In continuation of the fight to check the spread of coronavirus, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has announced the compulsory use of face masks in the state.
Governor Wike also stated that the State Security Council will in the next 24 hours take stringent measures against commercial transport operators for their failure to observe social distancing.
He said: "The wearing of face mask in all public places is now compulsory throughout the State.
" The State’s Security Council will meet in the next 24 hours to consider and approve necessary mitigating measures for commuters, including the deployment of Government buses to shuttle designated public routes free of charge."
Governor Wike said though the State Government agrees with President Muhammadu Buhari on the gradual re-opening of the country, it will continue to take critical steps on the peculiarities of the state.
"While we agree with Mr. President’s decision to gradually re-open the country for business, we shall be guided by the peculiarities of our State on when to relax the measures we have put in place and gradually restore business activities to the State.
" Until then, I wish to restate that we love all residents of Rivers State. Please maintain social distancing, stay at home, wear face mask in public places and stay safe, " he said.
The Governor warned that the State Government will impose a complete lockdown of Rumuokoro, Elimgbu and Rumukurushi if they continue with night markets and total disregard of Government directive on social distancing.
He said: "Cmmunity leaders and residents in Rumuokoro, Elimgbu and Rumukurushi are hereby warned for the last time to either comply with our directives on social distancing and desist all business activities, including night markets or risk a total lockdown in these areas and the permanent closure of the Rumuokoro (Oil mill) market."
Speaking on the state of COVID-19 transmission in Rivers State, Governor Wike recounted the pattern of transmission and the obvious sabotage by security agencies which has frustrated efforts to check the spread of coronavirus.
He said: "The logical conclusion therefore, is that the pattern of transmission of COVID-19 in the State is evidentially predicated on outside importation just as the rate of infection and progression is also relatively low and arithmetical, when considered from the date of the index case.
"Generally, we believe that unless there is a sudden and vertical slide into community transmission, we expect our COVID-19 infection and prevalent rate to continue along this low trajectory, which gives us the assurance that our hard work is paying off and Rivers State is certainly not in any dangerous position when compared to most other States, and we will never be by God’s special grace.
"This is not to say that we are at the peak of this crisis and that everything about the containment and transmission of COVID-19 is under control. No; we are not, because of the challenges occasioned primarily by the negative elements that continue to undermine and sabotage our efforts to protect our people from this disease.
" For instance, the 7th infected case was an offshore oil and gas worker who went and passed a night in a Lagos hotel before returning to Port Harcourt on the 9th of April 2020 with the aid of the security personnel manning our borders. When his symptoms started, he was admitted to a private hospital, (St. Martin’s Hospital) on the 20th and discharged on the 21st of April 2020. Had the security agencies not compromised their responsibility at the borders, this man would have been prevented from coming into Port Harcourt with this virus and threaten the lives of other people for over two weeks before he was evacuated to the treatment center."
Governor Wike said that his administration has trained health professionals to tackle coronavirus, procured relevant Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers, purchased and received Ventilators for the treatment of infected people.
He added that the State Government has established a Task Force on Border Closure and also taken delivery of 250-bed Isolation Centre sponsored by the private sector, in addition to treatment and holding centres established by State Government.
Governor Wike informed that the State Government has received one GeneXpert RT-PCR testing machine from TOTAL E & P, which is ready to be used and will be deployed for testing in the State.
The Governor added that Pamo Hospital has also donated another PCR machine to Rivers State, improving capacity of the State Government to test for coronavirus.
The Governor regretted that the Federal Government is yet to support the Rivers State Government in the fight against coronavirus. He described as unfortunate the situation where the NCDC is yet to establish a laboratory in Rivers State.
He said "We are virtually fighting this battle without any tangible material support from the Federal Government. We are wondering as most of you may also be, that up till now the NCDC has not established any testing center in the State in spite of our position, huge socio-economic and demographic mix and high transmission threat hanging over us as a result. Was this deliberate? If not so, why and what was the justification for this dangerous neglect, which is obviously limiting our capacity to expand testing for this virus in the State.
"But, for us as a Government, every single new infection of COVID-19 in our State is one too many. We shall therefore continue to take every necessary measure to control and possibly end the transmission of this disease in Rivers State in spite of the enormous challenges and lack of concrete support from the Federal Government.
"It is for the very reason that we have taken our fate in our own hands with the establishment of the Border security task force, which has been mandated to provide and ensure a water-tight situation in all our entry and exit points and prevent any unauthorized entry and or exit of persons and vehicles into the State during the period of the closure."
