The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said it has no plan to trace people who attended a Naira Marley concert last Saturday where physical distancing rules were violated despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
At a press briefing on Monday, NCDC Director-General, Chikwe Ihekweazu, explained that this is because the centre has “a lot more important work to do than to do that”.
“But if we have a positive from that community, we have a problem. We do have a problem if we have someone that went to that gathering and turned positive. We hope that doesn’t happen,” he added.
Nigerian singer, Azeez Fashola, popularly known as Naira Marley, has been taking some flak for his performance over the weekend in Abuja.
Although it was planned as a drive-in concert where people watched from their vehicles, videos of the event showed that there were hundreds of attendees who, for a long time, did not observe any of the safety measures recommended by the NCDC, including the use of masks.
According to the centre, mass gatherings of over 20 people outside of a workplace and places of worship are prohibited. The federal government has also banned all non-essential interstate travel and warns that violators will be sanctioned.
However, on Saturday, Naira Marley and nine others chartered a private jet operated by Executive Jets Services and which conveyed them from Lagos to Abuja and back.
Ticket prices for the event ranged between N20,000 (silver) and N200,000 (diamond) per car of four occupants, with many of the categories announced to have been sold out.
Should there be contact tracing?
According to guidelines released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May, contact tracing is the “process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission”. WHO describes it as essential in controlling infectious disease outbreaks.
“Contact tracing is essential to be conducted for all confirmed cases and may be desirable for probable cases in the absence of comprehensive testing capacity,” the organisation emphasised.
“Because individuals may transmit COVID-19 while pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, this guidance also emphasises the importance of quarantining contacts to further reduce the potential for secondary transmission.”
This means contact tracing is highly recommended in the cases of confirmed COVID-19 cases and desirable in other instances where an infection is suspected. In the absence of contact tracing, individuals who may not be showing any symptoms of the disease should be made to quarantine themselves to break the chain of transmission.
It is, however, not clear if the NCDC intends to take any of these steps even in the event that someone who attended the concert tests positive for COVID-19.
An agent of the FCT COVID-19 Situation Room who spoke to our correspondent said while the authorities are working on locating Naira Marley and his crew members, he does not have any information regarding possible plans for contact tracing.
Series of sanctions
Shortly after the news became public, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) disclosed that it had sealed the Jabi Lake Mall, where the concert was held, for breaching the ban on public gatherings.
“The FCT Ministerial Task Team on COVID-19 seals up Jabi Lake Mall indefinitely for violating Presidential Task Force’s directives on the ban on public gatherings as part of measures to contain the spread of the dreaded pandemic in the territory,” it tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
The FCTA, which revealed that the concert also violated the government’s 10 pm to 4 am curfew, said the mall’s closure was ordered by Magistrate Idayat Akonni who presided over a mobile court in Jabi.
Executive Jets Services was likewise suspended indefinitely by the aviation ministry. Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said they had no idea the jet would be used by a musician.
“The operation is a clear violation of our approval which we take very seriously. It seems this is becoming a norm. This is the second time. So, Executive Jet Services is hereby suspended indefinitely and they will face the law,” he announced.
“The captain will also be sanctioned for giving wrong information to the control tower. It seems also that people are not tired of trying our resolve and we are not tired of living up to our responsibilities. Governance is a serious matter.”
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has also said during its briefing that the decision to sanction Naira Marley and the event organisers is left to the FCT authorities.
“The PTF will always support any measures taken against people who continue to violate the guidelines we have put in place, particularly if they are putting public health at risk,” said the National Coordinator, Sani Aliyu.
When HumAngle called Abubakar Sani, Special Adviser on Media to the FCT Minister, he said questions should be directed to the Commissioner of Police because it is a security issue.
Anjuguri Manzah, the FCT police spokesperson, has, however, not responded to enquiries sent to him. A call placed to his phone suddenly dropped before he could provide answers and subsequent calls have not been answered.
Organisers, jet owners defend themselves
Organisers of the concert, Play Network Africa, released a video clip on Monday where someone could be seen urging the attendees to return to their cars. “Please go back to your cars. Thank you so much.
“The performance continues but go back to your and make videos from your cars,” he pleaded. The footage also shows people leaving the area close to the stage.
Meanwhile, in an earlier statement released by the company, it said public health guidelines were strictly enforced until 8:45 pm when Naira Marley got on the stage.
“Some paying attendees together with some non-paying customers of Jabi Lake Mall, who found their way to the car park designated for the event, occupied the distance between the stage and the first line of the cars … posing a safety risk to all in attendance,” it said.
The company added that normalcy was soon restored with the help of security personnel attached to the mall.
In a letter written to the aviation minister dated June 15, Dr Sam Iwuajoku, chairman of Executive Jets Services Ltd, confirmed that a permit was issued for the flight two days prior by the ministry with reference number: FMA/ATMD/0175/V/V/1268.
According to him, the flight was intended for a judge, who that morning said he was already in Abuja and had been given a lift by another person.
He said his staff members called to inform him, again on Saturday morning, that they found new passengers for the flight and they were already at the lounge.
“When I went through the manifest and I saw Fashola Babatunde, I thought it was the Honorable Minister of Works going to Abuja with his men, so we decided to do the flight since is [sic.] a serving minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the company CEO added.
Fashola is indeed Naira Marley’s surname and Adeshina his middle name. He also has two siblings: Idris Fashola and Babatunde Fashola. The latter was among those who flew to Abuja with the singer.
Sirika has confirmed that the flight was approved to convey Oludotun Adebola Adefope-Okogie, a Court of Appeal (Kaduna Division) Justice, for an official assignment.
In April, the Justice was made a member of a panel in the Ibadan Division to attend to time-bound cases during the pandemic.