Editorial: N’Delta might become an epicenter of coronavirus outbreak if IOCs remain silent

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As Nigeria battles with the outbreak of the dreaded coronavirus and with the number of those infected rising by the day – plus the seeming financial deficiencies of state governments, some companies and financial institutions have been pro-active in their quests to ensure that such financial deficiencies are reduced to the barest minimum.

In Lagos, the financial and economic capital of the country, companies are scaling up their involvements through the construction of isolation centres, donation of ventilators, ICUs, PPE for health officials and dolling out of huge funds to the government. In Niger Delta where the people seem most vulnerable due to years of pollution and gas flaring, the oil majors have been silent, hoping and wishing it does not take hold in the region.

Responses to the coronavirus outbreak in the region have largely come from religious organizations who have donated life-saving materials especially protective equipment and foodstuff to health officials and the masses. However, they are largely deficient as they are mainly for people in the townships. The communities are always left out due to logistic difficulties given the terrain of the region. Abuja has also not been helpful neither has those who represent constituencies in the region shown any signs of urgency.

There has been one reported case in Rivers and few others in Edo. The governors of the region have also shown pro-activeness in their responses, most of which are draconian with severe economic and financial consequences for the downtrodden. There is general fear in the region with rising cases of cancer due largely to drinking of contaminated water by indigenes of oil-producing communities and inhaling of residues from gas flaring sites. The activities of oil thieves who set up ‘Kpo Fire’ to illegally refine crude have also contributed to severe environmental degradation resulting in soot with its attendant health hazards. With these activities, the Niger Delta runs the risk of higher fatalities due to increased morbidity from crude oil-linked diseases in the region. This is why the silence of the oil majors operating in the region which led to these degraded health standards is nothing but worrisome.

The World Health Organization has said people with underlining illnesses are at a high risk of severe complications and dying from the virus. With the lack of adequate diagnoses in the oil-producing communities, most people are living with illnesses that they do not know their true nature.

While no one wishes that the coronavirus disease takes hold in the region, governments and private sector operators in the region must liaise and come up with a plan to set up regional response centres that would cater for an eventual outbreak. The region does not lay the golden egg for nothing. It is moments like this when the lives of the people whose land feeds the entire country are threatened that those who exploit it show maximum care. The Niger Delta communities must be protected at all costs. The lack of access to quality healthcare in these communities will make an outbreak in the region deadlier than anywhere else.

The IOCs, NLNG, NNPC and its subsidiaries must pay maximum attention to the region in these trying times to mitigate against any coronavirus potentialities. For if care is not taken and the outbreak takes hold in the region, it will spell economic doom for the whole country.