It is no more headline news that COVID-19 has upended lives around the world, creating disruptions in almost every aspect of the society and exacerbating existing pressures. For people living with a disability and orphaned children, however, the outbreak has multiplied the pre-existing challenges they face as vulnerable members of the society, making them more vulnerable to contracting the virus and to the adverse impacts associated with the outbreak.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from within and outside the Niger Delta region, in conjunction with representatives of various communities in the region, have called for a total change of leadership in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. They made the call at a virtual roundtable with the theme: POSITION DIALOGUE ON THE NDDC, which was convened by Social Development Integrated Centre (SOCIAL ACTION) and the African Centre for Media, Information and Literacy (AFRICMIL) on Friday, 17th July, 2020. The meeting was held in the light of events at the NDDC, ranging from allegations of contract frauds and fiscal recklessness, to Procurement law infractions, audit violations, cronyism, non-budgetary and extra-budgetary spending, and extensive disregard to procedural rules.
The Civil Society Organisation Forum in Akwa Ibom State under the auspices of the CSO Situation Room has called on the State Government to account for the COVID-19 intervention funds which it has so far, received. According to the CSO Network, the demand was made in the interest of promoting transparency and accountability in the management and utilisation of public resources, as well as building public trust. It noted that the Akwa Ibom State Government has an obligation to make public every source of funding, received with respect to the COVID-19 outbreak to help the State respond effectively to the scourge and curtail its impacts. But till date, the government has failed to disclose this very important information to the public. The State Government had earlier disclosed that the State had spent One Billion Naira in fighting COVID-19, but no further detail was given with regards to how the funds were sourced and expended.
The ONELGA Security Peace and Advisory Council, popularly known as OSPAC, has been accused of illegally detaining and torturing innocent persons in Rivers State, on suspicion of being connected to cultism and kidnapping in the State. There have been several reports of human rights violations perpetrated by members of OSPAC, a vigilante group set up in 2016 at Omoku, capital of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA (ONELGA) in Rivers State. The civilian militia group which was brought into existence, following the increase in crime rate and the failure of the state security agencies to successfully tackle the insecurity, has since expanded to other parts of the State including Emohua and Ikwerre LGAs. The Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action, in collaboration with the Civil Rights Council (CRC), have noted that the mode of operation of OSPAC included the arrest, detention and torture of persons suspected to be cultists or criminals. However, many persons have been wrongly arrested, detained and treated in an inhumane and degrading manner by the civilian militia. This deliberate violation of the presumption of innocence of an accused person, constitutes an abuse of human rights and a violation of Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which states that an accused person shall be deemed innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, not much attention has been paid to the illegal activities of OSPAC by security agencies in the State.
CRC reports that in May 2020, some men of the OSPAC invaded Isiokpo in Ikwerre LGA and arrested innocent youths and Ogoja labourers who were returning from the farm. Those arrested were subjected to inhumane treatments, including physical torture and starvation. On June 7, 2020, it was reported that men of OSPAC stormed Isiokpo and arrested innocent citizens who were going about their lawful duties, while acting on a tip-off that some members of a criminal gang were taking refuge in the community. Innocent persons were allegedly arrested alongside some confirmed members of the criminal syndicate. It was further learnt that the leadership of OSPAC and several community groups have expressed their support for the crude methods deployed by OSPAC and deemed such human rights violations, a necessary evil, in order for kidnapping to be stopped and peace restored to the communities. It is widely believed that their extra-judicial methods, despite being against the fundamental principles of human rights, produce the desired results. Hence, the human rights violations could be condoned in the interest of maintaining security. It has been accepted by several communities where OSPAC operates, that human rights abuse and unwarranted arrest of innocent citizens cannot be ruled out in such operations.
Social Action decries the wrongful normalisation of human rights violations as a sad commentary, resulting from the systemic failure of the government to provide security and the decades of communal wars, violence and inhumane, degrading treatment meted out on people extra-judicially. Several community folks regard violence, jungle justice and extra-judicial killings as immediate punishment to be justifiably meted out on suspected criminals, without recourse to a proper trial by a court of law. They fail to avert their minds to the rule of law which stands to protect innocent citizens. This ugly trend, if not urgently checkmated, could lead to an extra-judicial killing of people, reminiscent of the horrific incident which occurred in Rivers State in 2012, involving four students of UNIPORT, popularly called ALUU 4, who were tortured and lynched in Aluu community over wrongful allegations made against them for which they weren’t allowed their rights to a fair trial.
