The latest contradiction between the Lagos State government and the Federal government over the number of Ebola cases in the state has highlighted a continuing rift between both sides, a division exposed even during national emergencies.
At a press conference in Lagos Wednesday, Jide Idris, the state’s Health Commissioner, told journalists that five new suspected Ebola virus cases were brought to the isolation ward of the Yaba Mainland Hospital in Lagos on Tuesday.
Mr. Idris added that two of those five cases were from secondary contacts linked to the Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, who brought the virus to Nigeria.
“Till date, we have recorded eight suspected cases, five of which came in yesterday (Tuesday), 12 confirmed,” said Mr. Idris. “On the whole, five have died (including the index case). We are currently following up 213 contacts, and 62 have completed the two-day follow-up.”
But barely two hours after the press conference had ended, Onyebuchi Chukwu, the Minister of Health, issued a terse statement telling the public to “disregard” Mr. Idris’ figures.
“The Honourable Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, wishes to reiterate that at present, Nigeria has only two confirmed cases of Ebola Virus Disease,” Mr. Chukwu said in a statement by Dan Nwomeh, his Special Assistant on Media and Communication.
“This clarification follows media reports of five new cases in Lagos State. This report should be disregarded. The minister reiterates that any doubtful information on the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria should be verified from the Office of the Honourable Minister of Health who has the sole authority to announce confirmed cases as far as disease epidemics in Nigeria are concerned.
“The minister further reassures the public that any new confirmed case of Ebola Virus Disease will be announced by his office promptly. However, as of 7pm today (Wednesday), there is no other confirmed Ebola Virus Disease case in Nigeria outside the two that are currently under treatment at the isolation ward in Lagos.”
Since the first case of the Ebola Virus Disease was recorded in Lagos in July, the Lagos State government and the Federal government have continually issued discordant statements and contradictory figures on government’s efforts, casualties and suspected cases.
At a press conference, last Friday, Mr. Idris denied receiving a “penny” from the federal government one week after President Goodluck Jonathan had announced the “immediate” release of a N1.9 billion Special Intervention Fund to strengthen the on-going steps to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.
“This effort is a collaborative effort between the Lagos State government and the federal officials and their partners. As far as I know, the federal government has been very good in providing technical support, technical support especially through the consultant partners,” Mr. Idris said at a press conference.
He added: “As at now we have not received a penny from the federal government. All the money we’ve spent at the state are money released by the state governor, who released the money immediately we had this thing. And that’s the money we’ve been spending. Perhaps the federal government will release it later, as at now we have not received a penny.
“But again we are grateful for all they have been doing to provide technical support, so many of their staff are working with us in contact tracing, case management, and they are part of the emergency response centre.”
The Lagos State Health Commissioner also denied the arrival to the state of the first batch of the Nano Silver experimental drug, even after the Minister had earlier announced the delivery of the drug.
But it was the Commissioner’s comment on the non-receipt of any part of the N1.9 billion that dominated news headlines throughout last weekend, apparently embarrassing the federal government.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, Mr. Idris was very careful with his choice of words.
When a journalist pressed him on why the federal government allowed passage to a sick Mr. Sawyer despite the Minister’s pronouncement weeks ago that Nigeria was prepared for the virus, Mr. Idris cleverly evaded the question.
“Well, I’m answering your question… I’m not going into a debate on that. I think… let’s move forward…,” he said.
But Wale Ahmed, the Commissioner for Special Duties, took the microphone from him and appealed to journalists to refrain from asking questions that could breed disagreement.
“Excuse me, if you permit me to say this, I believe those of us representing Lagos State government on this issue and you gentlemen of the press, I believe we are partners in trying to educate the public on this matter,” Mr. Ahmed said. “I would rather suggest we focus more on issues that will bring information to the public regarding their safety and what we are doing. Issues that may border on things that will look like inquisition and questions that will be asked if a commission of enquiry were to be set up, I think we should avoid those questions now.”
Two levels in animosity
This latest disagreement is not the first time signs of a animosity between both levels of government have been apparent, especially during emergency situations.
In July, 2013, an official of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, a federal government agency, accused a Lagos State commissioner of chasing him out of a collapsed building site in Surulere, Lagos.
“NEMA (was) chased out of rescue site by Lagos Commissioner for Special Duties after we have rescued 3 alive and 4 dead. He said he will ask his people to deal with us if we are not careful,” Mr. Farinloye told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Farinloye said he was granting an interview to a Nigeria Television Authority reporter when Mr. Ahmed, who arrived alongside the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), threatened to send the Rapid Response Squad after him.
“I contacted headquarters and they said I should leave for peace to reign,” Mr. Farinloye had said.
However, when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Ahmed had said that it was not true.
“I only told him it was quite premature to start granting interview when we were yet to know what was still under the rubble,” he said.