What COVID-19 Has Taught Me – Lagos Governor, Sanwo-Olu

The overall success of Nigeria is tied to what happens in Lagos State; if Lagos succeeds, Nigeria succeeds, if Lagos fails, Nigeria fails

Governor Sanwo-Olu: Nobody expected, when we were starting 2020, that barely four months into the year, we would be going into a global shutdown on this scale / Photo credit: thisdaylive.com
Governor Sanwo-Olu: Nobody expected, when we were starting 2020, that barely four months into the year, we would be going into a global shutdown on this scale / Photo credit: thisdaylive.com

In this exclusive interview, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, covered a wide range of issues, from how the state is tackling Coronavirus to massive revenues lost and the lessons learned:

Will Lagos re-introduce lockdown?

The federal and state governments have very clear reasons for instituting a lockdown, and easing that lockdown.

We have reasons for doing so, as well as what we would like to achieve; and we also have a duty to constantly review implementation and success.

If we feel we are not seeing the desired results, or that the public is failing to obey the directives issued, we also have a duty to amend these orders and directives.

So yes, poor compliance can compel us to change strategy, and re-introduce a more stringent version of the lockdown.

It all depends on how much co-operation we are seeing from the public and how much progress we are making in containing the pandemic.

Why is the state not publishing Local Council Development Area (LCDA)-based data on the daily number of infections and recoveries?

This data is actually available, and the honourable commissioner for Health does regular briefings based on the extensive community – level data that we are generating.

In one of my recent addresses to the State, I emphasised the role of data in tackling this pandemic.

We cannot succeed beyond the quality and depth of our data gathering.

This is why Lagos State is currently developing an emergency digital response platform that will collect even more useful data to guide our decision making.

But what is available is local government-status; not the (57) LCDAs, which are smaller units

We have testing centres in all the Local Government Areas and the results published are derived from the LCDAs, the smaller units you referred to.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State / Photo credit: Guardian.ng
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State / Photo credit: Guardian.ng

There appears to have been an increased traffic in inter-state travels even on the eve of easing of the lockdown. Some states, especially Kaduna, have complained of a spike in infection rate as a result of “imported” infections from these inter-state commuters. What has the experience of Lagos been?

We are seeing similar scenarios everywhere across the country.

For some reason people continue to think they have the freedom to get up and travel anywhere.

We are also seeing a lot of what I would call smuggling of people going on.

Transporters who are classified under essential services are concealing passengers in their vehicles and carrying them across state lines.

This kind of unethical conduct violates the orders we have issued, and also undermines the safety and wellbeing of all of us.

So, there is zero tolerance on our part for this kind of behavior.

It is also important to say that every state must have all hands-on deck to tackle these violations.

For a person or group of persons to illegally get to Lagos State, from, say, the North, or the East, they have to cross several state lines.

Similarly, we as Lagos State have a duty to ensure that no one is able to cross our borders on an unauthorized Interstate journey to any other part of the country.

So, it has to be a collective security and law enforcement response.

We have a responsibility, at this time, to ensure that we every Nigerian who is stranded abroad and seeking to return home, is able to do so

There’s high public skepticism in the data on infections and recoveries. What do you think is responsible and how can public confidence be raised?

Some level of skepticism is to be expected.

As we have always tried to emphasise, these are unprecedented times.

Nobody expected, when we were starting 2020, that barely four months into the year, we would be going into a global shutdown on this scale.

Many commentators have described this pandemic as the greatest global challenge of our lifetime.

So, you have to expect that people will react in all sorts of ways.

There will be alarm, panic, disbelief, conspiracy theories and so on, all kinds of emotions.

This is happening not only in Nigeria, but all around the world.

How do I think public confidence can be raised?

Well, constant transparency and communication are essential, on the part of government.

We must continue to tell the story not just of the pandemic but also of our response to it.

We must encourage survivors to tell their stories, to put faces to the statistics.

I think that is very important.

You can be skeptical about a number, or a statistic, but it is a lot more difficult to be skeptical about a real-life story.

So, we must create room for stories to be told, by patients, front line health workers, and so on.

Ensuring people are carried along can do a lot of good for public confidence.

Our approach in Lagos State has been to focus on the following: Testing, Health Infrastructure, Palliatives and Communication

Lagos is generally considered to be ahead of other states in managing this public health crisis. What are you doing differently?

Well, I think the first point to note is that we are the epicentre of this pandemic in Nigeria.

So, we really don’t have a choice, we have to ensure that we are fully up to the task of responding and that we are able to lead by example.

