Re: As Lalong and citizens bicker over Covid-19 stigmatisation

The attention of Plateau state government has been drawn to a feature published on page 20 of Blueprint Newspaper No 288 of Wednesday June 3, 2020 in which several allegations and outright misinformation were raised against the state government and the person of His Excellency, Governor Simon Bako Lalong.

We are constrained to put the record straight before the article is embraced and becomes a source of igniting unnecessary bitterness to the peace in the state. Without prejudice to the right of the writer, the one-sided feature seems to be targeted at embarrassing the person of the governor and rubbish the well-articulated efforts of his administration in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. 

This is so because nowhere did the writer present the flip-side of the allegations nor capture the response of the governor or any of its agents, many who have been in constant relations with him.

Throughout the write-up, one is confronted with one-sided accusation and castigation of the government and the governor which is highly embellished with underlying ulterior motives that clearly seems to be leading towards creating disharmony in the state. No where in the feature did the author indicate that he sought the side of the state government and was denied.

First, the writer spoke about a leakage of the COVID-19 index case result which found its way to the social media thereby causing huge embarrassment not only to NVRI Vom where the test was carried out but also to the state government.
The governor immediately condemned the unfortunate leak through a press statement issued on April 25, 2020 by the commissioner for information and communications, Dan Manjang, and directed for a thorough investigation into the leakage. In addition, the governor condemned the unprofessional conduct in his statewide broadcast where he said, “This unprofessional conduct is being investigated thoroughly and anyone found culpable would be dealt with, accordingly. We have equally reached out to the affected persons and their families to reassure them and mitigate the situation”. Subsequently, preliminary disciplinary measures were taken on the officers involved while investigations continued.

In that same broadcast, Governor Lalong repeated his call against stigmatisation when he said “Like I have said repeatedly, Corona virus is not a death sentence and scientific evidence suggests that there is a high survival rate among those infected. I appeal to citizens to avoid stigmatising people who are either quarantined, suspected or confirmed to have the disease. While we take all necessary measures to remain safe, we must not subject people to psychological torture which has devastating effects on their health and capable of discouraging future tests”.

This is a governor who has continued to take different measures in consultation with stakeholders in combating the pandemic as well as ensuring that a thorough investigation and punishment is meted out to those found culpable in the leakage of that result. How then can he be the one directing such action?

The other issue contained in the said feature relates to the invectives poured on the DG ICT who allegedly re-tweeted a message warning citizens to avoid certain areas because of the high number of COVID-19 cases in the areas. The writer went ahead to continue his allegation that Governor Lalong “took sides with his aides and …repeated similar allegations” during a live radio programme in Jos, a development which in his words “seems to many as an attempt to promote hate speech and stigmatisation  against members of these communities.” 

Why take issues out of context and take to inciting the people against the governor? Without prejudice to the tweet by the DG ICT (which was not originated by him), but simply drawing attention to the prevalence in that area for people to take more caution to cut community transmission and avoid the spread. The governor simply responded to an inquiry by a listener on that programme where he spoke about the community tracing in those areas to curb the virus.

Assuming for theory sake that the allegation has any iota of truth, what the feature failed to address is whether or not the cases of COVID-19 in the areas mentioned are false. Is it better to hide it and more people innocently contact the virus and further spread it or is it better to let people know so that they can make right choices and stay safe in order to reduce the risk to the immediate community and the state?

Maybe it is those making these spurious allegations that should be rightly tagged ‘promoters of hate speech’ for the simple reason that they are giving a purely health emergency political and religious connotation and exploiting one of the fault lines of the state and Nigeria instead of supporting the governor to bring an end to the pandemic.

Perhaps, they are not aware that the President Muhammadu Buhari  imposed total lockdown on Lagos, Kano and Ogun plus the FCT while states like Katsina and Rivers quarantined entire local government areas when they discovered cases just to safeguard the people. No one accused them of stigmatising those states.

What would they have said if Governor Lalong took this kind of step which is well within his powers? We should never play politics or perpetuate religious and ethnic bigotry with the lives of people.

The most dangerous and scary assertion contained in the feature is the religious card projected where it said, “Governor Lalong and his appointees are very much aware that for the past seven weeks, no Jumma’at congressional prayers were held in compliance with the state government directives of not having more than 50 persons in a congregation.

When did COVID-19 become a religious matter? Despite this fruitless dissipation of energy, they did not cite a single incident where anyone in government or His Excellency inferred religious bias in the fight against COVID-19. Was the directive for gathering of not more than 50 people only for one religion? If only they knew the criticisms that the governor took when he announced lockdowns during Easter and Eid-el-Fitr, they would sympathise with him.

In case they do not know, the governor has taken every action in the best interest of safety and security of the lives of the entire people of Plateau in accordance with his oath of office to protect and stand for them at all times.

It is okay for people to disagree with the governor or even criticise his actions, but it is dangerous for anyone to descend into the arena of inciting a particular group of people against the governor based on ethnic, religious, tribal or political affiliations.

The good people of Plateau  and discerning people of Nigeria and elsewhere know that he is one person that is humble, peaceful, respectful and tolerant of all manner of people irrespective of their backgrounds. To accuse this man who has been widely recognised as a peace lover  with such baseless claims, is to say the least most dishonourable and unfortunate.

The conclusion is that Plateau state governor, Simon Bako Lalong, has put up a robust fight against COVID-19 which has reduced the likely escalation of the disease. He does not need to be distracted from protecting all people in the state. Were it not for the proactive steps taken by his administration, there would perhaps be more cases than witnessed today and the state would be in serious danger.

He is showing courage, purposeful leadership and inclusivity that are hallmarks of a true leader and making the state more attractive for all Nigerians and foreigners who despite the lockdown and border closures, have been making frantic efforts to come into the state. The best we can do is to continue to support and encourage him.

Should anyone not be obliged to supporting him, such person should at least not seek to bring him down with false, injurious and misleading incitements.

Dr  Macham is the director of press and public affairs to the governor of Plateau state.

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