serious about actionable control.

NCDC CREATING ARTIFICIAL PANIC

The immediate reaction of many Nigerians to the NCDC’s midnight nightmare of increasing cases is that the agency now has a panic button it uses to scare the citizens and governments of Nigeria, and simply for selfish gains. If not, why then is the Covid-19 pandemic and its ancillaries the sole preoccupation of the NCDC and other public health bodies for now? Is it because it is currently the only disease which gives access to nigh unbelievable sums from the public till along with billions from the private sector?

This country is plagued by many other endemic diseases like Lassa fever, malaria, meningitis etc which kill more than the Covid-19. We have had over 655 deaths from Lassa fever alone in the last few months in Nigeria. Malaria remains the highest killer of children in the world. Why are they ignored with mounting death tolls while Covid-19 is given all the attention? Is death by Covid-19 now some kind of elite death, more celebrated?

ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS FOR THE NATION AND THE MASSES.

The nigerian government guided by the NCDC has introduced the lockdown and signed a number of executive orders . This is no doubt commendable but to what extent has this brought us reprieve as a country fighting an epidemic? Has it not rather mutilated and further strangled our already weakened economy? People are no longer going to work and people can no longer do their businesses in a country where more than 100 million citizens live on ‘daily pay’ from fragile micro-enterprises. How then will such a populations cope with interminable lockdowns and the inevitable pauperisation which must follow?

6. PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS: Closely allied with the economic repercussions of Covid-19 is the psychological damage it is already doing to the populace. People who have lost businesses and careers which they painstakingly built over the years will not just bounce back without a care in the world. The resultant effect of the inability of people to go about their normal routine to raise money for their upkeep due to no fault of theirs and more sadly without a clear template as to when it will end, or what stimulus is available. This is bound to communicate transgenerational trauma to families as children pick up fear for tomorrow from parents. There is already loss of productivity on an unprecedented scale, we foresee untold psychological hardship to the masses, in particular Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), on a scale almost as widespread as that from the civil war.

LACK OF SYNERGY BETWEEN NCDC AND STATE GOVERNMENTS.

There is an apparent lack of synergy between the NCDC which is at the centre of managing this pandemic. This is glaring in the several altercations between the agency and officials of some state governments. Zamfara, Bauchi, Kwara, Rivers, Cross River and Kogi State are the few that come immediately to mind. The disagreement has mainly been around what the states perceive as arbitrary and unverifiable Covid-19 statistics recorded for them by NCDC.

The NCDC appears to have no dispute handling mechanism to which these states may formally be referred, so the average dispute with an aggrieved state inevitably turns into a media brickbat from which the NCDC ends up retreating with bloodied visage and profuse apologies.

Still, the NCDC turns a hard face to the world and appears even more determined not to welcome feedback from any quarter on to the way forward.

For example, her turnover period for tests is terrible. On the average, it takes the NCDC several weeks to process samples from states and return results. Several weeks, unless when it involves an elite or concerns a state in which the NCDC has special interests, whether good or bad.

Now, even assuming that samples are well stored and remain viable for the length of time it takes to process them, one wonders if a patient with an emergency should be left untreated by medical personnel in a state for weeks till NCDC responds.

Yet the NCDC has the gall to accuse states of not sending samples for testing. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is also complicit in this regard as it joins the NCDC in gratuitous condemnation of such states without interrogating the underlying factors.

In view of this, Nigerians want to know if mere collection of samples is all that is required to imbue a medical personnel with confidence to treat a suspected Covid-19 case or the results from those tests? If the answer is the result, why is the NCDC and the NMA avoiding the delay in getting results to focus on the number of samples collected? Are there other, perhaps pecuniary, objectives that we are missing in this milieu?

And by the way, does testing and even results confer immunity from CoviD-19? Is there some scientific law that says a person who receives his negative results today cannot get infected with the virus tomorrow? If the answer is that anyone can get infected at any time, we ask again, why the unholy reliance on such a slow and unresponsive testing system?

ISOLATION CENTRES AND TREATMENT OF COVID 19 PATIENTS.

The NCDC has over the period updated nigerians on the internet with statistics of cases so far tested, treated and discharged as well as those who have died. Nigerians have always asked one fundamental question from the very beginning, those who recover from this virus, what medication or medications, were they put on?

The major fear most people have with testing for CoviD-19 is the perception that it is an automatic death sentence. Remove that perception and everyone who has symptoms will get himself to a hospital for testing and treatment.

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People understand that even ordinarily curable diseases like malaria can kill people despite the array of drugs to treat it. We have come to live with that fact as a society. One way to go about building confidence in the populace to stop concealing suspected Covid-19 symptoms is to be honest with them about the treatment regimen and their chances of recovery, which is above 95% in most cases.

