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OPINION – Covid-19 Pandemic: A Revealing Collage of Governor Ugwuanyi’s Archetype

By Steve Oruruo

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – The annals of Nigerian history vividly document the events of the second half of 2014 in golden tablets. On Sunday, precisely the 20th of July 2014, an American-Liberian lawyer, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, collapsed upon arrival at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. He was taken to First Consultant Hospital for the urgently needed medical attention. Dr. Stella Adadevoh, crisscrossing the delineation of medical specialization, spearheaded a correct diagnosis of Mr. Sawyer, who was to be Nigeria’s index case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). Dr. Adadevoh, who today is justly celebrated as a national icon, was also reported to have improvised an isolation ward to quarantine Mr. Sawyer in moral defiance of threats from superior political authorities. She saved thousands of lives by this very heroic stance, for which she paid the ultimate price barely a month later.

Dr. Adadevoh taught the nation and Africa several lessons – of sacrifice, of sense of duty, of selflessness, of the divinely-ordained supremacy of common good, and most of all, she taught Nigeria the weight of proaction as against the seeming national philosophy of reactionary theatricals.

So, when about six years later the novel coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei province and began to spread like wildfire across continental boundaries, it was a déjà vu of sorts, behoving Nigeria to reenact the classic _Adadevoh Playbook_. Dr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the Executive Governor of Enugu State, has gone beyond this vital reenactment to set new positive narratives, in his archetypal response to the pandemic.

*As soon as Nigeria reported its index case of Covid-19, an Italian who came into the country late February, the governor of Enugu State attuned his governance thrust to prioritize the existential threat posed by the vicious disease. Some millions of naira were released by Dr. Ugwuanyi to the management of the State Isolation Centre, strategically followed by a relocation of the centre to the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) Teaching Hospital. Shortly after, the sum of N330 million naira was approved by the State Executive Council (EXCO) to meet both exigent infrastructural and recurrent needs towards tackling the scourge. The people’s Governor was building a fortress in readiness for a battle, whose disastrous potency was in the league of the World Wars and the devastating 1918 Spanish Flu.*

The state was yet to record its index case of Covid-19 when the governor triggered a robust tactical implementation of social distancing in order to break the envisaged chains of transmission. Public and private academic institutions were directed to shut down on or before Friday, March 27, accompanied by strict orders for all the other operational public places including banks, markets, supermarkets, shopping malls, hotels, among others, to observe the highest level of personal hygiene, including the use of sanitizers and handwashing materials. These actions also served to brew a novel consciousness in the state – fostering a solemn safety awareness and collective action among _Ndi Enugu_.

*As the tempo increased in Lagos and a few other states in the country, Governor Ugwuanyi addressed Ndi Enugu on the 24th Day of March, inspiring new determination and strength, and announcing more pertinent proactive measures. A Multi-Sectoral Rapid Response Team comprising representatives of relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, including local and international partners such as Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), WHO and UNICEF, was set up and inaugurated.*

Amongst other measures, cultural and social gatherings were prohibited, even as the grassroots political leadership were mandated to sustain ongoing public enlightenment protocol for prevention of Covid-19 transmission in markets, parks and other relevant places. The observation of new rules of passenger conveyance to reflect social distancing was directed. Although the address necessitated some drastic social reordering, Ndi Enugu in devoted solidarity, embraced it wholeheartedly as a sine qua non for victory; a tacit reaffirmation of unfaltering faith in the leadership of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

*In compassionate and dutiful recognition of the frontline actors, the governor approved the immediate provision of Group Life/Group Personal Accident Assurance Policy for all medical doctors under the State Ministry of Health and all other health workers. A 25% Covid-19 allowance was earmarked to be paid to all healthcare workers in addition to their monthly salaries. The heroes who were to face heavy workloads and high risk of infection at the epicenter of the pandemic, inspite of the dissuading shenanigans by a few recalcitrant dissidents, had a reassuring asset in Dr. Ugwuanyi, who always has their welfare on the front burner.*

*Inter-boundary movement is at the heart of economic progress, social integration, national cohesion and our collective prosperity in Enugu State, nay Nigeria. However, it heightened the risk of Covid-19 incidence in the state. The onus rested on the administration to devise strategies to reconcile these opposing but indispensable concerns. Consequently, the Governor made a thoughtful decision to close all land borders and inter-state transportation in Enugu till further notice, with effect from 6pm on March 31, 2020, but without prejudice to movement of persons on medical emergency and those dealing on essential supplies like food, water and pharmaceuticals, provided and unless certain safety terms and conditions were diligently and strictly adhered to.*

The will of the government to enforce this directive manifested in separate events, on April 23 and May 7, as tens of vehicles loaded with passengers were intercepted by the military and escorted out of the state with the assistance of the police. For integrity and efficacy assurance especially in the face of ever evolving incursive strategies of the recalcitrant journey men, the governor further mobilized the locals, vigilantes and forest guards through the various Council Chairmen to man the boundaries and vehemently resist flouters.

