As Nigeria’s confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed 12,000 and the death toll hit 342 on Sunday, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has said the country may just be starting to experience the epidemic.
The PTF lamented that Nigerians were avoiding being tested; a situation he said was responsible for the low testing ratio to the population.
This was made known at the House of Representatives on Monday when members of the PTF appeared before a joint committee of the House to account for the funds allocated and donated to the fight against the pandemic.
Chairman of the PTF, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, expressed uncertainties over the pandemic, urging the lawmakers to help extend the campaign to the grass roots.
He said, “I must say that the virus is still very dangerous. We have not peaked; we have to meticulously plan. There is no timeline; that is why money is not being thrown at it just because it has been released.
“We don’t know how long this will take us. Even the budget that the National Coordinator mentioned is for a period of six months. We do not know how long it will take us. But by the grace of God, we shall overcome.
“There is no medicine or vaccine for this. The humanity is simply overwhelmed by it. Everything has been turned upside down. Today, we are all masked up. We never used to know it like this. Please, honourable members, there is a lot you can do for us; a lot of legislative actions that can be taken, looking into the future. We are dealing with it today; the next pandemic must not catch us unawares. We must prepare for it.”
Earlier, the Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, while responding to a question on whether the PTF had projected a figure for cases to know when Nigeria has reached the peak of the pandemic, stated that the country was just entering it.
Ihekweazu also dismissed the claims that the NCDC had spent millions on text messages to sensitise Nigerians.
He said, “We are still in the middle of a very, very bad outbreak. In fact, it is most likely that we are at the beginning of a very bad outbreak. This is the honest truth. And as we dig into the details of what we have done, I really crave your indulgence to please, bear in mind that we do this work together, because we really have a collective responsibility to our people.
“The SMS story was of course not true. We will never spend that amount. In fact, all the SMS everybody receives are free, courtesy of the large telcos in the country. We have not paid a dime for SMS. Right now, we have tested less than 100,000. In the country at the moment, we have capacity to test over 200,000.”
The lawmakers, however, berated the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, for not attending the hearing.
In his remarks, Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts and leader of the joint committees, Wole Oke, said, “The only person that is not here, that I am worried about, is the Accountant-General of the Federation, who is the chief accountant of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who should tell us the total sum that we have realised. The gentlemen here can only speak to what has been released to them.”