By Charles Ike-Okoh
THUR, MAY 21 2020-theG&BJournal- The flamboyant (to some critics, eccentric) governor of Cross River State Ben Ayade was guest to Channel TV’s Sunrise program Thursday where he shared his thoughts, on the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria and his state’s response measures which he says have been effective and key to the no-case situation in his state.
The governor’s statement about testing for possible coronavirus carrier is a statement that has controversy written all over it.
On one level it is a straightforward rejection of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) stand that testing would help stop the spread of the ravenous disease across the country, despite global focus on testing as a starting point to determining the extent of spread. On the other hand it is a reminder that each region should develop its own unique approach.
But the governor’s position also looks like an advance challenge to the federal government to accept his approach to managing the coronavirus spread and adopt it nationally. He also used the interview to shake up thinking on the business side of reagents and to draw attention to his planned vaccine production plans.
‘’As a professional, I know that we are also not customizing the action plans that reflect our situation and originality,’’ the governor said. ‘’And as a nation you cannot just throw money in the hands of manufactures of testing reagents just because you want to test.’’
According to him: ‘’you only test when there is a suspicion that calls for concern. We do know that the test methods being used today lacks reliability and so for you to ascribe a test on a person to say he is confirmed-that he is carrying the virus, there are certain basic principles in science that you must obey.’’
Indeed, he dismissed testing emphatically as presumptive and generalised and says ’It is not just enough to do a rapid diagnostic test,’’- steps he is not willing to take because, ‘’out there in the western world there is a businessman fanning all of these, making sure that they sell reagent. So, it has been turned into a full scale business.’’
He even suggested that the NCDC has lowered the scientific criteria for determining a symptomatic patient because it is strange ‘’to be testing somebody who has not come in contact with somebody who probably has a virus.’’ But if that process is followed ‘’we will have to exhaust the entire account of this country to be able to support the testing regime. So testing as it were is just to show that it is basically the right thing to do, but I can tell you, this testing for coronavirus has gone a little bit political.’’
The governor explained the business and politics of testing and reagents. ‘’In the US for example it is about the election, and for business men it is about more reagent more money. But for me it is a science and a reality. And because a wrong mentality will give you a wrong reality, I have the right mentality to do contact tracing that helps to identify people who should be tested. Testing does not give you an idea of the level, it gives you just a spatial distribution metrics of the possibility of spread.’’
When asked if in the country at the moment people are being exploited, he said; ‘’No doubt about that. I can tell you where all the missing gaps are and in any case you don’t have to be a scientist to see the loopholes to say here is the business element.’’
For him, the question is why Nigeria can’t produce its own test kits. ‘’Why can’t we have our own vaccination plants to produce our vaccines? We have professors in virology. Nigerians are endowed and very intelligent by nature, resilient and hard working. By this time Nigeria should prove that we can actually not just close our borders to the virus but also close our borders to the solutions. We need to find our own solutions to the problem.’’
‘’I don’t think people should make the mistake to think that the more the testing the more the assurance. In fact, the more the testing the more you get false positive test, the more the sales of the test kits but that is not the true or real statistics of your state.’’
He doesn’t see how his people will have this virus, because his people are very responsible, ‘’we are a very civilised state. Everybody is following the wear-your-mask order. The NCDC has confessed to us that Cross River State is a State that has responded best in terms of COVID-19 check-points to control, and in terms of public awareness.’’
He has another seemingly controversial take on the possibility of the virus taking hold of the people in Nigeria, suggesting that Nigerians are immune to the disease.
‘’The statistics shows that Nigeria comes under the malaria endemic region, and because malaria and coronavirus share so much in common, those who are in the malaria endemic zone are naturally immune to the coronavirus and the virus can’t stand our atmospheric temperature of 32 degrees centigrade and sometimes in Nigeria it goes up to as much as 42 degrees centigrade,’’ he said.
But this claim has severally been questioned by scientists all over and many African countries including Egypt, Algeria and Morocco, countries with very high degrees of heat have seen spikes in both confirmed cases and fatalities. Egypt, the first African country with confirmed coronavirus case has a total 13,484 cases as at Wednesday May 20, 2020, according to the Africa CDC data and 659 dead. Algeria’s confirmed cases are 7,377 with 561 confirmed dead from the disease while Morocco has reported 7,048 cases and 194 deaths.
Meanwhile, Governor Ayade gave an elaborate insight on how he was able to keep out the disease from Cross River State.
‘’As the pandemic spread globally we locked down our state and immediately commenced no-mask-no movement. We started right in time. We are proactive and we have continued to sustain that. We ordered over 100 new vehicles, policed our borders between Nigeria and Cameroon, including the legal and illegal borders, and ensured that we blocked all access to other states-coming in or going out of Cross River State, and closed our airways. Our structural and normative action is so firm.
I lead from the front. Our borders are being manned by only very senior officials to ensure that there is no compromise. That is the strategy that has really worked for us. We have effective surveillance. Also, we have trained about 400 surveillance officers every two weeks
The samples we have collected so far have all returned negative and the NCDC officials who visited have given the State a pass mark. They were impressed with our laboratories, isolation centres and checkpoints in place to enforce the no-mask-no movement our border posts.
‘’Sometimes I just sympathize with this our follow-the-west syndrome and I think time has come when we must step back completely. We are being exploited as a continent and that is why I am happy with what Madagascar has done. Nigeria ought to do that and much better.
I have actually started my own research on the production of vaccine. But wish I run a state that is a little bit endowed. But Nigeria is exploited, Africans are being exploited. We can actually join hands with our professionals and with the support of the federal government set up a vaccine production plant.