In a live interview on Channels Television, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, spoke on a myriad of issues concerning governance in the state, including the state’s battle to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the efforts so far made by his government to acquire COVID-19 vaccines, the government’s plans for the event centres, churches and other facilities that were shut for contravening COVID-19 protocols, and the government’s plan to install 2,000 CCTV cameras on Lagos streets, among other issues.
I remember sitting here on Christmas Eve last year, telling our viewers that you had just recovered from COVID-19. It seems like a perfect Christmas present. And there is this saying that if you can recover from COVID-19, then you can handle anything and come out victorious. Having recovered as a starter, is that how you feel that you can take on anything and come out victorious?
It is not about the way one feels, because COVID-19 presented itself differently for different patients. I certainly would be the first to say that it was a different experience. Even in my family, the way my wife reacted is different from the way I reacted and likewise, a few of my staff’s reactions were different too. But coming out of COVID gives a clear indication that we need to take things very seriously because the way each and every one of us reacts to it is very different. I would say my own was a mild-moderate case, others were just asymptomatic and some others were very severe. But if you think by coming out of COVID I can handle everything and anything, I would certainly not agree with you. But I would give it a good shot.
I certainly also have to continue to lead from the front as the incident commander in the state. So what it requires is to continue to show leadership and to continue to tell our people that they have to take responsibility, but the government will indeed do its very best at all times to ensure that it keeps all of its citizens safe. And for us doing that means that all the requirements that we need to do as a government, like scaling up the treatment, provision of facilities and equipment required, we would do everything to ensure the safety of our citizens. For me, I am certainly not going to back down. We are not shying away from our responsibilities and we will continue to encourage our frontline health workers who are usually in the eye of the storm, who are the real heroes in all the attempts to flatten the curve and come out of this very difficult second wave that we are currently seeing.
Last year, after COVID-19 lockdown and EndSARS protest, we saw a lot of people losing trust in the government, and I am sure you have been getting feelers from people out there. If you were to speak to that person who seems to have lost trust in government, what will you be telling them?
If you don’t learn from what has happened yesterday, you probably don’t have a tomorrow. So, for me personally, it is not really to dwell so much in the past. Learn from the past but have a conversation going forward; have a plan, an agenda that you can take forward. So, what I would say to a whole lot of my youth citizens and everyone is to say that as a government and person, we have learned so much from 2020. We have learned from a pandemic that has never ravaged the world in 100 years and which has Lagos at its epicenter. We had protests that we have never seen in this part of the country before and the aftermath of it, as a government we have learnt from it. We have seen all the bites and conversation coming out of it and we are saying transparently that let all of us together take it forward and build a better society for ourselves.
How else can we do it? We don’t have anywhere to go to. We don’t have any other country. We don’t have any other state. So, it is in our individual and collective interest that we build things for ourselves and the future. That is what I will say and that is the encouragement that I want to leave with all of us. And I kept saying this: for me as a person, as long as I have this mandate, I will not shy away from ensuring that I give hope to my fellow citizens. And we will take all learning and lessons forward and build a better and stronger future for ourselves.
Talking about COVID-19, you are the incident commander for Lagos which has over 40,000 of the 120,000 cases nationwide. That is clearly a huge burden on you. In April last year, you formally announced that face masks are now compulsory in the public places in Lagos and failure to use face mask in public would attract penalties. Is the enforcement still going on?
Just to put the figure right, we have actually crossed 44,000 cases as we speak (last Sunday). But to also put in proper context, the current figure is coming out of a test of about 280,000 that we have done in the state, which is more than half of what is done nationally. So, that has given us the positivity of about 16 per cent. But in terms of compliance and enforcement, when we brought out those rules in April/May last year, people still didn’t have the level of understanding they have today. They still believed that it was something that was foreign and far from us. But right now, almost everybody understands and sees that it is real especially the second wave.
After the first wave slowed down, this second wave has shown us that we cannot take this pandemic for granted. In terms of the level of compliance, I will not say that a lot of our citizens are complying. But if you come to any of our offices and public buildings, the enforcement is there. You cannot enter my office, our secretariat in Alausa, or any of our government buildings without wearing a face mask. And if we can do that, all it takes is for everybody to take responsibility. If all the managing directors in the banking sector say to their staff and customers that you cannot enter their facilities if you are not wearing a face mask; if every manufacturing company, church, and mosque says the same thing, if we all take responsibility and issue out the same thing, then you we will see 99 percent compliance. It is not about the government bringing out police and chasing people that are not wearing it; it is about ensuring we understand that it is role sharing. All of us have a role to play and everybody just needs to play his or her part of the role.
