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Don’t Panic, We Shall Overcome COVID-19, Buhari Tells Nigerians

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President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday called for calm among Nigerians as the scourge of COVID-19 is gradually spreading in the country, with four new cases discovered in Lagos State, bringing the toll to 12.
The president, in his first major intervention since the index case, caused by an Italian, was uncovered on February 27, said the federal government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were competent to tame the pandemic, which has forced the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, to shut her office.
The office shut down, for two weeks, came after some of her workers returned from a trip to the United Kingdom. She also said her daughter, who returned from the UK, had gone into self-isolation despite not exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. However, despite Buhari’s assurance, Nigeria may be heading for a total lockdown as the federal government, six more states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have shut down schools to curb the spread of the global pandemic.

The closure of schools by the six states– Enugu, Anambra, Benue, Niger, Ondo, Kano and the FCT- has brought the number of states that closed schools to 16. Lagos, Kwara, Ogun and the North-west states of Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara had earlier announced the closure of schools in their domain. The federal government has also directed the heads of federal institutions and principals of Unity Colleges nationwide, to as a matter of urgency close them down in order to curtail the spread of the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also warned Nigeria and other African countries to prepare for the worst-case scenario as the virus continues to spread across continents. But amid the gloomy situation, the president, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, urged Nigerians not to panic as the federal government is pulling all the stops to stop the spread of the disease.

He also took issues with the National Assembly, which accused him of complacency in tackling the pandemic, describing its stance as cheap and sensational. He said: “In this regard, populist advocacies such as the one accusing the president of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics.”

The president said Nigeria, like other countries of the world, was confronted with the challenge thrown up by the disease, adding that the government has already put some measures in place to whittle down its effects on Nigerians. He listed some of the measures to include the travel ban placed on 13 countries where the scourge is prevalent as well as stringent measures put in place at entry points into the country. In addition, some agencies of the government and the media have also engaged campaigns on the necessity to maintain personal hygiene. The president urged Nigerians not to panic because measures put in place to combat the disease are effective.

“Nigeria like every other country around the world is dealing with the unexpected and the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has taken some steps to mitigate the effects on the Nigerian people. To prevent the spread of cases imported into Nigeria, the president has already ordered the restrictions of travel from 13 countries, each with more than 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

“Government has also suspended visas issued to nationals of these countries. The restriction will take effect from March 21 and will remain until further notice. While Nigeria delights in welcoming the world, the safety and protection of our citizens and land must take priority. The various agencies of government, including the media owned by the government, have embarked on vigorous campaigns promoting hygiene measures. There are, currently, very stringent regimes of checks at the points of air and sea entry into the country. The effort Nigeria is making as is well known, has already received the commendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“The Presidency wishes to assure Nigerians that the government is on top of the situation. There is no cause for panic. So far measures put in place are working efficiently. What this country is doing has been recommended as a template. The President trusts the relevant ministers in his cabinet and the officials of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), who are providing him with constant updates and professional counsel. These officials have a track record of competence,” Buhari said in the statement.

The statement, which highlighted the adverse effects of the disease on the economy, including the crash of the price of crude oil in the international market, said the president had consequently approved the reduction of the pump price of fuel by N20. It also said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had announced a N1.1 trillion stimulus package for businesses affected by the disease, adding that interest rates for loans had been reduced from nine per cent to five per cent.

“The President instructed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to reduce the pump price of fuel. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a crash in the global price of crude oil, and the President decided that every Nigerian should benefit from this. Subsequently, the NNPC announced a 20 naira deduction, and the pump price of fuel has now been reduced from N145 per litre to 125 naira per litre.

“The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Monday announced a credit relief of N1.1 trillion to businesses affected by the pandemic. The Bank has also established a facility for household, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and announced a reduction of interest rates for loans from nine per cent to five per cent,” the statement added.

Assuring Nigerians that the federal government would continue to update citizens with relevant information, the president said the government did not want to create fear in the minds of citizens as he rather pleaded for their cooperation with the government in the fight against the disease. While pleading for obedience to instructions given by NCDC, Buhari said a high level presidential committee constituted over the pandemic should be allowed to function effectively. The president also appealed to Nigerians not to politicise the situation and called for the collaboration of all and sundry with the government irrespective of political, ethnic and religious leanings.

“We do not want to create panic. But we will continue to update the Nigerian public with relevant information. We plead with every Nigerian to cooperate with the government in the fight against Covid-19 and obey all instructions from the NCDC. We have a high-level Presidential Coordination Committee chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). This body should be allowed to carry out its duties.

“We also plead with Nigerians not to see this most peculiar of times as one to be politicised or seen as an opportunity to regurgitate grudges against the government or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). North, South, East, and West – all Nigerians must unite to fight this plague, irrespective of religious or ideological affiliation,” he submitted.