By Stanley Onyekwere
There is no gainsaying that an x-ray on the internal mechanisms introduced to contain and curtail the spread of the deadly novel Corona Virus otherwise known as COVID-19 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) reveal there is an end in sight, just one year after the pandemic hit the Territory.
Undoubtedly, the FCT Administration, headed by the Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello and the Minister of State, Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu conceived and executed measures that reflected local realities, and which were done to ensure that the response to the pandemic is guided, systemic and professional.
From the FCT’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic provided a steady, rancor-free and focused leadership, which ensured that despite the status of the FCT as one of the epicenters of the disease in the country, relatively fewer fatalities were recorded. And as the first subnational to reach the recommended testing target of 1% of its population, there is no doubt that the FCT is well on its way to also leading the charge of a total eradication of the disease in Nigeria.
Retrospectively, FCT, Lagos and Ogun States were the first few states to be hit by the rampaging COVID-19 virus early in March 2020. In the case of Lagos, an Italian who had come in from outside the country was said to have tested positive to the corona virus. His contact in Ogun State which has very close proximity to Lagos also tested positive. This was followed by the FCT, where a positive case was confirmed on March 21, 2020.
And based on the advice of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and to ensure that the disease does not spiral out of control, the Federal Government, on March 29, 2020 declared a total lockdown in the FCT and the other two States. The government also directed that schools, religious institutions, markets for non-essential services, recreational centres, among others should remain shut for an initial period of two weeks. Therefore, the FCTA’s response to the pandemic could be categorized into healthcare measures, security approaches and humanitarian efforts.
Among the pragmatic steps taken by the FCTA was the setting up of the Ministerial Expert Advisory Task Team on COVID-19, comprising of private sector stakeholders and headed by a former Minister of FCT, Dr Aliyu Modibbo. The team was tasked with the responsibility of harnessing private sector support and efforts towards defeating the deadly virus. Specifically, the team was mandated to rally wealthy individuals and organisations to provide medical, financial and other material support in cushioning the effect of the pandemic in the FCT.
Also, under the initiative of the Ministerial Advisory Committee of private sector stakeholders in the FCT, a tripartite partnership between the government, the organized private sector as well as other major stakeholders in the Abuja project was evolved. The Committee was also able to get on board several other private sector organisations apart from the CCECC, to provide further support in the fight against COVID-19. Some of these include the FATE Foundation, Polaris Bank, Julius Berger Nigeria PLC, Binani Group, among others who were all rallied to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), monitoring machines, furniture and air conditioners and power generators at the IDU 400 bed facility.
While working together with stakeholders, like the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC, the elegant 5 storey IDU train facility Training Center was outfitted to accommodate an initial 300 beds and later expanded to 400, to be used as an isolation and treatment centre; the Asokoro General Hospital and the Karu Hospitals were also renovated and reequipped for this purpose.
Accordingly, the Karu General Hospital in particular, was renovated to cater for three levels of patients; those coming for general testing and identification, those that require to be quarantined, those who will require intensive care, for which a seventeen bed section was made available and equipped with all the needed facilities including ventilators.
In addition to these isolation and treatment centres, the FCTA also worked very closely with the University Teaching Hospital at Gwgwalada to expand the capacity of the isolation and treatment centre at that location so that it would be able to accommodate more patients. The Zuba General Hospital was also set aside for possible conversion into an isolation and treatment centre to be able to accommodate more patients, should the need arise.
As succinctly explained, the wisdom behind these efforts, Bello explained at the time, was to ensure that the FCT is not overwhelmed by any spike in the number of infected persons. According to the Minister, “The most dangerous stage of the disease is the one that requires all the expert facilities to be available.
“So, as much as possible we are using support from all the other agencies to make sure that wherever people are going to be isolated and treated will be well suitable for that and I can assure you that the external community would be well protected.”
Some of these measures no doubt caused inconveniences to many residents. But in the end, these are the sacrifices that the government and residents have made for the greater good of the society. They have ensured a remarkable drop in COVID-19 related infection and deaths.