As a media practitioner, you (interviewer) have a responsibility to also help us communicate and tell our citizens that it is about them; it is about their loved ones. It is not just that Sanwo-Olu wants you to just put up a mask on your face; it is because of what the medicine and health practitioners are telling us, that it is the only way we can reduce transmission and that is the right thing for all of us to do.
Are you saying that failure to wear a face mask is no more attracting sanctions and penalties as you said in April last year?
What is the essence of a sanction if we cannot enforce it; if I don’t have the police that can arrest every single person that flouts the law? We have made a few people examples, and that is why we went to the night clubs, churches, and other places to make some people examples. We have prosecuted those people that we made examples and we are hoping that people can learn from that. The whole idea for enforcement is not that we want to catch every single person; we just want to make a case and make a few people examples. Once you have those examples, people need to learn from them. When I say people should stop taking one-way, maybe 10 other vehicles will flout the law and will not get caught. But for the two or three offenders that get caught, we will ensure that they face the full wrath of the law. That is what we are talking about. It sends a signal to the seven or eight other ones that have been lucky to say that I shouldn’t do this again. That is what enforcement is all about.
We have seen events and parties being organized and people are asking why the government needed to wait till after those events take place before enforcing the COVID-19 protocols. How about you ensuring that before any event is hosted, people sort out permit issue so that we can avert a possible transmission that may arise from the event?
This is exactly what we have done. We have permits, clearance, and certificates that were issued to every event centre and the protocols were well stated before the clearance was given. I have got letters written to me by owners of these event centres appealing and requesting that they are sorry and that they didn’t know their customers were going to flout the rules. And I said no, we gave you the protocols and all the things you should comply with but you flouted it. They have left the premises but it remains shut. So, we really cannot police every of the single 5,000 event centers that we have, but what we have done is that we have issued them certificates. And if you are law-abiding, we have issued the protocols for you. We have told you the number of people that must be on a table, what should be the spacing of every table that you have, and it is just a very simple thing for people to comply with.
How many officers do I have in the Lagos State Safety Commission? I have like a thousand of them. How will they be able to go round and cover 5,000 event centers? What we are saying in essence is that people need to understand that we are in an era where people need to take responsibility for themselves and their loved ones. Of what benefit is it when you go to a social gathering either you are infecting people or you leave your house or leave the event and start infecting people in your own houses who were not even part of the social event. I think it is just carelessness and recklessness on the part of people that get involved in that. We have made a few examples and in some of those places, we have shut down, and they will remain shut for a while.
You recently made a statement, asking people who have malaria symptoms to go for the COVID-19 test and there are a lot of responses and debates on that particular statement. Let us also talk about home care, which makes infected people get treatment at home. How is the state government monitoring home care in such a way to prevent further transmission?
We have a home-care pack that we give to them, and in the pack, all of the medications are there. But beyond that, we also follow up with what we call the EkoTELEMED call center by which healthcare professionals call home care patients on a daily basis. The number is 08000EKOMED. Health professionals are on the other side of the call centres in which they are dialing you, monitoring, and asking you questions. In the home-care pack we give out, you have your hand sanitizers, face masks, and temperature gauge. The professionals will call and ask you all necessary questions, such as ‘What is your temperature today? How are you feeling about the medication you are using? Are you still able to isolate in your house, home, or wherever you are?’ And if they realize that maybe your symptoms are not getting improved or your condition needs to be escalated, they will make arrangements to come and pick you up. That is the kind of thing that has been happening.
Lagos has more than 44,000 cases and that shows how many people need to be vaccinated in a state with a population of about 20 million. I know that governors recently met under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), and there were some discussions about vaccine deployment or purchase. Seeing the peculiar position which Lagos has, as the epicenter of this virus, are you planning to purchase vaccines outside of the NGF’s plan and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19?
We are having conversations on this at different levels. We actually want the Federal Government to take the lead. As a sovereign, they have all the protocols and contacts to make that happen and we are conversing. We are still having another meeting on Tuesday with PTF and NCDC under the federal umbrella. Internationally, there is also a coalition that has come together; about 190 countries working with the World Health Organisation (WHO). There is a list of how they want to be able to ensure that even the poor nations and the fairly-disadvantaged nations must also have the vaccines at some point in time. So, Nigeria has got involved in that. But we want the nation to take the lead and we are giving them that space as a state and because they are sovereign, they can have that conversation.
But other than that, as a sub-national, we are also taking our destinies into our own hands. We have started a conversation with some of the vaccine manufacturers. I have made contact with Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca. Johnson and Johnson are not out yet. The Moderna has written to us and we have written back to them. So, we are making our sub-national contacts, and part of the thing that will come out of it is that once we see what the nation is doing; because this is something that we do not want to be dealing with middlemen or people that are not in the frontline supply chain of some of these vaccines. We don’t want to run foul of the protocols. But we have started making contacts, even at the