By Nathaniel Ikyur

On Sunday April 4, 2020, the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom led the expanded State Executive Council Meeting into a joint review meeting with the State Action Committee on Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. It was one of the many major steps the government has taken to rid the state of the dreaded virus that has ravaged nations globally.

The meeting looked at various steps and actions taken so far by the state government through the activities of the Action Committee, headed by the state Deputy Governor, Engr Benson Abounu. It also considered the gains and or successes as well as examine if there were shortfalls so far. In all, the report card received resounding commendations from all.

Another review meeting between the state Executive Council to be led by the governor and the State Action Committee holds on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 to evaluate the work of the committee and the compliance of the citizens to protocol measures on COVID-19 as outlined by the World Health Organisation, WHO to prevent the spread of the pandemic in the state.

From the time the pandemic broke out late last year in Wuhan, China, world leaders moved switfly to contain the spread in their respective countries. Since this dreaded disease found its way into Nigeria in February 2020, Governor Ortom has shown purposeful leadership, taking the lead from the front row, not minding that the Deputy Governor who was brought in midway to chair the committee is competent enough and has exhibited capacity in driving the affairs of the committee.

So far, the State Action Committee on COVID-19, by the instrumentality of the state governor has acted swiftly at all times and in all cases to safeguard the state against the virus. Apart from the index case which became the most problematic in the country, the state government acted promptly in putting up two isolation/treatment centres at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital and the Federal Medical Center, Apir. Both facilities have 126 bed spaces for those who may be victims of the virus after testing positive. An oil company has also offered to donate two hundred hospital beds to the state as part of its contribution to the state to fight the pandemic. The new children hospital built by the Ortom administration will serve as the third treatment centre in Makurdi, the state capital. Both FMC Apir and BSUTH treatment/isolation centers have 6 functional ventilators. Two more isolation centres are to be set up in Zone ‘A’ and zone ‘C.’ And considering the seriousness of this health crises, the governor had hinted that in the event the pandemic challenges escalates, the state govrnment would be converting more public structures to be used as isolation or treatment centers.

From the time the first index case was confirmed in Benue state by the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, the state governor began building a broad based coalition from all across every spectrum, beginning with government functionaries, political leaders, traditional and religious leaders, the business class and every Benue citizen to stop the spread of the virus in the state heightened. Schools, markets, churches and mosques were shut as a prelude to reducing the possible spread of the virus. Although churches and Mosques were initially asked to have only 30 people in attendance at any given meeting, that was later discontinued to maintain absolute clean slate to forestall any health crises.

Not leaving anything to chance, Governor Ortom personally receives briefings from the committee daily and thereafter calls for a review of the activities of the committee, to strategically plot the way forward to keep the people of the state safe from the virus. To strengthen the functionality of the committee, the state government has so far released one hundred and seventy million naira to take care of various aspects in readiness to combat the pandemic. As a key component in the fight against the virus, Governor Ortom inaugurated the local governmnet Action Committees from the 23 local governments. The composition of the local government committees has the Caretaker Chairmen leading. The local government committees are to replicate all activities the state committee is involved in. Secondly, all local governments that shares boundaries with other states are to maintain proper checks on all vehicles coming into the state and screen passengers to detect persons who may have been infected elsewhere and that directive have for far been complied with.

Because the local committees are considered very strategic in the fight against COVID-19, the committees has second class traditional rulers as vice chairmen with security chiefs at the local governments as members with other leaders as members. The State Action Committee has undertaken two other sets of training for medical personnel from the 23 local government areas of the state who will handle victims of the virus. These are grouped into nine pillars viz: Epidemiology and surveillance, Laboratory services, Point of Entry (POE), Infection Prevention and Control, Case management, Risk communication, Logistics and supplies, Coordination, Security.

This underscores the seriousness the state governor places on this looming crises. Thankfully, no other case has been detected by the surveilance team since the first index case.

The governor has ensured that the committee maintain its focus and continously remain to proactively monitor, supervise and coordinate Benue State government’s response to the dreaded disease. In doing this, the Benue COVID-19 Committee has also maintained a close working relationship with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, building synergies for optimum results. And because of the governor’s strict supervision, the Benue state COVID-19 committee has continued to enlighten the general publuc in complying to social distancing, regular washing of hands and staying at home etc. It has also stepped up its surveillance on persons suspected to have symptoms of coronavirus in all the 23 local government areas of the state.

To boost the enlightenment campaign against COVID-19, Governor Ortom on 2nd April, 2020 personally led other high government officials on a door to door campaigns to all the major markets in Makurdi, the state capital. These included the Commissioner of Police Benue state Command, the state Director of the Department of State Services, DSS, as well as the Commanding Officer, 72 Battalion Special Forces and other top government officials. Besides that, the governor further directed the committee through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to step up publicity. The Ministry have, since embarked on massive public enlightenment campaigns, using radio and television jingles, billboards, posters, flyers, one on one campaign, town criers as well as street storms at markets areas and every space necessary to drum home the message to the Benue populace to cultivate healthy attitudes and stay safe.

In one of his many actions where he led from the front row, the governor on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 was hosted to a two-hour interactive radio personality programme on Radio Benue, Makurdi. Six other radio stations hooked up, giving the special programme a wider coverage and reach. This programme raised more awareness on the pandemic to the Benue public. And the commendations therefrom attests to the work being done to stop the spread of the virus in the state.

On Saturday 11, April 2020, the Covid 19 committee distributed over ten thousand pieces of hand sanitizers across the twenty three local government areas in the state. This is besides the fumigation of markets, churches, mosques and other public places as is the standard practice elsewhere to curb this pandemic. Surely, Gov Ortom has proven that the lives of those who elected him matters. And he has not left anyone in doubt. Together, he is leading us out of the throes of a global health disaster. What we need to do is wholeheartedly cooperate and obey the health protocols on COVID-19. That way, we’ll all make our state safe. And we’ll be happy thereafter.

Ikyur is the Principal Special Assistant on Media to Benue State Governor.

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