The outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020 and its subsequent spread has crippled legislative activities in state Houses of Assembly across the country, with most of the legislative chambers putting their sessions on hold.
LEADERSHIP findings revealed that while legislators in some states have been working to pass legislations that would help in stemming the pandemic, quite a lot of legislative days that ought to have been used to address issues affecting the wellbeing of the residents in other states are being wasted due to a series of COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Aware that any transmission of coronavirus among their ranks could be devastating, some of the lawmakers have jettisoned legislative functions in strict obedience to COVID-19 protocols.
Speaking to our correspondents on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the legislative business of the Plateau State House of Assembly, the chairman, House Committee on information, Hon Philip Dashun, said the pandemic has really dealt them a hard blow in terms of oversight functions.
Dashun who represents Pankshin North constituency said there are institutions that they ought to have visited to carry out their oversight functions, but were unable to since these institutions were closed down as a result of the pandemic.
He also said members were not allowed to move around as the House of Assembly complex is also shut down.
According to him, because the pandemic has affected the smooth running of the Assembly’s calendar, members have no choice than to sacrifice their salaries as palliatives to the COVID-19 committee headed by the deputy governor, Prof Sonni Tyoden as well as to their constituents.
In the Kwara State House of Assembly, the outbreak has distorted a lot of legislative activities.
Some of the urgent matters before the House which the outbreak has prevented from being addressed include the passage of 2020 supplementary appropriation bill, the Child Right Law Bill, and several motions and ‘Matters of Urgent Public Importance’.
The House which recently reconvened is now making frantic efforts to address all issues before it that were truncated by the COVID- 19 outbreak.
In Cross River State, COVID-19 crippled activities at the state House of Assembly, particularly during the period of lockdown where the movement of persons to and fro the state was restricted.
Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon Jonas Eteng Williams, said the 9th Assembly at inception took the welfare
and training of lawmakers paramount, stressing that the outbreak of the global pandemic hampered scheduled training of lawmakers, conferences, and workshops billed to hold within and outside of the country.
The member representing Gala State Constituency in the House, Hon Regina Anyogu, said to some extent the process of law-making was affected during the period of lockdown pronounced by federal government due to outbreak of COVID-19.
She however said that in spite of the fear radiated by the pandemic, members of the House still sat to make laws for the state.
The lawmaker averred that even though the house had their sittings once a week in strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols, including social distancing, use of face masks and hand sanitizers, a lot was done as some lawmakers who used to find it difficult to reach out to their constituents took the opportunity to visit their constituencies and distribute palliatives to their constituents and reach out to their people unlike in the past when they hardly go to their constituencies.
In Osun State, plenary was hardly convened at the peak of the pandemic.
The member representing Obokun State constituency, Hon Adewumi Adeyemi, said no individual, agency, or organisation could claim not to be adversely affected by COVID-19.
According to him, the total lockdown of the state at the peak of the pandemic had negative impact on even bills that were at the level of being passed.
On oversight functions, Adeyemi noted that it is only when organisations are functioning that lawmakers could carry out oversight functions on them.
He, however, said it was in anticipation of post-COVID-19 on the economy of his constituents that informed an empowerment programme he tagged “Skills to Wealth Empowerment Programme” he organised on August 12 where working tools such as grinding machines, sewing machines, hair driers among others were distributed to the indigents in his constituency.
In the Delta State House of Assembly, Law-making and oversight functions by members had been greatly hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawmakers, it was gathered, had been making frequent adjournments since the resumption of activities after the total lockdown.
LEADERSHIP investigations revealed that the Assembly has failed to convene for more than five times since the resumption of activities in May this year.
The members sat two times in June to mark their one year anniversary and to pass the state reversed budget, as well as few days in July to consider some bills after which they adjourned till date.
In the Imo State House of Assembly, the pandemic also affected operations of the House drastically after about 13 members of the House tested positive for the virus, a development that led to shutdown of the Assembly for several weeks.
The chairman, House Committee on Information and Judiciary, Hon Nelson Ezerioha, who confirmed the development said, “It’s against the law to disclose the identity of the virus carriers as each member deserves to be protected.
“The truth is that 26 out of the 27 members of the house including the speaker, Chiji Collins were tested and the results made available to each member.”
The chairman of the Imo State COVID-19 taskforce, Prof Maurice Iwu, also corroborated Ezerioha’s position that about 13 members of the House were confirmed carriers of the virus and that the House would be shut down to enable members self-quarantine themselves.
Meanwhile, despite the effect of the outbreak, lawmakers in some states have been working to provide services to their people.
In Rivers State, the shutting down of its hallowed Chambers for some months due to the upsurge in the spread of Coronavirus did not prevent the House from carrying out its legislative functions when compared to previous years.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Port Harcourt, the House leader, Hon Martins Amaewhule, insisted that the oversight functions of the House had not been affected by the pandemic.
The House leader, however, said that the lawmakers were initially afraid to sit in the advent of the pandemic but are not entertaining the fear any longer having overcome the challenges.
“However, we were a bit worried about sitting when the pandemic started but we have been able to overcome the challenges and nothing to fear again.”