Social Action and CRC therefore call on the Rivers State Government to immediately bring an end to the violation of human rights perpetrated by OSPAC. Rather than turn a blind eye to the impunity and lawlessness demonstrated by members of OSPAC in addressing insecurity in the State, the State Government may wish to legitimately adopt the group as a State-owned vigilante group via the instrumentality of a law which must be duly passed by the Rivers State House of Assembly. In addition, there ought to be an adequate and regular training of all members of OSPAC. OSPAC must be made to complement the efforts of the Police, and not replace the Police. Arrested persons suspected to be criminals, should be handed over to the Police for proper investigation and prosecution, if deemed necessary. OSPAC as a group, must not be allowed to continue as a law on to itself, as such impunity, in addition to the human rights abuse, could lead to extra-judicial killings and communal clashes, given the fragile peace and volatility of some communities in the State.
BAYELSA STATE CIVIL SOCIETY COVID-19 SITUATION ROOM (CISCOV-19)
OFFICIAL STATEMENT (3) – 26th June 2020
The Bayelsa State Civil Society COVID-19 Situation Room is gravely concerned about the marked increase in the number of positive coronavirus cases in the state and the general state of response to the incidence of the pandemic, especially over the last month.
This is a period which has witnessed an increase of COVID-19 cases in Bayelsa State from 12 positive cases on 31 May 2020 to the current count of over 180 cases, with 12 fatalities. This represents a fatality rate of 6.5 percent, which is above both national fatality rate of just 2.5 percent and the global average of 5 percent.
As we continue to encourage collective action and work towards minimizing the impact of the virus in the case, it is expedient to make the following observations:
There is an obvious deficit of information provided to citizens as the number of confirmed cases and fatalities have multiplied immensely over the last month. Considering the significance of proper information management in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of any official explanation for the sudden surge in confirmed cases and fatalities has created room for the peddling of rumours and harmed genuine efforts to sensitize citizens.
Corollary to the above is the fact that there was no official and public response to the rumours of an unprecedented and inexplicable rise in cases of malaria and typhoid fever in the state over the last few weeks, despite the concerns expressed by citizens and the fact that it was taking place during an extant public health emergency.
The enforcement of guidelines on the ongoing partial lockdown of Bayelsa State remains poor. This is a point that we, as civil society organisations in the state, have continued to reiterate since the announcement of the first set of guidelines in April. The lax enforcement of these guidelines may have contributed to this recent spike in positive cases and continues to put the lives Bayelsa State residents at risk.
The recent actions taken by the Bayelsa State Government in locking down certain bars and releasing further guidelines for places of worship is a welcome development. However, many other bars, public places and individuals continue to disregard lockdown guidelines in the state without any consequences.
In view of the above observations, the Bayelsa State Civil Society COVID-19 Situation Room hereby makes the following recommendations:
The Bayelsa State Government and the COVID-19 Task Force needs to increase the frequency of its strategic press briefings with sufficient updates and details on the state of the pandemic in the state and the response of the government, including details on the roles of various stakeholder groups
The Bayelsa State COVID-19 Task Force, and the Sub-Committee on Security in particular, should demonstrate a better resolve in enforcing the extant guidelines on the partial lockdown of the state to urgently curtail the spread of the virus.
The Bayelsa State Government should respond to the demands of resident doctors in the state as a matter of urgency.
Finally, the Bayelsa State Civil Society COVID-19 Situation Room wishes to advice all residents of the state to continue to observe social distancing, good personal hygiene and take all relevant measures to keep safe, especially in the light of the recent spike in positive cases.
Bayelsa State Civil Society COVID-19 Situation Room
The coalition of Civil Society groups in Delta State, under the auspices of the CSO Situation Room, hereby calls on the Delta State Government to reverse the closure of some hospitals across the State, over the suspicion that some persons suspected to be COVID-19 patients were harboured in those hospitals. The CSO Situation Room also calls on Local Government Councils in the State, to open up all hospitals that have been sealed off by the Councils for similar reasons, bordering on the suspected exposure of the hospitals and their staff to the coronavirus disease.
Within the last three weeks, several hospitals were shut down in the State for providing medical attention to suspected COVID-19 cases. The Ughelli North LGA Council shut down a primary healthcare centre indefinitely, following reports that there were suspected cases of COVID-19 at the hospital. The Council in a statement dated June 22, warned that Ughelli North LGA has recorded a spike in the number of confirmed cases in the LGA. Hence, all healthcare centres in the LGA were warned to desist from treating suspected COVID-19 cases or stand the risk of being sealed off. Similarly, the Delta State Ministry of Health sealed off the building of a private hospital in Sapele, where two ill persons suspected to be COVID-19 patients were harboured. The hospital was reportedly sealed off because it lacked the capacity to treat suspected COVID-19 patients who rightly, should have been referred to any of the 11 Isolation centres across the State. For the same reason, some units of the Ughelli Central Hospital have been shut down indefinitely by the government.
