Africa: COVID-19 cases climb to 6,213, death toll reaches 221; Oyetola signs Osun emergency regulations law; Lagos mosque sealed for flouting ban on religious gathering; Buhari meets Kyari, Finance Minister; IGP cautions police personnel against human rights abuse; Curfew in Mecca, Medina; PDP Reps call for decentralised action; Nurses protest in Enugu

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The death toll from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the African continent has reached 221 as confirmed positive cases surpassed 6,213.
The Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) made this known in its latest situation update on Thursday.
The Africa CDC, a specialised agency of the 55-member African Union (AU), said the cases were spread across 49 African countries.
The agency also disclosed that the highly COVID-19 affected countries include South Africa with 1,380 confirmed cases, Algeria with 716 confirmed cases as well as Egypt with 779 confirmed cases.
The Africa CDC also disclosed that some 469 people who have been infected with the COVID-19 have recovered across the continent as of the stated period.
Amid the rapid spread of the virus across the African continent, figures from the Africa CDC also show that more than 427 new confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported across the continent since the center’s recent report on Wednesday.
The death toll increased from 196 to 221 as of the stated period, according to the Africa CDC.
The African Union, through Africa CDC, has already activated its Emergency Operations Center and its Incident Management System (IMS) for the COVID-19 outbreak on Jan. 27.
The Africa CDC had also developed its third Incident Action Plan that covers the period from March 16 to April 15.
Meanwhile, Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, on Thursday, signed the Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulations 2020 law in a bid to enforce the lockdown order to curtail the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
Oyetola, while signing the law, said he made the sit-at- home and state’s lockdown order in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and other relevant provisions of the State of Osun Public Health Law.
The governor said the law was aimed at preventing and curtailing the spread of coronavirus anywhere within the territory of Osun.
Oyetola said following the signing of the law, anybody who violates the sit-at-home order would be sentenced to six-month imprisonment or with an option of fine upon conviction.
“It has become imperative to go beyond making suggestions and giving directives in order to stem the tide of the spread of Covid-19, save lives, reduce ill health and ensure that the economy in which the people of the State of Osun operate does not become weakened and stretched.
“I make the following regulations for the good order,safety, security and public health in the State of Osun,” he said.
The regulations read in part: “Under the Law, transmission or dissemination of false information regarding coronavirus is also an offence and it attracts the same punishment.
“Similarly, the promotion of unverified, untested, or unapproved cures, vaccines or other similar items that purport to cure, alleviate or reduce instances of persons infected with Covid-19, also constitutes an offence and offenders upon conviction will be liable to six-month imprisonment or an option of fine.
“The governor may direct the removal of a Potentially Infectious Person, where such a person fails or refuses to go to a place specified for screening and assessment.
“The governor may direct a Potentially Infectious Person within a Local Area to go into isolation for an initial period of 14 days.”
Oyetola, in a statewide broadcast on March 29, announced the closure of all land borders effective from midnight of March 29.
He also said there would be restriction on movement within the state as from March 31 for two weeks to stop the spread of the virus.
The governor, however, said that only those on essential duties such as health personnel, environmental officials, security personnel as well as those in media, power, water supply, fire service and telecommunication would be allowed to move around.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had on March 25 confirmed a first index case in the state, while the second index case was confirmed on March 29.
There were three more cases on Tuesday and additional nine cases on Wednesday.
In Lagos State, officials of Agege Local Government have sealed a mosque for violating government’s order on religious gathering in the fight against spread of coronavirus.
Alhaji Ganiyu Egunjobi, the council Chairman, said in a statement in Thursday that Agege Central Mosque, located at Balogun Street, was sealed after the taskforce fumigated the area.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had banned the gathering of more than 20 persons to prevent spread of the dreaded disease.
According to Rotimi Sulyman, Media Aide to the Chairman, the mosque was shut down because hundreds of worshippers flouted the governor’s order during their evening prayer.
“Attempts by officials of the Lagos State COVID-19 Taskforce, who arrived at the scene to enforce compliance following a tip-off, was viciously rebuffed.
“A drama ensued when some of the religious youths sighted the team and became aggressive, unruly and started to attack the team.
“About 300 others in the mosque rushed out chanting ‘ALLAHU AKBAR’ and joined in the attack by throwing stones at the vehicles.
“All entreaties to talk to the Imam failed as the youths were persistent. The police escort rose to the occasion, stopped further attacks and ensured safety of the team,” he said.
The council boss said that the shutdown became necessary to avert recurrence and serve as deterrent to other erring faith groups or worshippers.
“We cannot continue to condone act capable of spreading the dreadful disease.
“Even, Saudi Arabia placed restrictions on the number of people who must worship in the two holy mosques, Haram and Nabawi, and banned congregational prayers in all other mosques across the country.
“Honestly, we cannot be more Roman than the Romans. We have met with the leadership of the mosque including, the Sarkin Hausawa, Musa Muhammed.
”The meeting resolved that the mosque should be closed till further notice,” the council chairman said.
In Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari met with the Presidential Committee on the impact of the coronavirus on Nigeria’s economy, and directed the Ministry of Finance and National Planning to ensure that salaries were paid.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, who chairs the presidential committee, said this in Abuja while answering questions from State House correspondents at the end of the meeting.
She said the committee briefed the President on current happenings around the world due to COVID-19 and its impact on the country’s economy.
According to her, the President also directed the committee to put in place measures meant to protect the poor and less privileged members of the society from unnecessary hardships as a result of the virus.
