Rivers State recorded its first casualty in the Covid-19 war Thursday, April 23, when an armed member of the Rivers State Task Force on Covid-19 shot dead a policewoman, who intervened to save the destruction of wares of some roadside traders in Eneka, Obio/Akpo Local Government Area of the state.
It was the first casualty connected to Covid-19 in the state. Incidentally, none of the three Covid-19 positive cases recorded so far in the state had died. Two of them successfully completed their treatment at the isolation centre and tested negative for the virus and had since been released to their families.
Since March 25, when he declared the closure of all road, water and air borders to the state, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, had taken the fight against Covid-19 like a conventional warfare, in which he is not ready to take any prisoners.
And nobody has appeared too big for him to take on, even the Nigerian federal government. He told the press that even though he had no control over the use of the airspace any one that lands in the state by air would not be allowed to enter the state. He made good his threat when he arrested two pilots of Caverton Helicopters who flew some oil workers into the state and let the oil workers slip into the state without being tested for Covid-19.
He promptly got the pilots charged to court and offered to be a prosecution witness. He held on to his position even when the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika explained that the flight got clearance to fly into Port Harcourt. The pilots were remanded in a correctional custody until the next adjourned date when they were freed on bail.
A few days later, some 22 workers of Exxon Mobil were ferried into the state through Onne Port. Wike got wind of it and went for them. They were arrested and being prepared to be charged to court when the oil workers’ union PENGASSAN threatened to shut down the oil industry if the workers were not freed. Wike insisted that the seized workers must be quarantined and tested for Covid-19 before any consideration could be given for their freedom.
He eventually freed them. But he was bitter about the way the federal authorities were undermining his efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 to the state. He accused the federal government of discriminating against the state and refusing to support the fight against Covid-19 there with funds. He cited the N10 billion grant the federal government gave Lagos State and asked if Lagos was the only state in the country deserving of a federal Covid-19 fund.
He also turned on corporate bodies in the state, particularly oil companies and banks that had failed to support the state. He was particularly angry with a bank that gave Lagos State N1 billion and came to Port Harcourt to offer N28 million to Rivers State. “This is where you make your money. And you dare come here to donate N28 million. I don’t need your money,” he bellowed at a press briefing he held at Government House.
He did not also spare journalists in his anger. He accused the gentlemen of the press of bias and writing what he termed as fake news about the state’s fight against Covid-19.
He was still celebrating the release of the second Covid-19 case in the state after the case tested positive when the state was thrown into confusion with the discovery of a third case. It was that of a hotel owner who returned from a trip to Abuja and took ill. He isolated himself in his hotel where his manager attended to him. He eventually died and his remains were taken to a mortuary. The revelation that the deceased could have died of Covid-19 came after his wife called from Abuja alleging foul play in the manner in which her husband died. This raised the curiosity of the Covid-19 committee, which conducted test on the manager and found that they he had the virus.
That news created confusion in Port Harcourt and government declared that it was going to set up border task forces to block movements into the state; a move that was criticized by the opposition All Progressives Congress. The APC publicity secretary, Chris Finebone, said the act could set youthful members of the task force against the police and soldiers, whose duties might overlap those of the task force and culminate in a disaster.
On Thursday, government declared a clampdown on markets and trading all kinds in Port Harcourt and the major towns. It was in the process of enforcing the market closures that a member of the task force shot the policewoman.