‘It was a different experience in my family’
On rising deaths, infections: Second wave shows we cannot take pandemic for granted
Says sanctioned facilities to remain shut
‘Lessons learnt from #EndSARS protests’
By By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos State remains the epicenter of the second wave of Covid-19 just like it was during the first wave. At separate times, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his Commissioner for Health, Prof Tunji Abayomi, tested positive for the dreaded virus. In this interview, Sanwo-Olu shares his experience on how his government is managing the situation to ensure things don’t go out of hand. Excerpts:
On recovery from Covid-19 COVID-19 presents itself differently to different patients. I certainly would be the first to say it was a different experience even in my family; the way my wife reacted is different from the way I reacted and likewise few of my staff reactions were different too but coming out of COVID gives a clear indication that we need to take things very seriously because the way in which each and every one of us react to it is different. I would say my own was a mild case, others were just asymptomatic and some people were very severe. But if you think coming out of COVID I can handle everything and anything, I would certainly not agree with you but I will give it a good shot.
I certainly also have to continue to lead from the front as Incident Commander in the state. So what it requires is to continue to show leadership and to continue to tell our people that they have to take responsibility but government will indeed do its very best at all times to keep all citizens safe. And for us doing that means that all the requirements that we need to make as a government like scaling up treatment and providing facilities required, we would do everything to ensure the health of our citizens. I am certainly not going to back down. We are not shying away from our responsibilities and we will continue to encourage our frontline health workers who are usually in the eye of the storm, who are the real heroes in all the attempts to flatten the curve and come out of this very difficult second wave that we are currently seeing.
Last year, after COVID-19 lockdown and EndSARS protest, we saw a lot of people losing trust in government and I am sure you have been getting feelers from people out there. If you were to speak to that person who seems to have lost trust in government, what will you be saying?
If you don’t learn from what has happened yesterday, you probably don’t have a tomorrow. So for me personally, it is not really to dwell so much on the past, learn from the past but have a conversation going forward; have a plan, have an agenda that you can take forward. So, what I would say to a whole lot of our youths and everyone is to say that as a government and person, we have learnt so much from 2020. We have learnt from a pandemic that has never ravaged the world in 100 years and which has Lagos at its epicenter. We had protests that we have never seen in this part of the country before and the aftermath of it, as a government we have learnt from it. We have seen all the bites and conversation coming out of it and we are saying transparently that, let all of us together take it forward and build a better society for ourselves.
Talking about COVID-19, you are Incident Commander for Lagos which has over 40,000 out of the national 120,000 cases. That is clearly a huge burden on you. Last year April, you formally announced that face masks are now compulsory in public places in Lagos and failure to use face mask in public will attract penalties. Is the enforcement still going on?
Just to put the figure right, we have actually crossed 44,000 cases as we speak (as at Sunday). But to also put in proper context, the current figure is coming out of a test of about 280,000 that we have done in the state, which is more than half of what is done nationally. So, that has given us the positivity of about 16 per cent. But in terms of compliance and enforcement, when we brought out those rules in April/May last year, people still didn’t have the level of understanding they have today; they still believe that it was something that was foreign and it is something far from us but right now, almost everybody understands and sees that it is real, especially the second wave. After the first wave slowed down, this second wave has shown us that we cannot take this pandemic for granted. In terms of level of compliance, I will not say that a lot of our citizens are complying but if you come to any of our offices and public buildings, the enforcement is there.
You cannot enter my office, our secretariat in Alausa or any of our government building without wearing a face mask. And if we can do that, all it takes is for everybody to take responsibility. If all the Managing Directors in the banking sector say to their staff and customers that you cannot enter their facilities if you are not wearing a face mask; if every manufacturing company, church and mosque say the same thing, if we all take responsibility and issue out the same thing, then you we will see a 99 per cent compliance. It is not about government bringing out police and chasing people that are not wearing it, it is about ensuring we understand that it is role sharing.