On the distribution of palliatives, the Rivers State Governor commended the Desmond Akawor led committee for living up to the expectations of Rivers people.
He added that the committee for the procurement of foodstuffs has performed creditably in the purchase of foodstuffs from local farmers and fishermen.
He said: "Reports reaching us from independent monitors indicate that, so far, both Committees are creditably executing their respective mandate in spite of the difficult logistical challenge that is involved.
"As a matter of fact, the Procurement Committee has so far purchased and delivered to our ware houses local food items, including garri, yam, beans, fish, palm oil, plantain, tomatoes and onions worth over 590 million naira.
"The Food Distribution Committee has successfully distributed food packages to vulnerable households in 16 Local Government Areas, namely: Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt, Ikwerre, Eleme, Omuma, Bonny, Opobo/Nkoro, Tai, Okrika, Etche, Akuku Toru, Asari Toru, Oyigbo, Gokana, Khana, and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni."
Governor Wike reiterated that the Strategy of his administration is to contain, prevent or minimize the spread of the disease and save the lives of Rivers people.
The Governor who outlined several steps taken so far, pointed out that his administration is achieving these objectives significantly.
In a question and answer session, Governor Wike said that the response of the Federal Government to the request by Kano State for support shows the level of inconsistency in the system.
"I committed no crime calling for support. If they support us, we will also commend them like Kano State has done.
"There are those they prefer as the owners of the country, while others are deliberately neglected. This is unfortunate."
Governor Wike said that following the fact that an oil worker from the rig tested positive, the State Government will review all the permits granted oil companies to move workers to oil platforms.
He said: "When you raise these issues, some local politicians seeking governorship ticket, say that we must beg. It is a matter of cooperation to ensure the safety of our people.
"Let nobody deceive these oil companies. They should not risk the lives of their workers. We are seeking the support of oil companies to save the lives of our people. Nobody is saying don't drill oil, but it must be done with the consideration of the safety of Rivers people."
On Palliatives by the Federal Government, Governor Wike said that Rivers state Government rejected the food Palliatives , because the rice was contaminated and bad for consumption.
"The rice has expired and we cannot go to Cross River to go and collect contaminated rice," he said.
The Governor regretted that even at the time of war against coronavirus, the Federal Government is playing politics with the security agencies.
"All the security personnel involved in the arrest of those who invaded the state during the fight against coronavirus have been transferred. The Commissioner of Police, the Director DSS and the Air Force Commander have been transferred.
"If they cannot work with State Governments to fight coronavirus, then we should expect problem in the future. I pity the security personnel. Once they put in their best, they are transferred.
"That is why we have set up out Task Force on Border Closure to ensure that they don't compromise our borders," he said.
Commenting on the deportation of Almajiris, Governor Wike said if it started from Rivers state, the Federal Government would have vehemently opposed the idea.
He said: "I thank God this came from our northern brothers. The Kaduna State Government said most of the Almajiris have tested positive to coronavirus. If I was the first person the Federal Government would have declared that nobody has the right to deport a Nigerian. Now, because it came from them, the Federal Government has supported them."
He noted that the Rivers State Government is working hard to sanitize the state by removing those who are likely to transmit coronavirus from the streets.
The Governor added that the Rivers State Government will also dislodge those trading on dollars on the streets of new GRA in Port Harcourt. He said they have refused to maintain Social distancing and respect Government's directive.
On the Palliatives by Private Sector Coalition, Governor Wike said that the State Government will not accept such Palliatives until Rivers farmers and fishermen are patronised. He said that the coalition must as of necessity, buy from Rivers Farmers and Fishermen before their foodstuffs will be accepted.
Commenting on the N11billion unilaterally withdrawn from the Federation Account and handed over to the police, Governor Wike said that he has directed the State Attorney General to drag the Federal Government to court.
He said: "Our lawyers will prepare our papers and we will go to court. Nobody says you cannot support the police, but you must get the consent of states before taking their money. I have told the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum that Rivers State will challenge this matter in court."
Responding to a question on the planned quarantine of NCDC officials by the Cross River State Government, Governor Wike said though the government of Cross River State is right, if it had been from him, the permanent critics would have been at their worst.
On the request by the Northern Governors Forum for support from the Federal Government in the fight against coronavirus, Governor Wike wondered why nobody has accused them of fighting the Federal Government.
He said: "When the Rivers State Government requested support, they said it is an offence punishable by death. Anything the Rivers State Government requests, they say it is a crime. But we are saying that they should treat Rivers State the way they treat other states."