There are strong indications that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), may extend the lockdown order in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory.

This came after the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, spoke at Friday’s edition of the committee’s daily media briefing.

The PTF had earlier in the day met with the President at the Aso Rock Villa.

Buhari had, on March 29, ordered the lockdown for an initial period of 14 days to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of that day, Nigeria had 111 COVID-19 cases with one death, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The cases were recorded in 11 states and the FCT.

But as of Friday night, coronavirus cases had increased to 305 in the country after fresh 17 cases were recorded in the country. The states where the fresh cases were recorded were Lagos (8), Katsina (3), FCT (2), Niger (1), Kaduna (1), Anambra (1) and Ondo (1).

While 58 patients had been discharged, seven had died as at Friday night.

The new cases also brought the number of states affected to 18, excluding the FCT.

Lagos, FCT and Osun had the highest number of cases at 163, 56 and 20 respectively. Edo had 12, Oyo (11), Bauchi (6), Akwa Ibom (5), Ogun (7), Kaduna (6) and Katsina (4).

Enugu, Ekiti, Rivers, Kwara, Delta and Ondo had two cases each.

Benue, Niger and Anambra had one case each.

Speaking at the media briefing, Mustapha said, “The PTF, a small committee of us, this afternoon, had the privilege of further briefing Mr President on the assessment of our response to COVID-19 and, at the appropriate moment, we will continue to adequately inform Nigerians of government decisions.

“The decision on whether to extend the lockdown or not is exclusively the decision or responsibility of the President. Ours (the PTF) is to provide him with first-hand information that would inform that decision. So, I cannot speculate on that now. But looking at what is happening in other climes, you would be able to deduce what might likely happen, but I’m not in a position to speculate on that.

“I believe strongly that the information required to make that decision would be made available to Mr President, who would look at the holistic picture. It is not only the information that comes from the Presidential Task Force that would inform his decision; there are other sources of information that come to him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he would consider all of them in arriving at a decision.”

Earlier when the PTF met with the President on Friday to discuss its progress on the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mustapha had told journalists at the State House that Buhari appealed to Nigerians to exercise more patience and understanding as the government continued to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, it was gathered that Buhari expressed optimism that Nigeria would beat COVID-19, flatten the curve and aggressively respond to the crisis.

The SGF said, “He (Buhari) was very satisfied; as a matter of fact, he wished us well and spoke openly as a father would about his compassion for the work that we are doing and the fact that he keeps seeing us going up and down, engaging with the public, engaging with the media and critical stakeholders.

“He (Buhari) appealed to the Nigerian public for patience and understanding, that we are dealing with an uncommon enemy, one that we can’t see or predict, all over the world. It’s called the novel coronavirus, which means it’s new and its characteristics are unknown; people are just trying to define it and find ways around it.

“His strong appeal was that, as much as possible, we should encourage people to observe the basic instructions that had been issued, in terms of keeping social distancing, washing of hands, maintaining cleanliness and staying at home, which is very critical and scientifically it’s been proven that staying at home can prevent the spread by about 45 per cent.”

Mustapha expressed gratitude to Nigerian health workers, especially those who have been on the front line since the COVID-19 pandemic started. He assured them that government was working out incentives to further motivate them.

He said, “Let me use this opportunity to commend and thank our front-line health care workers for their commitment and sacrifices. The government is working on the issue of your incentives, medical and life insurance as you battle to save lives.”

‘Coronavirus has trapped us’

According to Mustapha, COVID-19 pandemic has trapped everyone in their countries, with no one in Nigeria being able to travel abroad for medical treatment. He said it brought out the reality of the necessity to build a strong health system.

He said the primary health care system was an exclusive responsibility of the councils while the secondary health care system was that of the state government, leaving the Federal Government with the responsibility of taking care of the tertiary health care system.

Mustapha noted, “We have over 10,000 primary health centres in Nigeria but how many of them are working? This is a major issue. That was why I said on Thursday during my address to the National Assembly that we need to sit back and reconstruct our investment into health care system.

“Right now, there is provision of one per cent from the consolidated revenue fund which goes into basic health care provision fund. We are doing good but not as we ought to. The Federal Government is doing a lot.

“Right now, nobody can go out to seek medical attention. This is the right moment to address this issue. Nobody ever thought you could not go out to seek medical attention but we are all confined here now.”

Speaking on the viral videos of Nigerians being kicked out of hotels in China over COVID-19, the SGF said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had taken action on the matter.

Detained pilots in Rivers’ll be released unconditionally — Minister

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the pilots of Caverton Helicopters who were arrested and detained by the Rivers State Government would soon be released.

Sirika said this while responding to a question on the subject during Friday’s briefing.

He said, “The pilots were carrying out national assignment because the speech by the SGF and the presidential address exempted oil and gas from the lockdown or shutdown in national interest.

“And these Caverton Helicopters’ pilots were flying into the military base on national assignment.

“Of course, I may not be learned but I am lettered and I understand, in this case, there is no conflict between the federal and state laws but I will not argue that on this platform. It is unnecessary.

“So, on whether the governor of Rivers State (Nyesom Wike) ought to know if the exempted Caverton flight would be landing in a military base in Port Harcourt belonging to the Nigerian Air Force, he did not need to know.

“That is answer number one. Answer number two, regarding the pilots, the pilots will soon be released, rescued and there will not be any conviction hanging on their necks.”

Sirika further said, “Arising from the constitutional provision and the powers of Mr President, the seriousness of this task force, the danger of COVID-19, the way we operate civil aviation and military aviation, that’s why I said the air force officer acted ignorantly to have called the governor when the chopper landed on his property.

“Also, the federal police who made the arrest within the premises of the military acted ignorantly as well. And I said they exhibited incompetence.

“This matter should not be over-flogged. The Federal Government is there for the 200 million people of Nigeria, regardless of whether you are from Rivers or Cross River, Kano or Kaduna.”