SENIOR government officials and party chieftains are running helter-skelter to avoid being hit with COVID-19 spiraling infection and disconnecting from their political base, a Saturday Tribune survey has shown.
The past weeks have recorded a surge in COVID-19 deaths among top government functionaries and leading political figures, with two governors and families already in isolation due to the raging pandemic.
Leaders of the two major political parties have adopted stringent measures aimed at protecting them from COVID-19 infection.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Yekini Nabena, said his party had reached out to the NCDC to conduct tests on staffers of the secretariat, especially members of the media who are more mobile than the actual workers of the secretariat.
“The protocol adopted is that the maximum number of visitors to the chairman is two and those persons must have their face masks on and must use sanitiser right there before transacting any business with him. The same measure is applicable to other officers of the party,” he said.
The National Publicity Secretary of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan, said the party has adopted safety measures to arrest the spread of the virulent coronavirus at the party’s secretariat. He said: “We have also institutionalised safety protocol around our environment such that before you enter the party secretariat, your temperature is checked and you are expected to wash your hands with soap and water or use sanitiser posted at the various entries into the secretariat.
“As we speak, only the operational department comprising the legal, organising media and naturally the security are mandated to come to work.
Even at that, they prorate it in a manner that everybody can come in their scheduled dates because not everybody can be in the office at the same day.
“A lot of things have changed in the offices. We have stopped having press conferences in my office, we have introduced outdoor media engagement with reporters and cameramen it is the same way with other offices in the party Secretariat.”
Data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed the number of confirmed 616 COVID-19 deaths across the country as of Friday morning.
According to the statistics, as of yesterday morning, Lagos had recorded 132 deaths, Federal Capital Territory, 35; Oyo, 12; Kano, 52; Edo, 43; Delta, 25; Rivers, 38; Ogun, 19; Kaduna, 12; Katsina, 23; Bauchi, 12 and Gombe (19). The figures also indicated that Borno recorded 33 deaths, Ebonyi, 3; Plateau, 10; Ondo, 20; Imo, 6; Abia, 3; Enugu, 9; Jigawa, 9; Kwara, 9; Bayelsa, 15; Nasarawa; 8 and Sokoto, 15.
Other states and the corresponding numbers of recorded COVID-19 deaths are Osun (6), Niger (7), Akwa Ibom (2), Adamawa (6), Kebbi (7), Zamfara (5), Anambra (9), Benue (1), Yobe (8), Ekiti (2), Taraba (0) and Kogi (1). Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa and his Ondo State counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu, who tested positive alongside their immediate family members and top aides are now receiving treatment, cut off from the public. But it is the fatality rate of recent that is taking its toll on politics and governance for the men of power.
In late April, the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, lost his Chief Security Officer, Alhaji Lateef Raheem, to the pandemic. Considering his expansive political influence, he and many around him were compelled to take the tests for the virus.
While he reportedly returned negative alongside his wife, family members and members of staff, an unnamed aide still tested positive. The NCDC was then said to have undertaken contact tracing on Raheem’s case, while the unnamed aide was taken into isolation.
Findings showed that in Abuja and the states, senior party and government officials on the one hand and their close aides on the other are becoming suspicious of one another and ultra-sensitive about how they relate during this period, since they are officially bound to relate.
Reports from across the states indicated that governors have scaled down their public activities, including the number of visitors they receive in their offices and homes.
An aide to a governor in the South-West told Saturday Tribune that everybody is now ensuring tactical contact, despite the official duties that compel daily interaction. The source noted that at a point, all aides simply stayed away from the office and only those urgently and indispensable needed were asked to come around.
“Even now, it is still only guided courtesy visits that are approved. Everybody must learn a lesson from this COVID thing. Oga (his principal) himself is as careful as anyone. He sees you when it is absolutely necessary and since the offices are not clogged and everybody does not have to cluster, you are expected to stay in your office except when called upon.
“Politicians have now known their limits. Nobody can see anybody anyhow again. This thing has even gone to the level of home and husband and wife coming together. From experience, if you have medical personnel as your partner, it is better to be careful,” he said.
Those who usually have large gatherings around them as a way of life in the country, like senior lawyers, top government officials and politicians have reasons to be worried due to the events of the past three weeks.
Eminent Nigerians like the immediate past governor of Oyo State and Deputy National Chairman of the ruling party, Abiola Ajimobi; Chief Judge of Kogi State, Justice Nasir Ajanah; an Enugu State High Court judge, Justice Fidelis Ngwu and Ondo State Commissioner for Health, Wahab Adegbenro, were lost to the pandemic within days.
The Oyo State Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Seun Fakorode, is presently nursing the infection in isolation.
In Ondo State, Akeredolu is in isolation and it is not clear who is ruling the state since power has not been transferred to his estranged deputy, Agboola Ajayi, who has since defected to the opposition party.
The disease is deemed widespread in government and political circles in Ondo State due to the uptick in political activities for the coming governorship election on October 10. It was learnt that some of the state lawmakers and political associates that provided a populist show for the governor when he visited APC’s secretariat in Abuja to file his papers for a second term intention have likely come down with the virus too.