However, despite the need to deploy all lawful means necessary to curb the hike in the number of confirmed cases in the State which currently stands at 912 as of June 28, 2020, the government must not fail to assess holistically, the public health risks posed by the closure of hospitals at a time when the State is faced with a public health emergency. While it is deemed appropriate to shut down places that provide non-essential services such as hotels, restaurants, etc, when they violate the State’s guidelines on the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, the same cannot be said of places that render essential services to the people, such as hospitals. Notwithstanding the pervasive nature of the novel coronavirus in the State, there are several other patients who are in need of medical attention for various ailments, other than the coronavirus disease. It behoves on the government to consider the public interest of the majority of the people in the State and adopt short- and long-term strategies in the fight against the pandemic, for the public good.
The CSO Situation Room, while in the course of conducting impact-assessment tours across the State, received reports that several lives have been lost in Ughelli, Warri, Effurun, and other parts of the State, due to sudden ailments and an inability to access adequate medical attention. It has also been reported that some hospitals are purportedly refusing to attend to patients who complain of experiencing ailments similar to COVID-19 symptoms. Out of fear that they may mistakenly admit a COVID-19 patient which will incur the wrath of the government, and to avoid a situation where their hospitals are shut down indefinitely by the government, these hospitals now reject patients who complain of experiencing diarrhoea, headache, body pains and cough. But, most of these symptoms of COVID-19 also manifest in persons diagnosed of other ailments and who may not be infected with the coronavirus. Where then, does the government want such persons to go to for treatment, when several hospitals are being locked up and the health centres that are still operating, will not admit them, in order to avoid a closure by the government?
The CSO Situation Room therefore calls on the government to rescind the closure of the affected hospitals and ensure they are disinfected and made accessible to the public. Hospital premises and facilities should be thoroughly decontaminated very often, to prevent the spread of infections within the hospital, whilst being allowed to operate fully. All medical and non-medical personnel of the affected hospitals, should be made to undergo a COVID-19 test to ascertain their status. If any is found to be positive, such should be quarantined at the State’s Isolation Centre, while those not infected, should be given adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and allowed to resume work at their respective hospitals. There are several persons in the State who will always need health services for diverse medical conditions and they must not be denied access to healthcare facilities. Pregnant women, infant children and elderly people often have scheduled visits made routinely to the hospitals for medicare. There could also be cases of sudden ailments affecting any person, which could warrant urgent medical attention at the nearest health facility. Hence, shutting down hospitals amidst a raging COVID-19 pandemic, is tantamount to waging a war against the people of the State, rather than fighting the pandemic.
The unusual rise in the incidence of rape and attempted rape in Rivers State, this year, has become a daunting challenge, in the face of the rampant nature in which the crime is being perpetrated and the seeming helplessness of the society to nip the problem in the bud. Rape is an act of sexual violence which simply put, entails a non-consensual sexual intercourse. Where a minor (a person below 18 years of age) is involved, it is deemed to be rape, whether or not consent was obtained. The Social Development Integrated Centre, also known as Social Action, working in collaboration with the Civil Rights Council (CRC) in monitoring the human rights violations perpetrated within the State, have in recent times, been inundated with reports from residents about rape incidents that occurred in their neighbourhoods. Over 40 cases of alleged sexual abuse have been reported since May, 2020 till date, of which the majority are cases of rape. Of this lot, is the recent case involving a 9 year-old girl who was allegedly raped by her neighbour, a 30 year-old man at Ikwerre LGA, on the 13th of June. Earlier reported, was a similar case of a 10 year old girl in Diobu, Port Harcourt LGA who was alleged to have been serially raped by her neighbour on May 22nd. In both isolated cases, as well as in many other reported cases, it was learnt that the alleged rapist was well known to the victim, and the family of the victim attempted to cover up the matter by promoting a culture of silence. Although this trend does not apply in all cases, 80 percent of rape cases reported within the period under review, reveal that the culture of silence enables the perpetrator, a well-known person to the victim, to escape justice with the tacit support of the victim’s family.