The NCDC needs to get honest and come clean about the drugs used to treat the vast majority who have recovered from this disease. Nobody is believing that story that they do not want people to overdose on the drugs. We all know the treatment for malaria, yet the country is not littered with the corpses of people dead from overdoses of malaria drugs. Why create a mystery around the testing and treatment of Covid-19 while the masses continue to live in panic?

We know of high profile individuals who have been treated for CoviD-19 and recovered. There is also the case of the Benue index case which the NCDC admitted after 52 in her custody has not been prescribed any drug. Yet they tell us that a 14 day quarantine or isolation is enough to discover positive cases – both with symptoms and asymptomatic.

It would appear to us, ladies and gentlemen, that much more is going on here than we can ever see.

UNACCOUNTED FUNDS FOR COVID-19

The NCDC has received a number of interventions from the government and even the private sector, what is the extent of the utilisation of this funds in the research process for a cure? We urge the NCDC to give a good account of the funds both in the sense of putting them to good use and in the other, equally important, sense of being transparent and accountable with all of that money.

THE KOGI SCENARIO

The ongoing war of attrition between the NCDC and Kogi State perfectly exemplifies the lack of synergy between NCDC and the states which we have tried to illustrate in the above paragraphs. Ladies and gentlemen, we have verified that Kogi State has a well equipped laboratory capable of testing for CoviD-19 using rapid test kits procured from South Korea. She has also acquired a molecular laboratory fully approved by the NCDC which has arrived the country awaiting delivery to the state. You can all verify this from the NCDC too after now.

Kogi (and Cross River States) have applied some sense to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic which may be perhaps unorthodox but certainly not stupid. She has also wide acclaims and support from a large section of the ordinary citizens. Residents of the state have been free from lockdown and yet they instinctively observe the right practices to minimise infection. Kogi’s methods kept her Covid-19 free until last week when the NCDC added her to the list in circumstances which the state is protesting to the highest authorities.

We think Nigeria has a great case study opportunity in Kogi State (and Cross River State too). CoviD-19 is not going away soon, and even the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised the world to get ready to live with CoviD-19. Normalcy in spite of Covid-19 is what Kogi State has practiced since the rest of the country has been in lockdown. Her methods might need fine-tuning and improvement, but NCDC must not act as if any government which does not slavishly follow her directives is a threat to be fought.

Innovation does not often come in crisp packages and there is innovation of sorts in what Kogi did. If NCDC applies the scientific method to Kogi, she might unravel why a state which intercepts every major thing traveling from one half of the country to the other, including epidemics, has largely escaped Covid-19 even when it is coming from two ends at once, ie, Abuja and Lagos and every State in-between.

Immunisation is not going to be the only solution to a virus that has transformed how the world lives forever. If the NCDC had been alive to her duties and shone an inquisitive light, instead of a belligerent one, on Kogi State and her successes over the last 3 months, the NCDC might just have discovered patterns that could be interpreted by her public health scientists to help blaze a trail to normalcy in the era of Covid-19 for th world. Tomorrow when the same answers come from abroad, NCDC might just discover that she was asking the wrong questions all along.

OUR POSITION:

That the NCDC be prevailed upon to ensure transparency and accountability in the discharge of her duties to achieve higher results.

That state governments be allowed and supported to carry out research and other necessary feasibilities with a view to steming the Covid-19 pandemic and other future health emergencies.

That we commend the various state governments particularly Kogi State and Cross River States for their proactive practices and insist that it is out-of-the-box thinking like theirs rather than the usual herd mentality that will get us out of the quagmire of Covid-19. If for nothing else, they gave the masses hope when others made it appear as if the whole world lay in the power of the evil disease.

We further urge the federal government to take the lead in the face of the current global health crisis.

We wish to reinstate that the Covid 19 virus is real but should not be elavated to the levels such that it can create enormous panic, denude the confidence the masses have in their government and ultimately destroy the economy, if not the fabric, of the nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, the SAVE NIGERIA MOVEMENT, a coalition of over 100 civil society organizations will be presenting periodic reports on the Covid-19 situation from time to time and based on nationwide appraisals.

Thank you!

SEMAKA SS

Convener

SAVE NIGERIA MOVEMENT.

RICHARD ODUMA

Conference Of minority Tribes in Nigeria.

AGBA Paul.

Conference Of Harmonised civil society organisations in Nigeria.

Alfred Aibom

Local NGOs Network.

Rose Ogwuche esq.

Society For Gender Reforms.

Bishop Abel King.

College of Clergy Councils in Nigeria.

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