To man the isolation and treatment centres, the FCT Administration in collaboration with the NCDC and other health organisations, trained and deployed hundreds of health workers, including Doctors, nurses on tactical and operational response to the virus.
Hundreds of ad-hoc staff were also recruited to man the call centres as well as support the FCT’s testing and tracing efforts.
Special remuneration packages were set aside to motivate this category of workers to ensure that their morale remained high as first responders to the deadly covid-19 pandemic. They were also provided with protective kits (PPEs) in line with international standards.
ENFORCEMENT OF LOCKDOWN DIRECTIVE BY SECURITY AGENCIES
To ensure that the covid-19 disease did not spiral out of control in the FCT and possibly overwhelm the health officials and the isolation centres, it was very necessary to compel residents to abide by all the covid-19 containment protocols as well as the health guidelines established by the NCDC, the PTF and other health authorities.
This brought to the fore the vital role of the security agencies. The general understanding was that the success of the lockdown measures introduced in the FCT relied very heavily on the efforts of the security agencies. To this end, the FCT Administration rallied the security organisations like the Nigerian Police Force, relevant formations of the military, Civil Defence Corps, the Road Safety, the Department of State Services, FCT Department of Road Transport Services as well as all the agencies involved in the provision of services within the FCT to enforce the presidential lockdown directive.
As part of their mandates, all organs of the FCT Security Services and other government agencies agreed and worked out modalities to ensure that all entry and exit points of the FCT and by extension, other satellite towns, are manned by relevant officials to ensure that everybody stays home.
With the exception of emergency and frontline health workers, the security agencies enforced to a large extent, the cessation of movements within the FCT by the residents. They were empowered to arrest and prosecute defaulters of the lockdown guidelines. The Minister had cautioned that no individual or group of individuals would be allowed to jeopardize the health of the multitudes.
With the Minister’s marching order, the security personnel were deployed all across the city centre, the suburbs and Area Councils to enforce the lockdown and stay at home directives. Essential officers in the medical field and other services were however issued with exemption passes by the police and the FCTA to continue to function within their relevant fields.
The combination of these deft moves ensured that movement was limited between the communities of the FCT to break the chain of the transmission from one community to the other. The implication was that it ensured that only the index cases and their contacts remained the serious threats of the corona virus in the FCT.
The FCTA also set up a Ministerial team on COVID-19 restriction Enforcement, headed by the FCT Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bala Ciroma. This team, comprising all the security agencies, worked to enforce the lockdown directive at churches, hotels, event centres, markets, schools, among others. It also ensured that social distancing was observed in the various markets for foodstuffs and medical services allowed to operate.
Their combined efforts helped to arrest recalcitrant residents who dared to defy the lockdown directive by organizing wedding receptions, church services and opening of markets for the sale of non-essential products. The team stopped wedding ceremonies, church activities, shut down night clubs as well as arrested hordes of taxi drivers and private individuals that did not comply with the social distancing and other directives.
Overall, five enforcement teams were constituted to ensure compliance with the already laid down COVID 19 containment strategies. These teams were also constituted by the respective Area Council Chairmen in their domains.
PALLIATIVES FOR THE POOR AND VULNERABLE
While FCT residents were being encouraged to comply with the health guidelines and COVID-19 containment protocols, there was equally the need to ensure that those being saved from the rampaging virus did not succumb to the threat of hunger and starvation.
Database from the FCT Social Development Secretariat as well as the religious and traditional institutions had shown at the time that the FCT had a huge number of poor and vulnerable persons within its communities.
It was against this backdrop that the FCT Administration, in partnership with the relevant federal agencies, was able to establish a robust mechanism to cater for vulnerable people within the city as well as within the Area Councils and Satellite Towns. And working together with these bodies, the FCT Palliative Committee was set up, headed by the Hon. Minister of State, Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, and supported by the Chairmen of the six Area Councils and other stakeholder groups, including traditional and religious authorities. NGOs were also made part and parcel of this community wide initiative to ensure that vulnerable members of the society were catered for.
