Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau says the state government is set to prosecute those misinforming people on the existence of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
The governor said this during a stakeholders meeting organised to deliberate on the COVID-19 Task Force resolutions on Wednesday in Jos.
He expressed concern that many people were living in denial and were imposing their beliefs on innocent residents in the state.
He said “for those who are in denial and continue to misinform others that COVID-19 does not exist, I want to warn them to desist. I as the number one citizen of the state was a victim and God helped me to come out of it.
“I can tell you that it is not a joke and I do not wish even my enemies such experience.
“That is why at the last state executive meeting, we decided to criminalise further denial of the disease.
“In other words, if you deny the existence of the disease, keep your denial to yourself because if you are caught propagating it or instigating others to follow you, you will be arrested and prosecuted no matter how highly placed you may be.”
He said the resurgence of cases globally called for increased efforts to control the new variant of the disease.
He decried the nonchalant attitude of residents in adhering to the guidelines of the disease, stressing that the use of face mask, personal hygiene and social distance was critical to controlling the spread of the disease.
“In fact, many have abandoned and refused to observe simple protocols of wearing face mask, maintaining social distance and washing hands regularly,” he said.
The governor noted that the meeting was to engage stakeholders, comprising the state cabinet, security council, traditional leaders, religious groups, women and youth groups, for inputs on the safety of residents.
He added that “I have directed commissioners and other senior government officials to reach out to the people.
“We want to break the resistance and ensure that people own the response. COVID-19 is a personal matter that affects people directly. They need to be involved.”
Lalong said efforts were being made to ensure oxygen supply in the treatment of the new variant of the COVID-19 disease.
He noted that his commitment to control the disease made him to establish a local research team to find cure for COVID-19, saying that the drugs were at clinical stage and awaiting approval.
He, however, expressed worry on the upsurge of kidnapping, cultism and other criminal activities in the state, saying “death is the penalty for kidnapping in Plateau.
“Last month, I signed the Anti-kidnapping, Land Grabbing, Cultism and Violence-related matters bill, passed by the State House of Assembly into law.
“By that law, anyone convicted of kidnapping in Plateau will be sentenced to death, while cultism and other violent crimes attract various terms of imprisonment.
“In December last year, we inaugurated 595 Community Police constables who were trained and deployed to the 17 local government areas to assist law enforcement agencies, particularly the police in intelligence gathering and other security operations.”
He said security remained a collective responsibility and charged residents to always be conscious and take measures to protect their vicinity, saying criminals connived with community members to perpetrate crime which should not be tolerated.
“You may be aware of the recent alert by the Department of State Services (DSS) of a threat to cause inter-religious violence by some criminal elements. We have to take this alert seriously and ensure that we report any suspicious activity to security agencies.
“I also advise our people not to succumb to the divisive antics of such elements who exploit the fault lines of religion, ethnicity, politics and other sectional interests to create chaos,” he said.
In his presentation, Dr Simji Gomerep, the Chief Consultant Physician and Infectious Diseases Specialist at Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), said most casualties of COVID-19 were as a result of respiratory failure.
He said more equipment in the treatment of the disease such as ventilators, X-ray machines, CT Scan and oxygen plant, among others, were needed to aid prompt response.
He added that health workers at treatment centres required accommodation, insurance and motivation in the discharge of their duties.
In his remarks, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Nimkong Lar, said “the state has a total of 5,962 confirmed cases as published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and a record of 46 deaths.”
He called for the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols through increased sensitisation and scaling-up of community engagements and awareness on transmission and preventive measures.
He urged local government chairmen to support COVID-19 response teams in their areas for contact tracing, sample collection and active cases.
In his remarks, the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, urged traditional leaders to assist in fishing out criminal elements in communities.
He urged security agencies to conduct investigations and other duties effectively, saying the security and welfare of people should be their priority.
Plateau Commissioner of Police, State Director of Department of Security Services, religious and traditional leaders, were also at the meeting.