“We, the food suppliers, are essential service providers, because food is an essential commodity for human survival. But, the security agents at roadblocks and checkpoints along the highways, insist on collecting money from us, before allowing us to proceed into Rivers State. There are so many roadblocks now because of COVID-19 and the ban on inter-State movements. At each point, these security agents collect between 3,000 Naira and 5,000 Naira.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bayelsa State increased astronomically within a period of two days, following an increase in the number of tests conducted on samples of suspected cases taken from the State. The State still has no COVID-19 Test Centre. Given the rising number of confirmed cases in the neighbouring States, Rivers and Delta, coupled with the unrestricted movement of people across the boundaries between Bayelsa and the border States, it was predicted before now, by the CSO Situation Room, that Bayelsa State could witness a community transmission. Also, the failure to observe the stipulated guidelines to prevent a spread of the virus, such as the use of face masks and handsanitisers, regular hand washing and physical distancing, was a compelling reason to suspect that Bayelsa could be having more than the 32 confirmed cases which it had as of June 10, 2020, if more tests were conducted. Sadly, this suspicion has become a reality, with more tests being conducted. On June 16, Bayelsa recorded 54 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the State’s total number of confirmed cases to 86. This marks the highest number of reported cases in a single day, in the State. On the following day, June 17, Bayelsa recorded a new set of 25 confirmed cases, which further increased the number of infected persons to 111, as published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
There have been alarming reports in Akwa Ibom State about the flagrant refusal of some residents of the State, to comply with the laid-down protocol of the government, relating to the testing of persons who have symptoms of the coronavirus disease. It was gathered that, several people who experience these symptoms, such as fever, sore throat and difficulty in breathing, no longer contact the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. Instead, they stay at home and experiment with drugs, especially anti-malaria drugs, with a view to finding a cure to the symptoms they are experiencing. The Social Development Integrated Centre, also called Social Action, believes that by this development, we have hit a new low, in the fight against the pandemic. It is a clear departure from the initial response to the pandemic which saw many persons being tested, quarantined, treated and re-tested to ascertain a clean bill of health, before being discharged. The confounding reports on people resorting to self-medication at home, without being tested, only spells doom for the populace. The refusal of these people to get tested and placed in isolation (if found positive to the virus), will expose many others to the disease and prevent the NCDC from getting the actual figures and overall statistics about the pandemic in Nigeria. The current number of confirmed cases in the State stands at 48, as of June 14, 2020, but from all indications, there could be more infected persons in the State who are on self-medication or have recovered, without undergoing a medical test to ascertain their status.
It was learnt that some people who experienced complete loss of smell and taste, as well as fever and sore throats, recovered fully within 3 – 5 days, after administering anti-malarial medications on themselves. This has stirred doubts in the minds of several persons in the State, about the authenticity of NCDC’s fight against COVID-19, with some people suggesting that the anti-financial crime agencies in the country should investigate the work of the NCDC, and ascertain if the rumours about NCDC giving false records of confirmed and quarantined cases in order to inflate its budget, is true. Not a few persons in the State now believe COVID-19 is only a common ailment, synonymous to malaria, which is not worth the fuss it generated in the country at its inception.
However, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has in recent times, updated on its website, the COVID-19 symptoms, which now include, shivering, catarrh, diarrhoea, headache and fatigue, as well as cough, fever, difficulty breathing, sore throat, loss of smell and loss of taste. The NCDC has also addressed the similarities in the manifestation of COVID-19 and malaria in humans, by stating on its website, that, “Although both diseases may present with fever, they are very different. COVID-19 is caused by a virus while malaria is caused by a plasmodium parasite. An individual can have COVID-19 and malaria at the same time, but they are very different”.
The deadly coronavirus disease, has been known to have diverse effects on infected persons, with some having mild symptoms and others, very severe symptoms, owing to the presence of underlying conditions, or an exposure to a high viral-load of the germ. It is therefore necessary for the State Government to work in conjunction with the Federal Government of Nigeria and its agency, the NCDC, to adopt means of addressing this budding problem of self-medication, so as to ensure that NCDC continues to capture the actual statistics on the infection rate of COVID-19, as well as the survival and death rates. Some of those measures could include an enhanced contact tracing and surveillance.
Social Action therefore calls on the State Government to pay attention to the need for more COVID-19 surveillance and do all within its power, to ensure the State has more surveillance teams involved in contact-tracing and collection of samples from suspected cases for testing. It has become expedient for the State to have more surveillance teams in all LGAs of the State, given the hike in the number of confirmed cases, and the increase in suspected cases that have resorted to self-medication within the State. The government should also intensify its collaboration with the NCDC to ensure that all health workers involved in the management of coronavirus cases are well-trained and equipped for the work. All first responders and medical professionals in all hospitals should be given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect them while they attend to patients under their care. In addition, the State Government must deploy resources within its control towards ensuring an adequate provision of essential supplies such as medical equipment, food, drugs, face masks and sanitisers. For a State faced with such a high degree of distrust by the people, in the way and manner the NCDC has handled the pandemic, it is expected that the government will do all it can to ensure that the confirmed cases in the State are well-managed and no item needed for their care is lacking. This has become necessary, not only for the survival of infected persons in the State, but also to encourage more persons to willingly subject themselves to a test, if they experience any of the COVID-19 symptoms, and be quarantined, if they test positive to the virus.