Drama Over COVID-19 Information In A’Ibom

Gov Udom Emmanuel
Gov Udom Emmanuel

By: Imo E. Akpan

Few days ago, Akwa Ibom State Government announced the discharge of six coronavirus cases in the State. Before now, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had announced the confirmation of five index COVID-19 cases in Akwa Ibom State. One more confirmed case was announced by the NCDC on Tuesday night, making six.

Earlier when the NCDC announced the confirmation of the five index cases for Akwa Ibom, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, the state Commissioner for Health shocked the world when he said the test results were disputed because amongst other puerile reasons, the five cases were asymptomatic!

Until last Wednesday, the six index cases have remained in isolation and receiving care from medical experts, according to Akwa Ibom State official sources.

In a dramatic twist, Akwa Ibom State Government announced to the world that it had discharged six patients from its holding facility in Uyo and heralded the information with a colorful brass band with serenading music! The information was syndicated through the social media accounts of the Media aides of Governor Udom Emmanuel.

Mr. Aniekeme Finbarr wrote, “Six Covid-19 patients were today discharged from the isolation centre at the Ibom Specialist hospital in Akwa Ibom State, 3 of them are from the initial 5 index cases. The other 3 were suspected cases whose test results came out negative. Akwa Ibom State now has 3 confirmed cases, two from the initial 5 index cases, and one cases as announced by the NCDC last night…”

Another aide, Rev. Richard Peters posted, “There is jubilation in the air as the 5 residents of Akwa Ibom who tested positive to Covid-19 are discharged today from Ibom Specialist Hospital. The 5 persons who were treated and confirmed to have now tested negative to the coronavirus will join their families in a happy reunion to celebrate their recovery from the dreaded global pandemic”

These factually contradictory statements were greeted with sharp reactions. Mr. Finbarr, as an afterthought soon after hurriedly deleted his earlier post and made a new one. He wrote “IN THE NEWS: 3 of the 6 Covid -19 confirmed cases in Akwa Ibom State have been discharged. Our prayers are with the remaining 3…”

Akwa Ibom State’s touted fight against COVID -19 have been punctuated with consistent contradictions. Its efforts are largely media amplifications that are inherently fractious. Without a doubt, the tardiness in information management of COVID–19 in Akwa Ibom State mirrors the lack of seriousness, lackadaisical and uncoordinated approaches adopted by Government.

For instance, the State Government declared a lockdown and total cessation of all movements a fortnight ago without any plan for palliatives to its citizens who are now adjudged as one of the poorest in the country amidst affluence and huge Federal allocations. We have now seen pockets food rations dished out in meager doses to a handful of citizens who have, for good measure, not escaped the camera lenses.

Apparently responding to the negative reactions to a statement credited to the loquacious Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of the State, Uwemedimo Nwoko announcing an extension of the lock down for another two weeks, the Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government (SSG) quickly issued a disclaimer stating empathically that the lockdown was for seven days only – allowing a two days 7 hour-apiece shopping window for citizens on 17th and 18th of April, 2020.

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These rancorous manifestations only point to one thing; lack of sincerity and transparency! Government has harped more on form rather than substance in this war. We have seen the photograph of a contingent of brass band lined up in front of the hospital to celebrate the discharge of patients who have crossed from dead to the land of the living. Of course, if the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was applauded as he was wheeled out of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) a few days ago, how much more Akwa Ibom citizens?

Except the brass band instrumentalists are resident in the hospital, one wonders how they were summoned from wherever, in violation of the Restriction Order to come out for the business of trumpeting tunes for three homebound COVID–19 patients and the other three in the hospital wards! That’s the complexion of our wisdom in Akwa Ibom state. And this is in a state where petty businesses have been shut in obedience to Government’s directives.

COVID-19: Who Speaks For Akwa Ibom State?

By: Franklyn Isong

One important tool in the fight against the COVID -19 pandemic is sufficient information to the people. In Akwa Ibom state, like foodstuffs, this tool is a scarce commodity. Just as the people are being starved of food palliatives by government, they are being denied enough information on the pandemic.

Two weeks ago, it took the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and other healthcare professionals in the state to publicly ask government for information on its preparation to handle possible case(s) of the pandemic in the state. The group also requested for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals scheduled to handle the disease.

Although, in less than 24 hours, the government reacted speaking separately through the commissioners for Health and that of Information, Dominic Ukpong and Charles Udoh, respectively, dismissing the health professionals as being politically sponsored, the group had passed a message, that all is not well in the state.

The controversy that ensued afterwards between the two commissioners and the health professionals, almost painted the state in bad light but for the intervention of the Governor.

Again, last week, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced five positive cases in the state. The state was thrown into confusion, anxiety and fear, because the first official reaction of the government through the Commissioner for Health, Dominic Ukpong, was to fault the NCDC procedure and dismissed the test result. This again, put the state as the first to attempt to politicise the pandemic. Twitter went agog with all manner of deductions and negative comments about Akwa Ibom state.

It took the Governor, Udom Emmanuel, to salvage the image of the state through a state broadcast, accepting the NCDC test result, by implication, dismissing his commissioner’s press statement on the matter.

Since then, the Governor either “directed” the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Emmanuel Ekuwem, to issue a press statement or brief the press on the pandemic, or he personally give the update himself.

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Yesterday, Thursday, 9th April, 2020, another ugly development in the information management surfaced. Bishop Dr. Emmanuel Etim, Chairman, PFN, Akwa Ibom state chapter, issued a statement titled: “CHURCHES TO HOLD SERVICE ON GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER SUNDAY”; saying, “In relation to the directive by the state government and as announced by the Chairman, CAN, AKWA IBOM STATE. REV. DR. NDUESO EKWERE, the ban on church services has been lifted for good Friday and Easter Sunday.”

Moments later, a press statement emerged from the SSG titled:  “REVISED LOCKDOWN GUIDELINES FOR THE EASTER SEASON”. Part of the release said; “In the spirit of the Easter season, Akwa Ibom State Government has approved guidelines for religious activities on Last Supper (Thursday), Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and  Easter Monday as follows:…”

And on Friday, 10th April, 2020, a counter statement emerged from the commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, titled: “COVID-19 LOCKDOWN IS STILL IN OPERATIONS IN AKWA IBOM STATE”. The later statement countered the two earlier statements, that is, that of PFN and SSG on the subject.

Parts of Charles Udoh’s release stated; “Following the latest review of the current global COVID-19 situation and taking into account the need for continued protection of all citizens and residents in the state against the threat of the raging pandemic, it has become necessary to reiterate that the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations 2020 is still in operations.

“However, churches and religious gatherings are allowed on Friday, April 10 and Sunday April 12, 2020 BUT MUST comply strictly to the following guidelines. All churches and religious gatherings MUST disperse early enough to ensure that members of the congregation return home on or before 1pm,” Udoh insisted.

With the foregoing, Akwa Ibom people are left in total confusion as who speaks for government. And which information to obey.

How did Akwa Ibom people get to this pathetic situation? Elsewhere, updates on the pandemic is on a daily basis handled by the State governors, in Akwa Ibom, the people have to demand for information and when it finally comes, the people are left in a worse situation than they were? Sad!

I cannot but give kudos to state governors who are leading the fight against COVID-19 from the front instead of leading from the back, as maybe said in Akwa Ibom.

This is the time to know the true leadership quality of individual state governors. This is the time to see and assess the capacity and experience of these governors by their people.

Akwa Ibom people are watching and taking stocks of unfolding drama in the state. At the appropriate time, when the coronavirus crisis is over, they will be able to speak up and place issues in perspective.

(Culled From Facebook)