Time, geography and fear may be some of the reasons the southeast region is recording low numbers in the covid-19 outbreak in Nigeria.
Out of the national total of 4,641 as of Monday, May 11, the five Southeast states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo have 23 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and no deaths and Enugu has the highest number of 10.
The Southeast is located in the part of the country where no one uses to connect to anywhere except some states in the south-south zone which are surrounded by water.
The South-south states on their own, except Edo and Delta, do not generate a lot of movement of persons like some of their Southwest counterparts, such as Lagos State, which share similar geographical features with them.
Another reason the Southeast may be having low numbers is the fact that the disease outbreak in Nigeria occurred at a time when people do not move massively to the zone for social engagements.
The periods of mass movement to the zone are at Christmas and Easter as well as August and September, the peak of cultural festivals by the people.
A source who wished not to be named told HumAngle that “the luck we have is that the outbreak occurred when people returned to their places of abode after Christmas and Easter had not come.
“Remember, the cases we have were all imported.”
Also, the fear of testing positive to the virus is discouraging people from attending hospitals or presenting themselves for screening.
The source who is a member of the COVID-19 Task Force in Imo State also informed that people were not presenting themselves for screening.
He said that instead, community members were reporting their relatives who return home, especially from virus infected areas, to the Task Force for screening.
Francis Onye, a journalist in Awka, said few individuals were attending hospitals in the area as some medical workers had advised their relatives to be careful in order not to get infected even in medical facilities many of which were not equipped to handle infectious diseases.
A doctor in a major private hospital in Owerri confirmed that hospital attendance had dropped.
“In April I saw only 70 patients when in normal times I would see 15 patients a day,” Dr Iheshie Ako said.
In the Southeast, the only COVID-19 testing centre is in Ebonyi State but the state governments have set up isolation centres to deal with cases that may occur.
Meanwhile, the fear of contamination is the reason stakeholders in the area are resisting the movement of northern youths into states in the zone.
The resistance heightened since governors of the 19 Northern states resolved to repatriate street children, called Almajirai, to their states of origin.
The stakeholders include Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organisation of Igbo people, Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) as well as state governments and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
When President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the lockdown on COVID-19, he banned interstate movements but with collaboration from corrupt law enforcement officers, the ban is being violated.
And since the repatriation of Almajirai started, truckloads of youths in food trucks have been intercepted across the country and the movement is being resisted in the Southeast.
The Abia State governments last week turned back a truck conveying some youths from Akwa Ibom in the south-south through Umuahia, the state capital.
In spite of the fact that the truck driver claimed they were artisans, the excuse did not grant them passage.
Instead the officials who spoke on the matter said the government would not allow Almajirai to contaminate the local population.
On May 7, a luxury bus conveying passengers from the North was reported to have been intercepted at Nsukka town in Enugu State by the military with assistance from local youths.
The bus and its passengers were turned back through the Enugu-Benue boundary from where they had entered.
The Divisional Police Officer in-charge of Udenu Local Government Area, Police Division, Philip Nwazi, confirmed that aside the bus, other violating vehicles were also intercepted and impounded in Obollo-Afor, a boundary town between Enugu and Benue states.
Following the developments, IPOB issued a statement through its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, saying the movement of Almajirai was a plot to smuggle COVID-19 patients from Kano to Igboland.
The group said those behind the plot were pursuing an agenda of infecting NdiIgbo with the virus under the guise of repatriation of Almajirai to their home states.
“It is a known fact that Biafra has no Almajiri as that is not our culture.
“Why then are those behind the sending of Almajiri to Enugu doing so if not to infest Biafrans with COVID -19?
“No Almajiri is of Biafra origin. Why then are they being sent to Enugu? IPOB won’t accept dispatching of Almajiri to Enugu or any part of Biafra land.
“Arewa North dominated by Fulani have been secretly sending coronavirus patients in the name of sending out their Almajiri to Enugu State since the lockdown started.
“Some of those Almajiri sent to Enugu State, intercepted by security agents, were tested positive of COVID-19.
“Dispatching Almajiri to our land under any guise will not be accepted, we shall resist this move,” the group warned.
The group said Northern state governments should lock down their states like their counterparts in the Southeast instead of spread the coronavirus in the guise of repatriation Almajirai
“It is no longer hidden that the coronavirus pandemic is currently ravaging Kano and other parts of the North.
“Instead of locking down to stem the spread as was done by states in Biafra land, Northern leaders opened their borders and allowed free movement of their people, many of whom are now infected with the virus.
“Now they intend to infest the rest of us with the virus under the guise of repatriation of Almajiri. We won’t allow this evil plot as no Almajiri is from Biafra land,” IPOB said..
Also, Ohanaeze Ndigbo urged governors of the Southeast to protect their boundaries by boosting security to stop illegal entries by unauthorised persons.
The group’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mazi Chucks Ibegbu, said the influx of Northern youths was an attempt to flood Igboland with Almajirai, stressing, “the Satanic act must not be allowed.”
The Convener of IYM, Ugochukwu Elliot Ukoh in a statement in Enugu said that the development was ominous and disturbing.
Ukoh said that Nigeria as a country had not shown any inspiring preparation to effectively contain the rampaging plague of COVID-19 in the country.
He accused state governors who have continued to deny the existence of the disease in their states of being behind the mass movement of youths from their states to other parts of the country.
Uko said that it was distressing that some governors were claiming that unexplained upsurge in mortalities in their states was as a result of rising cases of typhoid and malaria.
He said, “Some state governments embarked on what they claim are merely returning the urchins to their states of origin.
“Unidentified people who have organised the mass relocation of the Almajiri in recent days are yet to give us their reasons for this strange redistribution,” he said.
The Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Ibuchukwu Ezike, said the movement of Almajirai was unhealthy and unacceptable as it defeats the Federal Government’s policy on the campaign against COVID-19.
“We urge all the states to stand up to protect their territories and people by disallowing anyone who is not permitted by the law in or out of their states pending the lifting of the ban on the interstate lockdown, he said.
Similarly, the Chairman of CAN in Anambra State, Rev. Ndubuisi John, also condemned the movements.
Meanwhile, Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Mr Ahmad Abdurahman, last week threatened to impose severe disciplinary sanctions on ‘misbehaving’ policemen at the borders.
The commissioner led a team of heads of security agencies in the state to inspect the level enforcement of the ban on interstate movement at Enugu/Benue and Enugu/Ebonyi state boundaries.
He charged the security personnel to shun corruption and other unprofessional acts capable of jeopardising the aim of the closure at the boundaries.
Abdurrahman frowned at allegations of compromise against security personnel and warned that anyone found wanting would be punished.
(Additional reports by Ikpechukwu Chinedu)
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