Preparedness met the state’s first two index cases, both coalescing into an ecosystem of efficiency in handling and adequate treatment.

The government went ahead to acquire additional ambulances and incident vehicles to support the state’s response. Vigorous and extensive contact tracing proceeded to forestall community spread which could have been the beginning of a catastrophic escalation. In the same breath, the Governor ordered the closure of all markets, exempting those dealing on essential commodities including foods and pharmaceuticals, another tough task for _Ndi Enugu_ whose compliance save for a few incorrigible elements had remained unmatched.

*While working for the best, Governor Ugwuanyi continued to prepare for the worst, a modified adoption of the ‘worst-case scenario’ concept, typical of strategic planning, or more specifically, scenario planning. The ultra-modern Enugu State Medical Diagnostic Centre was approved for use as Covid-19 isolation and treatment centre. More isolation centres were activated and fully equipped in various focal locations within the metropolis and Nsukka axis, including the former Colliery hospital which was acquired and extensively rehabilitated*.

Fumigation of all public places in line with best practices and empirical advisement was carried out in the state, using the institutional structure, manpower and instruments of the State Fire Service, in what is being dubbed ‘a pioneering initiative’.

Both index cases of the disease in Enugu were discharged a day apart, one on April 15 and the other on April 16, to the Glory of God, in whose hands the Governor had nestled the state. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) threw Enugu on the national spotlight, commending its efforts and effectiveness in the management of the pandemic.

*The partial shutdown of the state’s economy created some financial straits especially for the most vulnerable population including old people, motherless babies, and people with disabilities (PWDs). His Excellency, the Governor of Enugu State was awake to this harsh fallout and responded in equal measure. Through political, religious and social structures and institutions, relief materials were disbursed throughout the state, prioritizing those in most dire need. Various Local Government Councils and well-meaning individuals were enjoined to mitigate the sufferings of the people via palliative programmes too. Just recently, with a flattening of the disease curve being projected, the governor has allowed a supervised reopening of the economy, whose fulcrum is public health safety considerations.*

*Covid 19 has exposed various institutions all over the world to be weak; from government, health industry down to emergency units. Fake news, misinformation, irrational policies, Government and personal misjudgments and disproportionate implementations of well-intended executive orders have contrived to relegate the poorer majority to the narrowest fringes of survival. The biggest health challenge is not even Covid-19. It’s the wanton carelessness towards the poorer majority by some unscrupulous politicians and economic leaders who consciously ignore them in pursuit of greed, profligacy and the elitist conspiracy of primitive accumulation of needless wealth. This pandemic is only but a warning sign of many harsh realities on the way. I envisage a rapid replacement of protracted profligacy with a tailored frugality, governmental and individual extravagance with shrewdness, government’s habitual glamour, glitz, trappings and razzmatazz with educated temperance, poor institutions with stronger and more efficient institutions, more foreign leisure and adventurous trips with only unavoidable oversea trips, and more importantly, dependability on humongous material acquisition with infinite trust in God. In fact, a new world is coming.*

*We are fighting an invisible enemy christined Coronavirus, and it has arrived with a new wave of tsunami of hate, xenophobia and sectarian sentiments. Instead of burying his people under an avalanche of recriminations with divisive and fascist proclamations dispatched with the accustomed cadence of a Persian emperor, Governor Ugwuanyi has maintained under this siege, a soothing demeanor only reminiscent of his own accustomed mien. Sensing that the endless chasm between extremities of penury and opulence intertwined in the daily dance of life will keep expanding; his basket of meekness located the downtrodden without prejudice to religious and ethnic sentiments.*

As at today, Sunday the 17th day of May, 2020, over 4.6 million inhabitants of this planet have been infected  with nearly 312 thousand fatalities. *To save his people from the marauding and horrifying consequences of this pandemic, Governor Ugwuanyi has constantly denied himself sound sleep, moving from border to border, and street to street, in a devoted but desperate bid to ensure compliance. But with zero Covid-19 fatalities in Enugu State despite being the northern gateway to the East, Governor Ugwuanyi’s response archetype is undoubtedly premier and accentuates the several leadership milestones that have characterized his era in the Eastern Capital. Enugu State is gradually but speedily defeating this pandemic in the same dogged spirit with which it has conquered every other challenges throughout its chequered history as the cradle of Igbo civilization.*

STEVE ORURUO is the Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on information

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