All of us have a role to play and everybody just needs to play his or her part. As a media person, you (interviewer) have a responsibility to also help us communicate and tell our citizens that it is about them; it is about their loved ones. It is not just that Sanwo-Olu wants you to just put up a mask on your face; it is because of what the medicine and health practitioners are telling us, that it is the only way we can reduce transmission and that is the right thing for all of us to do.
Are you saying that failure to wear face mask is no more attracting sanctions and penalties as you said in April last year?
What is in essence of a sanction if we cannot enforce it? But I don’t have police that can arrest every single person who flouts the law. We have made a few people examples and that is why we went to night clubs, churches and other places to make some people examples. We have prosecuted those people that we made examples and we are hoping that people can learn from that. The whole idea of enforcement is not that we want to catch every single person; we just want to make a case and make a few people examples.
Once you have those examples, people need to learn from it. When I say people should stop taking one-way, maybe 10 other vehicles will flout the law and will not get caught but for the two or three offenders that get caught, we will ensure that they face the full wrath of the law. That is what we are talking about. It sends signal to the seven or eight other ones that have been lucky to say that I shouldn’t do this again. That is what enforcement is all about.
We have seen events and parties being organised and people are asking why government needed to wait till after those events take place before enforcing COVID-19 protocol. How about you ensuring that before any event is hosted, people sort out permit issue, so that we can avert possible transmission that may arise from the event?
This is exactly what we have done. We have permit, clearance and certificates that were issued to every event centre and the protocol is well stated before the clearance was given. I have got letters written to me by owners of these event centres appealing and requesting that they are sorry and that they didn’t know their customers were going to flout the rules. And I said no, we gave you the protocol and all the things you should comply with but you flouted it.
They have left the premises but they remain shut. So, we really cannot police every of the single 5,000 event centres that we have, but what we have done is that we have issued them certificates. And if you are law-abiding, we have issued the protocol for you. We have told you the number of people that must be on a table. What should be the spacing of every table that you have and it is just a very simple thing for people to comply with. How many officers do I have in the Lagos State Safety Commission? I have like a thousand of them, how will they be able to go round and cover 5,000 event centres?
What we are saying in essence is that, people need to understand and know that we are in an era where people need to take responsibility for themselves and their loved ones. Of what benefit is it when you go to a social gathering; either you are infecting people or you leave your house or leave the event and start infecting people in your own houses that were not even part of the social event. I think it is just carelessness and recklessness on the part of people that get involved in that. We have made a few examples and some of those places we have shut them down and they will remain shut down for a while.
You recently made a statement, asking people who have malaria symptoms to go for COVID-19 test and there are a lot of responses and debates on that particular statement. Let us also talk about home care, which makes infected people to get treatment at home. How is the state government monitoring home care in such a way to prevent further transmission?
We have a home-care pack that we give to them and, in the pack, all the medications are there. But beyond that, we also follow up with what we call EkoTELEMED call centre by which healthcare professionals call home care patients. The number is 08000EKOMED. Health professionals are on the other side of the call centres in which they are dialing you, monitoring and asking you questions.
In the home-care pack we give out, you have hand sanitizers, face masks and temperature gauge. The professionals will call and ask you all necessary questions, such as “What is your temperature today? How are you feeling with the medication you are using? Are you still able to isolate in your house, home or wherever you are?” And if they realise that maybe your symptoms are not getting improved or your condition needs to be escalated, they will make arrangement to come and pick you up and that is kind of things that has been happening.
Lagos has over 44,000 cases and that show the magnitude of how many people who need to be vaccinated in a state with a population of about 20 million. I know that governors recently met under aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and there were some discussions about vaccine deployment or purchase. Seeing the peculiar position which Lagos has, as the epicentre of this virus, are you planning to purchase vaccines outside of the NGF’s plan and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19?
We are having conversations on this at different levels. We actually want the Federal Government to take the lead. As a sovereign, they have all the protocol and contacts to make that happen and we are conversing. We are still having another meeting on Tuesday with PTF and NCDC under the federal umbrella. Internationally, there is also a coalition that has come together; about 190 countries working with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
There is a list of how they want to be able to ensure that even the poor nations and the fairly-disadvantaged nations must also have the vaccines at some point in time. So, Nigeria has got involved in that but we want the nation to take the lead and we are giving them that space as a state and because they are sovereign they can have that conversation. But other than that, as a sub-national, we are also taking our destinies into our own hand. We have started conversation with some of the vaccines manufacturers.