Using the 60-ward structure of INEC, as well as the traditional and religious authorities, the system of identifying vulnerable people within the FCT community was established. The key players who were saddled with the task of ensuring that palliatives get to the poor and vulnerable in their communities were the Councilor of the wards, the representative of the market women, the representative of the Royal Fathers, the CAN representative, the league of Imams representative, for the Muslims and Civil Society organizations.
Moreso, to ensure that nobody was left out, the FCT Administration adopted the use of live supervision and video coverage, in case there is need also to revisit the process. And in the end, a reasonable number of the vulnerable people in the FCT were identified and given palliatives. With the support of the security personnel and private individuals who volunteered their vehicles, these palliatives were escorted and delivered to various locations across the FCT.
Interestingly, the FCT Minister, with the understanding that individuals remained the greatest weapon in fighting COVID 19, appealed to all residents of the FCT to stay indoors and abide by all the regulations of the health and security authorities. In doing this, the FCTA enlisted the help of the media in carrying out aggressive sensitization messages across the satellite towns, villages, area councils, districts and suburbs of the FCT.
Thus, while security personnel were deployed at major roads in the city centre and suburbs to enforce the lockdown and stay at home measures, the FCT Administration appealed to the conscience of residents through religious leaders, traditional rulers and political leaders to ensure that the order shutting down places of worship and the stay at home order were adhered to.
To improve the process of interphase with FCT residents, The FCTA also converted the regular FCT Call Centre in Area 11 to the COVID-19 Situation Room and deployed very dedicated young men and women to man the centre on a 24-hours basis, with each having a work station. Another section was also introduced at the situation room where all the agencies represented within the security agencies as well human services personnel were present on a 24-hour basis to be able to provide immediate answers to questions.
It was observed that on a daily basis, the situation rom took hundreds of calls from residents as well as communicated with them via Whatsapp messages and emails where answers to their questions were provided. Also, testing centres were also expanded in the FCT to include regular hospitals and they were provided with testing kits as well as enhanced access to the NCDC laboratory for quick results.
Consequently, by September 2020, there had been a significant decrease in covid-19 infection and death rates in the FCT and other parts of the country with many of the tests done returning negative. The number of patients in the various isolation and treatment centres across the nation’s capital had also decreased massively compared to the number during the peak of the infections. This led to the relaxation of the lockdown measures as well as the reopening of markets, schools and places of worship and recreation centres.
The FCTA’s effective handling of the COVID-19 pandemic attracted commendations from various quarters and reputable institutions, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the National Assembly, religious organisations among others. Speaking during his visit to the country, the WHO Country Representative, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo acknowledged the effectiveness of the actions of the FCTA in the fight against the virus.
The FCTA’s approach in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic would later be replicated in other parts of the country, especially in the areas of enforcement and case management.
However, a mild set back in the fight against the pandemic would however be witnessed sometimes in December 2020 and early January 2021 when a deadlier and more virulent strain of the virus was confirmed in the UK and other parts of the world and eventually here in the country. This become the second wave of the pandemic.
Equally, the second wave of COVID-19 came with the challenge of increased demand for oxygen by patients. The FCT Administration also stepped up to the challenge by increasing the oxygen supply at the Idu isolation and treatment centre. There was marked improvement on the available bed spaces that have piped oxygen.
With close cooperation with the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and the Federal Ministry of Health, the FCTA was able to upgrade an entire floor of the Idu Isolation centre to have hundred beds that are well piped with oxygen for patients on a 24/7 basis. Oxygen facilities at the centre was categorized accordingly to have about 20 beds for those that are in a semi-intensive care, while 80 beds were set aside for those who would require oxygen intermittently.
With the discovery and arrival of vaccines, there is no doubt that there is a ray of hope in the fight against COVID-19. Today in the FCT, efforts are now concentrated on getting the residents to be vaccinated against the virus. The FCT Minister and Minister of State have taken the lead in this campaign by getting vaccinated. They are encouraging other residents to get vaccinated as well to develop herd immunity against the virus.
Nevertheless, more efforts are still needed to further limit the spread of the Virus, and as the FCT Minister said recently during a meeting with stakeholders, “There is an end in sight but it’s still a little bit far off. So, we have to find the energy somewhere