By: Our Special Duty Writer
Akwa Ibom State, with ambitious desires for quick industrialisation and attainment of cosmopolitan status, is doing many things to achieve the goal but plagued by politicisation of projects.
The recent announcement by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, that the state has commenced construction of a 300-bed space isolation centre at the Methodist Hospital, Ituk Mbang in Uruan local government area to complement existing isolation centres in Ikot Ekpene and Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo is the raison d’etre for this article.
The State, like nearly every part of the world today, is battling the effects of the pandemic called COVID-19. This is not the time to talk about the state of preparedness since the entry of the coronavirus into the country through an Italian expatriate (ex-pat) hired to work at a Lafarge plant in Ogun State.
Since the arrival of the colonial masters in the protectorates now called Nigeria, there has been one infectious (contagious) disease of epidemic proportion after another; but since the EBOLA virus episode of 2014 and now coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have all now realised why the colonialists established Infectious Disease Hospitals (IDH) in several parts of the country. Over the years, those facilities had been left moribund and sometimes the personnel posted there saw their posting as punitive.
The Federal Government has developed a National Action Plan for Health Security, which includes development and construction of Treatment and Isolation Facility in every state of the federation, creation of Emergency Operations Centres (EOC) at state and Primary Health Care levels, with financial implications for epidemic emergency preparedness.
The availability of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) from the Consolidated Revenue Fund has given a brighter future for states which are in a position to access the funds by setting up Primary Health Care Development Agency and State Health Insurance Schemes.
Akwa Ibom State is a litoral state and is developing Ibom Deep Seaport and Industrial City in addition to the rapidly expanding airport terminal of international standard at the Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo. This means that the volume of international visitors would rapidly increase, and with it comes cross-border health challenges for port health facilities, hence the need to establish a functional facility that would cater for this new category of persons (visitors, tourists, and residents).
Rather than build on and expand the long-standing and well-known Infectious Disease Hospital at Ikot Ekpene where the experienced personnel have been working and residing with their families, it seems questionable to refer to it as an isolation centre, maybe to pave way for the new centre to be sited at Ituk Mbang.
Concerned about what looks like an outlandish development, Obong Aniekan Akpan, a one-time chairman of Eket local government area and a Public Affairs analyst, raised the alarm. In a telephone interview with Straightnews, he described as unfair and unjust the state government’s decision in taking the 300-bed space to Ituk Mbang. He said the Federal Government had directed the state governments in the country to expand such facilities in the existing IDH to save cost.
Is the government short-changing the people of Ikot Ekpene who have harboured the IDH since the days of widespread Tuberculosis (TB) and Yellow Fever and Smallpox? Is there no room for a reward of patience and perseverance? Are they not entitled to see a new neighbourhood of modern buildings and facilities that excite their sight and imaginations? Is the 300-bed bed Isolation Centre at Ituk Mbang under construction going to be a makeshift structure (temporary) or a permanent structure that will stand the test of time and meet international standards that will befit the Akwa Ibom of our dream? When was the facility conceived and designed? Is it a copy and paste job or internet photo-shopped? When was the Bill of Quantities (BOQ) prepared and by who? What about the Bill of Measurements? At what point did the state FGPC process the procurement protocol? Questions and questions.
Since it may be a futuristic project, why was it not sited at Ikot Ekpene while efforts will be made to replicate it in other senatorial districts as it seems we are in the season or days of politics for everything. It would have been more fortuitous to have leveraged on the memories of the IDH, Ikot Ekpene which may be in the archives of the London and Liverpool Schools of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, United Kingdom than a name not known in such fields. International assistance could easily be gotten and the scarce resources of the state would have been channeled to other useful and competing needs of the people.
There is still time to rethink as the decision is not an act of parliament that would require processes for repeal. A stitch in time saves nine. Government enjoins communities to protect public facilities in their domain, but when their support is alienated and not reciprocated, the people lose and are disillusioned.
The IDH, Ikot Ekpene should not be used as the sacrificial lamb in the running water of Akwa Ibom parochial politics and dialectal ghettoization that bears a name: a winner takes all.