I have made contact with Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca. Johnson and Johnson are not out yet. Moderna has written to us and we had written back to them. So, we are making our sub-national contacts and part of the thing that will come out of it is that once we see what the national is doing; because this is something that we do not want to be dealing with middlemen or people that are not in the frontline supply chain of some of these vaccines. We don’t want to run foul of the protocol. But we have started making contacted even at the board level with the manufacturers.
But how that will work out, we still have one or two weeks to see but we have started making the contacts already. And it is important for me to make this clear; we don’t have to vaccinate the 20 million people that we have in Lagos State. The plan is around to just ensure that there is herd immunity and that typically speaks about 50 to 60 per cent of the population. That is the kind of target we really need to meet.
With that target, you clearly have maybe a figure in mind; how much funds is Lagos State setting aside to purchase vaccines because this is not likely to be captured in the 2021 Budget of the state?
The conversations are still at various levels. We are speaking with the Organised Private Sector so they can also help us raise some of the money that is required. We have friends in the private sector who are telling us that they understand that this is public health issue but they also want to work with us because our citizens are also their staff.
We can have conversation and have a middle point that we will be able to jointly raise the finance that is required. So, we have a decent amount in our budget around COVID-19; billions that we put in there. Certainly, it will not be enough but a lot of grants will also come in from Gavi, which a global body we are speaking to. So, we know there will be support that will come in but we can make the first step in ensuring we put our money where our mouth is.
With the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry, the mandate is for six months, a lot of eyes are on that. The question people are asking again is “after that, what next”?
They have done about three months now and so let us be very patient with them. We have given them a job to do; it is a very difficult job. Let us be very positive that all the recommendations and decisions that will come out of it will be things that all of us will see that fairness, equity and transparency have come into it. I cannot begin to speculate or imagine what will come out of it and what will be there recommendations.
We have given them a job to do, so let us just hope, sit back and expect that with the caliber and integrity of people that are there, they will do a job that all of us will be truly proud of. When they come out with their recommendations, it also depends on what kind of recommendations. If they say XYZ should be given certain amount, they have the budget to be able to do that. If the recommendation is that a few people should be sanctioned, then we will look at the procedure of ensuring that those sanctions are meted out. If they say that some regulations or procedures should be improved upon, we will ensure that we bring out policy that will ensure that we don’t have a repeat performance. But I cannot begin to speculate what will be the outcome of they are saying. We can only but believe on the credibility of the citizens that we have put on that panel that they will do a good job and a fair one.
The Third Mainland Bridge has been repaired and that took months. What does 2021 hold for the Fourth Mainland Bridge you have talked about? When should we be expecting this year?
It is not only Fourth Mainland Bridge; Fourth Mainland Bridge is just going to be one of our deliverables. Fourth Mainland Bridge I must say is really off-balance sheet development. It is a PPP model and it is something that will marvel all of us. We are hoping that we can sign a concession before the end of this year. It is a 37-kilometre ring road. It is like M25 that you have in the United Kingdom and it is eventually going to hit the Lagos-Ibadan expressway when it finishes. But Fourth Mainland Bridge is the just one of it, but there are several landmark infrastructures that we will be delivering; our rail projects, the Redline and the Blueline. Before we end our administration, we believe it should be up and running.
We are doing severally bridges in the regional roads, the bridge in Pen Cinema which will be commissioned sometime next month or the month after. We are building roads in Ikorodu. We are doing road from Eleko Junction towards Epe. There are other connecting roads and we are spreading development right round the city. It is not only in one place but Fourth Mainland Bridge will be an icing because it is a 37-kilometre ring road that will take you from part of the city and take you right round exit of the city. So, it is something that we are really expecting, but like I said it is not on our own budget; it is an off-balance sheet item, meaning it is a PPP concession.