The overall success of Nigeria is tied to what happens in Lagos State; if Lagos succeeds, Nigeria succeeds, if Lagos fails, Nigeria fails.

To specifically answer your question, our approach in Lagos State has been to focus on the following: Testing, Health Infrastructure, Palliatives and Communication.

We have been taking testing to local communities across Lagos.

Some weeks ago, we launched Sample Collection Centres across every Local Government in the State.

In terms of health infrastructure, we are constantly developing, expanding and upgrading our Isolation and Treatment Centres.

Palliatives are another important pillar, as you know, this pandemic is not only a threat to life, it’s also a threat to livelihoods.

So, our response must necessarily speak to these two broad areas.

We have a duty to do our best to help cushion the effect of the pandemic on individuals, households and businesses.

I have to lead by example; I cannot ask people to obey guidelines and not obey them myself

In the line of duty, you mingle a lot with patients. Are you sometimes worried that you might catch the virus?

This is one of the normal and expected risks of leading a pandemic response on a subnational level.

What is really important is not whether or not I am worried but instead the steps I take to protect not only myself but everyone else involved in the Lagos State response.

We are doing everything we can to ensure that everyone is protected; that nobody working to protect other people from the virus is vulnerable to infection from it.

On a personal level, I take all the precautions expected, I ensure I wear a mask, and wash my hands regularly, I have cut down significantly on the number of face – to – face meetings I do, and so on.

I have to lead by example; I cannot ask people to obey guidelines and not obey them myself.

Can you estimate the potential cost of COVID-19 on the state’s internally generated revenue in 2020?
(It’s estimated that Lagos receives about N35bn monthly in IGR)

Naturally, subnational and national economies have taken big hits during this pandemic.

Many sectors have been shut down, the ones that remain open are struggling, with obvious consequences for tax revenues.

In March, Lagos State IGR fell by 25 per cent compared to what we saw in January and February.

April revenue figures were 35 per cent lower than January/February.

You will agree with me that that is a significant impact, and it may still get worse.

But that should not be the entire story.

The real story, I would say, is what we are doing as a government to respond to the situation.

We have already commenced a review of our 2020 budget, to bring it in line with the new realities.

We are revising estimates and reordering our priorities, and will soon be taking the revised budget to the Lagos State House of Assembly for their consideration and approval.

We must see this crisis as an opportunity to re-assess our priorities for the greater good of Lagos State.

There are concerns that with fewer bed spaces in the isolation centres and dwindling testing resources the decision of the Federal Government to bring back Nigerians from abroad at this time could make things worse in Lagos, the main entry border. Are you concerned?

We have a responsibility, at this time, to ensure that we every Nigerian who is stranded abroad and seeking to return home, is able to do so.

Several countries around the world are doing the same thing; it is an obligation, actually, that countries owe their nationals.

So, I am glad that we have finally been able to kick off the repatriation exercise, and that Lagos State has been quite involved in this process.

Together with the Presidential Task Force and other agencies of the Federal Government, we have put in a lot of measures to ensure that all the Nigerians returning home are not only treated with dignity, but also that they do not increase our risk burden.

So, we are implementing a compulsory government-supervised quarantine, for all returning travelers, for 14 days.

In addition to this everyone will be tested twice, on arrival and at the end of the quarantine, and any positive cases will immediately be taken into a Treatment Centre.

What lessons have you learned?

There are so many lessons that I as a person, and the Lagos State Government as a system or structure, have learnt from this pandemic.

There is not enough time to focus on everything but I will highlight one or two.

First is the importance of collaboration.

It is very critical.

Collaboration within states and between states, and between states and the Federal Government.

Everybody needs to be on the same page, for us to achieve the desired progress.

We cannot afford to be working at cross-purposes or wasting resources on duplication of effort.

Closely tied to collaboration of course is communication, it’s very important.

You actually cannot have collaboration without communication.

We must all be talking to one another, exchanging ideas and feedback, and very importantly, ensuring that we carry the public along.

This is why you will find me regularly addressing the state, on a weekly basis on television, at the minimum, and multiple times daily on social media.

This is apart from all the constant engagements being carried out by various other government agencies and officials, like the Ministry of Health.

A third lesson is about the critical role of data and statistics in governance.

As I said earlier, the better the data you have the better the decisions you can make and the easier the implementation will be.

We have a lot of work to do, in Lagos State and nationally, regarding data.

We need to know our people better, who are they, what do they do for a living,how vulnerable are they economically, and how can we best reach them with specific solutions and support.

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