She told the State House correspondents that the President also directed the ministry to ensure that “critical infrastructure like roads, rails are protected and as much as possible, use local inputs so that the country retains value within her economy’’.
On the directives given, Ahmed said: “Well, he has directed that we should make sure that salaries are paid, make critical infrastructures like roads, rails are protected, as much as possible use local inputs so that we retain value within our economy.
“And also make sure that we take measures that protect the poor and the vulnerable.”
The minister further explained that the purpose of the meeting was to update the President on situations that are evolving on a daily basis.
“This meeting was just to brief Mr President as the situation we are in keeps evolving on a daily basis, as the health crisis gradually expands, affecting states and also the lockdown that has been ordered to help curtail expansion of the health crisis.
“The consequences of the lockdown is the additional slowing down of the economy and the measures that we need to take to mitigate the negative consequences of the slow trade and businesses,’’ she added.
The Minister of State Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, who is also a member of the committee, said: “The economy is not in the best of shapes due to COVID-19 and oil prices are collapsing every day, hence the need for the President to be constantly briefed.’’
Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele said: “the economy is not looking as simple as everyone thought it would be.
“The global economy, naturally, like we all know at this time, will naturally suffer growth problems and may even lead to recession globally.
“So we are trying to see what we can do as a country to rescue our own situation so we don’t go the direction many will go.
“It is not going to be easy but we can only assure our people that we are on top of it and that we will resolve it and Nigerians will still be better for it.”
Other members of the committee are Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Mohammed  Adamu, has cautioned police personnel deployed for the enforcement of the lockdown and social restriction orders against human rights abuse.
Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO) DCP Frank Mba disclosed this in a statement on Thursday.
Adamu urged the police to ensure that persons on essential duty were duly exempted from the restriction orders and accorded due courtesy and unfettered access to and from their duty posts.
According to him, the world is currently in an extraordinary moment, with lockdown taking its tolls on every aspect of human existence.
“Therefore, all police officers deployed for the enforcement of these restriction orders must be professional, humane, and tactful and must show utmost respect to the citizenry.
“To this end,  Command Commissioners of Police (CP) are therefore, directed to immediately commence conduct monitoring of officers deployed on enforcement duties in their areas of responsibilities.
“Zonal Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIGs) across the nation are to ensure adequate supervision of personnel under their watch, as well as due compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure guiding this special task.
“The AIGs and CPs are also to ensure robust anti-crime patrols and surveillance around vulnerable targets,” he said.
According to him, the vulnerable targets include medical facilities, shops and markets, residential areas, financial institutions and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) points.
Adamu said anti-crime patrols and surveillance would deny criminals the opportunity of taking undue advantage of the current COVID-19 challenge to perpetrate crime against the citizenry.
The IGP expressed profound gratitude to Nigerians for their resilience and voluntary compliance with the social restriction orders and cooperation with the police at all times.
He urged citizens to continue to observe all precautionary instructions issued by relevant health authorities for the country to be able to wipe out the coronavirus  pandemic.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia imposed a 24-hour curfew in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina on Thursday, extending measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,700 people in the kingdom and killed 16.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement there were some exceptions, including for essential workers and in order for residents to buy food and access medical care.
Cars in those cities’ residential districts may only carry one passenger to limit the virus’ transmission, it said.
The country of 30 million has taken drastic steps to contain the disease, halting international flights, closing most public places and suspending the year-round Umrah Pilgrimage.
On Tuesday, it asked Muslims to put plans for the annual hajj pilgrimage on hold pending more clarity about the pandemic.
Restrictions on movement have tightened, with entry and exit to Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Jeddah heavily restricted.
Some neighbourhoods in Mecca and Medina were already under full lockdown, but in the rest of those cities, the curfew was previously from 1500 to 0600.
The eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the kingdom’s first coronavirus cases were reported last month among Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been on lockdown for nearly four weeks.
Saudi Arabia has the most infections and deaths among the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.
But public health officials say past experience combating the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) helped prepare the kingdom for the new coronavirus outbreak.
From the House of Representatives, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have called for a decentralised action to combat the virus.
A statement by Kingsley Chinda, on behalf of his colleagues, reads: “The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly taken our country on emergency course, unexpected and un-anticipated at the beginning of the year, that strategic legal, policy and legislative responses have dovetailed into measures directed at curtailing or halting the pandemic. As members of the PDP Caucus of the House of Representatives, we have consistently called, and we still continue to call, for measured responses that take the poor economic conditions of Nigerians, the rights of citizens, the scaling up of the Medicare framework, into account in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many Governors have stepped away from what Professor Wole Soyinka rightly described this week as an attempt to halt the spread of the pandemic virus by constitutional piracy, we note that the absence of a structured federal response, based on the dictates of law, may have led them to ramp up measures outside the remit of their constitutional powers.

