Imo: How Anunobi’s Creativity gave bite to enforcement of COVID-19 protocols

Rex Anunobi

Coronavirus disease is a puzzle yet to be busted almost one after it hit the world. There is no exact and roundly convincing explanation on the nature and origin of the ailment. Similarly, no globally approved and accepted cure has been be found.
Perhaps, this was why the World Health Organization, WHO, ominously warned recently that the worst days of the pandemic are far from over. By every yardstick that was a frightening declaration that deserves attention.
Probably too, it was this kind of picture that WHO saw at the outset of the pandemic that made it roll out some sort of middle of the road preventive measures. Though it noted that those measures are not curative, it stressed however, that they can help arrest its spread if strictly adhered to. These measures are: hand washing, social/physical distancing, regular hand washing under running water with soap and use of sanitizer.
Nigerian governments soon after the pandemic arrived our shores on February 27, 2020, embraced these preventive measures. Apart from campaigns and awareness creation by Health authorities in the country, elected and appointed officials took it upon themselves to drum the preventive measures into citizens ears. Both President Buhari and Gov Hope Uzodinma did this severally in their broadcasts.
Unfortunately, however, Nigerians seem to have refused to buy into the campaign. Nobody knows exactly who sold the lies to Nigerians but, till this hour many argue that Corona Virus is not in the country and that it doesn’t thrive in this part of the world. In fact, a lot of people branded it a scam.
It was this worrisome mindset and ensuing open flouting of its preventive measures that, forced the federal, Imo and other state governments to impose lockdown and curfew to arrest the spread.
However, it was found out later that though lockdown and curfew were necessary, they also came at a huge cost. They caused severe economic hardship and could also lead to the collapse of personal and national economy. Given these threats, the leaders had to revert to partial lockdown. But before that they threatened severe sanctions against continued utter flouting of the preventive measures for the second time.
But that is what has really being playing out in Imo. No sooner did the governor lift the ban than people threw caution to the wind and went back to the old way of seeing it as unreal and the preventive measures unnecessary.
This is the reason on Owerri streets and roads people moved about without face masks. Crowds gathered without observing social distancing. Passengers were crammed inside buses and taxi without nose masks and physical distancing, while hand washing and use of sanitizer were equally at zero level.
As it is in Owerri, so it is in the rural areas where people were carrying out burials, marriages and other crowd pulling events without caring a hoot about those measures.
But, if the citizens attitude was disturbing, the seeming lack of will on the part of government COVID 19 prevention Committee to frontally confront this unbecoming tendency was really troubling.
When Gov Uzodinma set up the committee he handed it a dual task. He charged it to ensure that the virus did not come into the state. However, if the disease managed to come in the team was also to work assiduously to stop the spread.
These are clear mandates but, after inauguration the members slept. It has being carrying out the important duty of awareness creation and enlightenment in fits and starts since inauguration.
More worrisome is the seeming lack of will to enforce adherence to preventive measures. One had thought the committee would have come up some tough sanctions against offenders to deter others, knowing that our people rarely obey lawful orders unless compelled.
But, we never saw anything. It was not surprising, therefore, hearing the governor raise alarm in his last broadcast to the people of the state that COVID 19 is spreading.
Of course, that revelation no doubt touched many. However, it seemed to have not only touched his Commissioner for Transport, Barr Rex Anunobi but, as well made him wear his thinking cap. Barr Anunobi from what we are seeing went home after that broadcast thinking: How can the situation be salvaged by getting Imolites to observe the preventive measures. Of course, not long after putting himself to task, he found an answer.
Convinced that more than 80 % of people in the state use public transport daily, Barr Anunobi seem to have reasoned that if drivers who convey them are made to observe the protocols, they could also make their passengers comply. All that is needed to make the idea work, he probably told himself is the stipulation and strict enforcement of sanctions on erring drivers.
Towards further strengthening the unfolding blueprint he may have also thought it necessary that the drivers themselves be allowed to take charge of the implementation of the agenda.
Based on that blueprint, Barr Anunobi set up a taskforce made up entirely of drivers, headed by their state chairman and handed them the terms of reference of the assignment. That taskforce has worked only from Monday 29 July 2020 to Friday July 1 2020, but it has dramatically altered the Corona Virus preventive measures equation, so much so that, compliance level of mask wearing has jumped from near zero level to over 70% today. This is clearly a remarkable feat that signals a new dawn. As you board a bus now you are sure to hear the driver tell you to wear your face mask, to prevent him from being arrested. This sort of open endorsement has been unheard of in Imo prior to the setting up of that taskforce.
However, it should be noted that what Anunobi did is no rocket science. The man just thought out of the box as an aide committed to helping his principal succeed not minding that the area in question has nothing to do with his assigned duties. He never looked the other way as he is neither the health commissioner nor a member of the Covid 19 team. Undoubtedly, his actions were informed by the philosophy of one for all, and all for one.
From reports Gov Uzodinma himself was on the streets on Wednesday July 1, 2020 to personally supervise compliance with the preventive measures. That gesture is laudable because it will add more impetus to the ongoing revolution initiated by Barr Anunobi.
No doubt, if the present momentum in the battle against the spread of this deadly ailment is sustained, Imo will not only hit 100% preventive measures compliance, but also witness downward spiral of the pandemic curve.

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