A former governor of a south-western state is said to have forbidden needless appearance of his aides around him, despite remaining a major political force in the state with a considerable following. A source in the know disclosed that the said elderly politician has directed that all political transactions be conducted via telephone.
Also included in his ban-list are journalists, according to the source. “If you want an interview now, it has to be through the phone. He doesn’t welcome anyone in his home again,” the source disclosed. Senior government officials are reportedly worried that not knowing who their aides relate with the outside of the official hours makes it difficult for them to know the extent of personal safety measures to put in place.
Bolaji Tunji, official spokesperson to the late Ajimobi, in his tribute, reeled out the comprehensive preventive measures put in place at the home and office of the late politician to forestall possible contact with the virus. He wondered where the slip came into such a fortified arrangement.
For some of these aides, they have to share some official vehicles with their principal as was the case with Tinubu and the late Raheem. Tinubu, in his tribute to him, had said Raheem was a trusted aide who was always with him.
Medical experts have consistently advised that the air conditioning system of vehicles having a sizeable number of passengers should be turned off. Possibly for security purposes, vehicles in the convoys of VIPs hardly have their AC system turned off, regardless of the number of passengers.
Government houses and political gatherings are feared to be the next epicentre of the virus, as more governors and top functionaries report in positive.
Despite the repeated denial by governors of Kogi and Cross River states of COVID-19’s existence in their states, the NCDC has credited cases to them, prompting a backlash for the duo from the medical world and the public. Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, a few days ago, lost an aide, Siaka Oyibo, the second in a row. The causes of their deaths were not made known.
While governors and others are reportedly worried about the company their aides keep outside official hours, the suspects are also said to be worried about their bosses and where they get to be out of view. Politicians in Nigeria hold a lot of nocturnal meetings where aides, including seemingly indispensable ones, are not readily admitted into. This is an aid to be giving aides to VIPs a lot of body goose, particularly when they have to be in the same vehicles with them, all wound up, with the air conditioning system on.
The virus is known to thrive in cool settings and atmospheres. According to medical experts, a sneeze from an infected person in such settings is a trigger for a spread. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria(identity withheld) told SaturdayTribune that he gave his office a wide berth when prominent Nigerians started dying from the virus’ attack.
According to him, he has decided not to be present in the office again until the virus disappears. “I don’t go out again. I ave lawyers there (chambers) and my children who are lawyers are also with them. This thing (virus) is not good for old people like me. Young people can still cope. If we are doing an interview now, it has to be through Zoom and the cost is okay. I use it now. I won’t go out until corona is gone,” he said amidst laughter.
Just like lawyers, judges, too, are said to be scared for their safety, given their ages and the kind of persons, especially awaiting-trial suspects, who appear in their courts. Judges, lawyers scared too A judge who spoke with Saturday Tribune none of the southern states on condition of anonymity said generally, he and some of his colleagues have suspended what he described as outside engagements. He said: “Judges are very vulnerable, especially when suspects come from prisons diseased. The challenge of old age is there. More than 70 per cent of us are above 50 years.
“The death of two heads of courts in Kogi State within one-week interval shook most of us. “We have seriously reduced our outside engagements. I have abandoned my farm. I used to go there twice a week. I only supervise by phone now.
“Like every enclosed environment, even sitting in the car with policemen and driver with windows wound up while going to work is making one quite uncomfortable. It is difficult to track who these personal aides interact with after work.” Amid intensified activities ahead of the governorship election in Ondo State and the increasing cases of coronavirus infection in the state, politicians in the state are also said to be jittery, with most of them now paying special attention to safety measures to avoid falling victim to the disease.
Some of the politicians spoke to Saturday Tribune on how they are guarding themselves against contracting COVID-19. The media aide to one of the governorship aspirants, Chief Olusola Oke, Mr Rotimi Ogunleye, said his principal’s campaign team had been very careful in going about its activities.
Ogunleye said: “The first measure is to control the number of people that will attend our meetings at every point in time. We bring in people that will occupy the place and yet will be able to maintain the social distance rule. “Also, in each of our offices or meeting venues, you must wear your nose mask, wash your hands and use the hand sanitiser. We make sure we provide hand sanitiser everywhere we go and we are very mindful of the sitting arrangement “These are measures that we don’t compromise because our health is at stake, and we don’t want to jeopardise the health of others.
The rule is, if you don’t wear a nose mask, you cannot attend our meetings. “If you don’t wash and sanitise your hands, you can’t attend our meetings, which is basically meant for a few people.”
Chairman of the APC in the state, Mr Ade Adetimehin, said the party had resolved to continue to respect the safety protocols against COVID-19. He said the party had directed all its aspirants to observe these protocols as they campaign. He said: “As party leaders, it is our duty to ensure that we curb the spread of the coronavirus.
I have been living by example by adhering to the rules and keeping myself from contracting the disease. “We have resolved to continue to respect the protocols by observing the social distancing rule, sanitising our hands and using nose masks whenever we have meetings. “We have also directed our aspirants on the field to keep to these rules in order to slow down the spread of the disease. It is for our own good to keep safe and also protect our people. This is one of the reasons we constantly remind them to observe the COVID -19 protocols.
“We have also advised them to encourage their followers and supporters to keep following the rules so that we can continue to have a disease-free society.”
By Lanre Adewole, Lagos