I will like to commend the Governor of Abia State for hitting the ground running after the passage of Abia State Infectious Diseases (Emergency Prevention) Regulation 2020 especially on his strategy of sharing food items through religious institutions. Although it may be discriminatory to those who do not identify with any religion, it has proven to be one of the many efficient ways of killing a rat.
Going forward, I am of the view that with the release of the order on mandatory use of face masks, the Governor is now beginning to run towards the wrong direction.
I have gone through the executive order of the Governor of Abia State on compulsory wearing of face masks in Abia State from the 15th of April 2020.
I am of the view that the order is riddled with a lot of inconsistencies and confusion .The said order provides that:
1.. That with effect from 15th day of April, 2020,
i. All residents of Abia State and those visiting and or passing through Abia State shall wear authentic face masks in all public places such as markets, petrol stations, shops, shopping malls, event centers, bars, hotels, places of worship, educational institutions, prisons, offices, etc.
ii. That all occupiers of premises where members of the public visit for commercial, ceremonial, religious, charity, and or educational purposes shall provide hand sanitizers and or running water with soap to enable visitors to these places sanitize and or wash their hands before entering the premises.
My questions are:
1.. In view of a previous order by the Governor ordering a lock down of markets and public places, does this subsequent order invalidate the previous one to the extent that people in Abia State can now go to the markets, malls etc., but must wear face masks? Is that really the true intention of the Governor because that is what the order says.
2. The second paragraph of that order introduced a bigger confusion;
“That all occupiers of premises where members of the public visit for commercial, ceremonial, religious, charity, and or educational purposes shall provide hand sanitizers and or running water with soap to enable visitors to these places sanitize and or wash their hands before entering the premises.”
a. Can this be interpreted to mean that Abia State has lifted the ban on gathering in public places, so, what occupiers of those places need to do now is to provide sanitizers and or soap and water?
b. Should this be interpreted that ‘Abians’ can now attend public gatherings as long as they are given sanitizers and or water with soap?
My point on this is simple; if there is an existing order that people should not gather in markets, religious events, charity events, ceremonies, bars etc, issuing a subsequent order telling them to wear masks when gathering in those places is grossly inconsistent especially when you have not lifted the previous ban. You can’t tell them to stay at home, avoid gathering and then tell them to attend religious gatherings wearing masks. That amounts to approbating and reprobating.
3. Using the phrase “AUTHENTIC face mask” introduces a question as to what constitutes an AUTHENTIC face mask in Abia State. I am a little apprehensive of how law enforcement agents enforcing this order will interpret this. Experts have advised on several ways of improvising face masks, so there is nothing really like an authentic face mask. It is okay once it serves the purpose of covering your nose and allowing you to breathe. I am aware that Abia has started the production of face masks but what I am not sure of is if the Standard organisation of Nigeria has approved them for the purpose of being “AUTHENTIC” if indeed there is anything like that. If they have not been approved, it means that they are not “AUTHENTIC”, so, how will those who will enforce this determine which one is AUTHENTIC?
4. World Health Organisation has advised on its website that you only need to wear facemasks if you are taking care of a suspected Covid-19 patient, if you are sneezing or coughing.
NCDC has recommended it but insisted that it is optional. So, on whose advice did Governor Ikpeazu rely on to “compel” people to wear face masks.
5. The Governor’s order included the Prisons. My question on this is, how exactly will prisoners in the state afford the mask?
6. Lastly, are those masks free of charge? If not, what palliatives are in place to enable Abians afford the masks and stay healthy, especially those whose pensions have not been paid for months. I am of the view that if you must compel people to wear the masks, it must be distributed to them free of charge. That is the least the government can do for a predominantly poor population.
It is my advice that Ikpeazu should withdraw that order immediately and come out with something that reflects good thinking.