Irregular Narratives with the Management of Covid-19 in Edo

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

Among the states that Nigerians adjudged to have proactively managed the Covid 19 after it hit Nigeria in March 2020 was Edo. One of the first things the state government did was embark on a massive enlightenment campaign on guidelines for safety. The message Mr Obaseki successfully sent to Edo people that resonated with that that the UK and US governments, and indeed most Western countries, sent out was: stay home, observe social distance and wash your hands with soap and running water. Mr Obaseki also carried out a near day-by-day update on the Covid 19 situation in the state. And at a time when there were issues related to the shortage of testing of testing kits, and personal protective equipment, PPE, Mr Obaseki struck a deal with the Chinese for the provision of screening and test kits and PPE for health personnel.

Mr. Obaseki did not stop there. He went ahead, and at a speed considered insane by even the staunchest of critics renovated the Stella Obasanjo Hospital as a model screening and testing centre. And again, at a time when contemporary administrations were pussyfooting on testing and screening, Mr Obaseki had several boots on ground, and carried out several screenings and tests. The question at that time in Edo was not in the availability of screening and testing kits, but with the people, most of whom were anxious to come forward to be screened and tested.  Faced with this dilemma Mr Obaseki took this challenge head on, and went after certain index cases that had either gone into hiding from stigma of having been infected with the virus, or were anxious that if they screened and tested, they would test positive to the virus and get quarantined. When Mr Obaseki himself eventually caught the bug, he made it public, and brought a certain level of grace and charm to governance in Edo by going into isolation and letting his deputy take the reins of governance. With that move, the governor defined himself as one who can be seen as having one key element of a Shakespearean tragic hero, an important person who suffers a loss or personal injury that the rest of us can take a cue from, and therefore guard ourselves appropriately against the virus.

But things took a curious turn before and after September 19, 2020 governorship elections in Edo State.  In the shenanighans revolving around his many battles for political survival, Mr Obaseki seemed to have abandoned,  or better still jettisoned his stay at home-wash your hands-maintain-social-distance mantra to Edo people and residents. While churches, schools, markets, and businesses were supposed to have remained shut, political activities revved full throttle. People gathered together at political campaign avenues and venues of both political divides. There was no social distancing and most people did not don face masks.  It is impossible to arrive at a conjecture at what could have happened if Edo people had actually responded to the stay at home mantra and did not get involved with, in the political processes leading to his re-election as governor. But in participating in the processes of the Edo governorship election on September 19, 2020, everything the governor, the Covid 19 managers across Nigeria told Nigerians within the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic ran counter to the Covid 19 mantra. In participating in the September 19 governorship elections in Edo state, the people trooped out enmasse, broke all the rules on social distancing and nothing untoward seemed to have happened, except perhaps that that action effectively quarantined Governor Obaseki’s political godfather.

Yet, the one thing which is testing the Covid 19 narrative on social distancing in Edo is the National Sports Festival, billed initially for March through April 2020. Part of the consideration for moving the festival to October 25 – November 4 2020 was in the calculation that holding festival in a Covid era could be a recipe for disaster and unwarranted deaths. Over 15,000 sportsmen and women from the Nigerian Federation would have gathered across nine venues in the state.

What bewilders most Edo residents today is that with the ‘second wave’ of the Covid 19, and with news that it has a deadlier strain than that of the ‘first wave’, the man responsible for doing the utmost to safeguard his people from the Covid 19 is the same man asking the Federal government to give him money to organise a sports festival in Edo state.  With the recent news that the second wave would be more deadly than the first, Mr Obaseki has flooded the streets of Benin City with information and enlightenment posters like the ‘Coro neva go’, campaign. He has tasked Edo people to practice social distancing and has been arresting those flouting laws on face masks. For a man keen on human capital development as key thrusts of his second term, he has gone as far as moving the resumption dates for primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in Edo State to February 1 2021, when over 20 states in Nigeria have already resolved issues relating to school resumption.

In the light of the above, most Edo people say that Mr Obaseki seems to be making a mockery of the Covid 19 safety rules and guidelines for the sake of political expediency. In one breathe, you have a government seemingly putting all the structures in place to protect the lives and property of her citizens against Covid 19. In the other however, you have him seemingly playing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with the fortunes of Edo people with this huge interest in bringing in over 20,000 sports men and women in the name of a sports festival – and during a precarious epoch. He seems to cherry pick and choose which of the Covid 19 safety rules to follow.

Among the measures that the Edo government said it has put in place to mitigate the spread of Covid 19 during the Sports festival slated for February 14, include the usual suspects – hand washing, social distancing and the wearing of face masks by athletes and spectators. But during the September 19, 2020 governorship elections in Edo State, these same guidelines were in place.  Yet there was little or no compliance. Today, public buses aka Comrade Buses, and private commercial vehicles are filled to overflowing capacity, even with the ‘Coro neva go’ campaign. How is anyone sure that the same Covid 19 guidelines recklessly flouted in the ‘first wave’ and indeed during this ‘second wave’ would not be flouted at the various National Sports Festival centres and therefore expose us all to a clear and present danger in Edo state?

We believe that Mr Godwin Obaseki has done well with initial narrative on how to stay safe and avoid spreading or contracting the Covid 19, especially at this ‘second wave’. But making whatever preparations to organise a sports festival at this critical period of a ‘second wave’ of the Covid 19 is a bit awkward. A sports festival is a big crowd of persons – like a church, school, or market. While schools, churches and markets close and the participants go home, this proposed sports festival will have activities taking place daily, and stretching the capacity of resources available to manage the already difficult ‘second wave’ of the Covid 19 in Nigeria if accidents happen with the management of the protocols.

Mr Godwin Obaseki has been hailed as a human capital development expert. At the onset of his second term, he has taken certain steps to develop Edo people through his pro-people agenda. We call on him to focus on this. He can tarry on awhile for the Covid 19 to be maximally contained before then going ahead with the sport festival. Going ahead now, and especially when big fiestas like the Olympics are on hold, would be cutting our nose to spite our face.

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