The rule of law has now prevailed; and it is in this light we welcome some of the measures outlined in the President’s belated broadcast and in the Regulation (Covid-19 Regulation 2020) made pursuant to Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act; though the presidential broadcast and Regulation took a long time coming. Well, better late than never. While we find the measures largely satisfying, it is our considered view that the palliative measures outlined in the presidential broadcast and Regulation are not far-reaching enough, while some are completely inapplicable.

Experiences through history have shown that citizens’ rights to movement are often heavily implicated when measures directed at halting the spread of contagious diseases and restoring public safety do not address the food question behind the curtains, worsening food security conditions. During the Ebola outbreak a few years ago, citizens of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone openly defied the restrictions that were imposed on movement to limit the transmission of the disease, after staying indoors for a few days in hunger. We must learn quickly from these experiences by ensuring that immediate measures on food security are ramped up.

One way of doing this is to open up our national food and grain reserves across the country and distribute food to the poorest of the poor in our country at the Local government level. The President should as a matter of utmost urgency issue an Executive Order, pursuant to his powers preserved by Section 5 of the Constitution 1999, directing the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, National Food Reserve Agency and National Emergency Management Authority to release and manage the distribution of food in our national reserves. The Executive Order must set out clear consequences for breach, particularly as they relate to public officials who seize on the times to make brisk businesses and gains from the miseries of the people. Other measures such as food prices control should be ramped up; though specific, targeted and temporary legislation on food prices control will be needed for enforcement. This is where the National Assembly comes in – by establishing framework of teleconferencing and social media communication, where the current lockdown and the medical advisories that bar public gatherings make it impossible for the reconvening of the National Assembly, to deliberate and pass such bills, as the Food Prices Control, Covid-19 Containment, Emergency and Disaster Management, into law. Whilst we commend the House for the emergency Bill passed on 17th March before closure to provide palliatives, these perilous times require creative thinking on the part of institutions of state and personages of power.

Again, as a Caucus, we laud and fully align with the Leadership of the House under Speaker Gbajiabiamila in leading Members to volunteer to volunteer their two month’s salaries to assist our vulnerable constituents at this trying time but we must add that the Rt. Hon. Speaker and the Leadership of the House should consider sending the voluntary donations of our Caucus Members directly to their various States as we are most dissatisfied with the inefficient, ineffective and inequitable method of distribution of palliatives by the Federal Government.

We do hope that the leaderships of both arms of the National Assembly will accept our request for legislative response and intervention and quickly too.

Finally, as we all enter day three of the national lockdown, we call on law enforcement personnel to exercise restraint in enforcing the restriction of movement everywhere. The right to life and dignity of Human Person as enshrined in our Constitution hasn’t been suspended, so they must continue to display professionalism in the discharge of their duties and ensure they keep our constituents out of harm’s way, as it is easy for them to become vectors or super spreaders of the virus if they don’t abide by the guidelines issued by the National Centre for Disease Control. We will frown at and exercise our constitutional powers as legislators to address any unreasonable act by the Security Officers in enforcing the lock down.

Consequently and in line with our Release of 20th March 2020, we demand as follows:

1. That the Federal Government should:
A). Maximise the 2 weeks lockdown and open up free testing and treatment centres in all Zones in the Country. 
B). Step down VAT and give partial tax holiday on essential commodities for 2 months.
C). Make electricity available and free for citizens within the period of total lockdown.
D). Disburse the sum of 5 billion Naira as business loans in every State of the Federation to stimulate SMEs and business in the country.

2. The House of Representatives should:
A). Send directly to the various States the donations of their State Representatives.
B). Come up with additional Emergency Bills to address price regulation of essential comodities (Medicals and Food).

We join other well-meaning persons to salute our Doctors, Nurses, Medical Personnel and Volunteers, working assiduously to help the nation beat the virus, while putting their personal safety and lives at risk. Their glorious efforts will never be forgotten by all. We are grateful.”
Meanwhile, nurses at the Enugu State University  Teaching Hospital, ESUTH, Parklane have carried out a peaceful protest, alleging inadequate  supply of  protection  materials .
In a swift reaction, management of the Hospital  led by the Chief Medical Director,  Prof  Hycienth Onah, Chairman of the Enugu State chapter of the  Trade Union Congress,  Comrade Ben Asogwa  and leadership of the nurses, in a statement, described the protest as regrettable.
According to the  statement ,”The Enugu State Multi-Sectoral Team including NCDC,  WHO,  UNICEF , other development partners and philanthropists have provided enough quantities of those material for which the nurses were demonstrating” .They promised to “continue to render services at the highest level of care”.

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