By Franklyn Isong
One important tool in the fight against the COVID -19 pandemic is sufficient information to the people. In Akwa Ibom state, like foodstuffs, this tool is a scarce commodity. Just as the people are being starved of food palliatives by government, they are being denied enough information on the pandemic.
Two weeks ago, it took the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and other healthcare professionals in the state to publicly ask government for information on its preparation to handle possible case(s) of the pandemic in the state. The group also requested for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals scheduled to handle the disease.
Although, in less than 24 hours, the government reacted speaking separately through the commissioners for Health and that of Information, Dominic Ukpong and Charles Udoh, respectively, dismissing the health professionals as being politically sponsored, the group had passed a message, that all is not well in the state.
The controversy that ensued afterwards between the two commissioners and the health professionals, almost painted the state in bad light but for the intervention of the Governor.
Again, last week, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced five positive cases in the state. The state was thrown into confusion, anxiety and fear, because the first official reaction of the government through the Commissioner for Health, Dominic Ukpong, was to fault the NCDC procedure and dismissed the test result. This again, put the state as the first to attempt to politicise the pandemic. Twitter went agog with all manner of deductions and negative comments about Akwa Ibom state.
It took the Governor, Udom Emmanuel, to salvage the image of the state through a state broadcast, accepting the NCDC test result, by implication, dismissing his commissioner’s press statement on the matter.
Since then, the Governor either “directed” the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Emmanuel Ekuwem, to issue a press statement or brief the press on the pandemic, or he personally give the update himself.
Yesterday, Thursday, 9th April, 2020, another ugly development in the information management surfaced. Bishop Dr. Emmanuel Etim, Chairman, PFN, Akwa Ibom state chapter, issued a statement titled: “CHURCHES TO HOLD SERVICE ON GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER SUNDAY”; saying, “In relation to the directive by the state government and as announced by the Chairman, CAN, AKWA IBOM STATE. REV. DR. NDUESO EKWERE , the ban on church services has been lifted for good Friday and Easter Sunday.”
Moments later, a press statement emerged from the SSG titled: “REVISED LOCKDOWN GUIDELINES FOR THE EASTER SEASON”. Part of the release said; “In the spirit of the Easter season, Akwa Ibom State Government has approved guidelines for religious activities on Last Supper (Thursday), Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday as follows:…”
And, today, Friday, 10th April, 2020, a counter statement emerged from the commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, titled: “COVID-19 LOCKDOWN IS STILL IN OPERATIONS IN AKWA IBOM STATE”. The later statement countered the two earlier statements, that is, that of PFN and SSG on the subject.
Parts of Charles Udoh’s release stated; “Following the latest review of the current global COVID-19 situation and taking into account the need for continued protection of all citizens and residents in the state against the threat of the raging pandemic, it has become necessary to reiterate that the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations 2020 is still in operations.
“However, churches and religious gatherings are allowed on Friday, April 10 and Sunday April 12, 2020 BUT MUST comply strictly to the following guidelines. All churches and religious gatherings MUST disperse early enough to ensure that members of the congregation return home on or before 1pm,” Udoh insisted.
With the foregoing, Akwa Ibom people are left in total confusion as who speaks for government. And which information to obey.
How did Akwa Ibom people get to this pathetic situation? Elsewhere updates on the pandemic is on a daily basis handled by the State Governors, in Akwa Ibom, the people have to demand for information and when it finally comes, the people are left in a worst situation than they were. Sad!
I cannot but give kudos to state governors who are leading the fight against COVID-19 from the front instead of leading from the back, as maybe said in Akwa Ibom.
This is the time to know the true leadership quality of individual state governors. This is the time to see and assess the capacity and experience of these governors by their people.
Akwa Ibom people are watching and taking stocks of unfolding drama in the state. At the appropriate time, when the coronavirus crisis is over, they will be able to speak up and place issues in perspective.
I haven’t said anything o! Let the drama continue to unfold.
This is the right time to say “Akwa Ibom DAKKADA!”
*Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator and conscience of the society.