FG To Probe Low Sample Collection In States
Meanwhile, the federal government has expressed worries over low testing across the states, expressing fear that it could be dangerous.
Accordingly, it said it would soon commission a study to examine the development.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who gave the hint during the daily briefing of the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19, noted that Nigeria is currently having more cases of patients discharged than admitted.
Noting however that it was not a license to become complacent, the minister bsaid, “In the past 24 hours, we recorded just 138 COVID-19 positive cases in Nigeria, one of the lowest numbers in many months, giving a total of 53,865 positive cases out of 403,347 tests conducted as of August 31, 2020.
“In the same 24-hour period, 199 persons were discharged from the hospital, giving us a total successful treatment of 41,513 patients. We are beginning to see a situation where the number of those treated and discharged exceeds the number of positive cases detected.
“While these figures may seem reassuring, they may be deceptive, and we cannot assume that the curve is flattening since we are yet to perfect due diligence on our side.
“Testing has, for example, dropped quite significantly due to reduced sample collection across many States, for reasons that are not clear in all cases. One State, for example, tested over 35,000 in July and just under 20,000 in August, while another state dropped from 23,000 in July to just under 4,000 in August.
“These are just examples that show that there is more work to do and many more challenges ahead. There is reason to worry that in states facing an election, campaign activities cause caution to be thrown to the wind and covid19 infection increases dramatically, while testing may decline due to frustration”.
Also speaking at the daily briefing yesterday, chairman of the PTF and secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said the last three weeks had witnessed a slowdown in the number of confirmed cases, adding that in the last four months of testing, the lowest daily figure of confirmed cases was reported on Sunday.
He said, “The PTF still urges caution and vigilance on the declining numbers because the virus is still potent and very dangerous. This position is informed by the fact in spite of our enhanced testing capacity, the number of samples collected for testing have not been encouraging.”
Speaking further, the SGF called for more states to expand the scope of their sample collection.
“While we intensify our targeted testing strategy, we still urge the states to expand the scope of their sample collection,” he added.
On the continuous drop in positive cases, the SGF said, “The last seven days have shown a consistently greater number of discharges than confirmed cases.
“Particularly, we note with delight, the report that Prof Akin
Abayomi, the Lagos State commissioner for Health, like many other Nigerians, has recovered from the infection. The PTF congratulates all those that have recovered and urges them to tell their stories.
“The PTF also urges that the best choice to make is to avoid contracting the virus by strictly observing the non-pharmaceutical measures and all other guidelines issued”.
On the proposed reopening of international flights, the SGF said while South Africa was no longer in the top five with the global cumulative cases, Ethiopia was also rising strongly.
He added: “The PTF will continue to monitor developments all over Africa even as we prepare to open up the international air space for flights.
“The PTF has also observed that from the point the global numbers entered the 20th million, growth in cases has been on the average of a million cases every 4-5 days. This is a trend that deserves a lot of attention and the PTF is doing that.
“Nigerians will recall that at the outbreak of the pandemic, it was predicted that the African continent – with its weak health infrastructure and propensity to high disease burden – would be the worst hit. A recent publication by the Weekly Science Review has indicated that despite having 17 percent of the global population, Africa has accounted for just five percent of global confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3 percent of deaths.
“Furthermore, a recent study by a group of African countries, in East Africa indicates that Africa has weathered the storm of the pandemic with a death ratio of 1:10000 persons at a total of 23,000 so far.
“According to the study, far more Africans have been infected with the virus and are now resistant to it for reasons such as more exposure to variants of the coronavirus and regular exposure to malaria and other infectious diseases, which prime the African Immune system to fight new pathogens.
“The PTF is, however, studying the manifestation of the virus in Nigeria and in other countries and continents in order to understand the nature.
“This should ordinarily give us encouragement that we are winning the war against the COVID-19 pandemic but unfortunately, the science, data, and experience from other parts of the world indicate that such data should be viewed with extreme caution, as it is prone to be very deceptive and could be misleading if we let down our guards and be influenced to deviate from our strategy of cautious optimism that has brought Nigeria this far.”
Plateau Now Hotspot For Virus
The PTF also revealed that Plateau State was now the epicenter for COVID-19 as more cases are been confirmed there on a daily basis.
SGF Mustapha said it was equally important for Nigeria that the country is seeing a gradual shift in areas of high infection.
This, he noted, could be related to increase in testing by citizens of the state.
“However, we also need to look at the flip side that there are a number of highly undetected cases lying around which we need to discover and deal with early”, he stated.
Also, the coordinator of PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, said Plateau State was leading in confirmed cases because it is testing more.
He further urged more states to test more as Lagos and Plateau are currently doing so as to get the positive cases and treat them fast.
8 Vaccines At Stage 3 Trials
The PTF also revealed that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a draft landscape of the COVID-19 candidate vaccines.
According to the draft, on August 28, 2020 a total 173 candidate vaccines were under evaluation, 33 are under clinical evaluation (8 at phase 3 trials), while 143 candidate vaccines are in pre-clinical evaluation.