© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Lagos denies spike in infection rate in Amuwo Odofin, to deal with official who made claim in viral WhatsApp audio
By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina
FAITH Anyanwu, medical practitioner and official of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, who blew the whistle on the alleged alarming cases of COVID -19 infections in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, in an audio recording that has gone viral, has landed in trouble as the state government might be planning disciplinary action against her,
Investigations by The ICIR indicate that apart from losing her job, her practice license may also be suspended or withdrawn.
“I am sure if she is not sacked already, she is going to be sacked very soon,” a senior government official who sought anonymity told The ICIR.
“Not only that, we would also make sure that her practice license is suspended too, for breaching the ethical code of her profession,” the source added.
Three weeks ago, in an audio message which trended on the social media, Anyanwu called attention to the alleged widespread of COVID 19 cases in Festac and Amuwo-Odofin environ of Lagos State.
She said that “there is high rate of community transmission of the deadly virus in Festac and the entire Amuwo-Odofin”, adding that “out of 40 samples collected, in a particular day, for example, 10 to 15 people came out positive.
In Agboju Market, the central market servicing the entire Festac and adjoining communities like Maza-Maza, Ojo Road and Mile 2), the situation is worse, she said.
“You must not approach Festac or Amuwo-Odofin at this time. If at all you must do so, you must protect yourself with face mask and hand sanitiser,” Anyanwu counseled in the audio message, which has been widely circulated on WhatsApp.
However, the Lagos State government has dismissed Anyanwu’s message, describing it as “hoax,” “fake news,” and “breach of ethical code,” adding that it was “false, misleading, and lacked credibility”.
“The number of cases quoted also was unbelievably exaggerated,” the government insisted.
The government official quoted earlier said the state government felt embarrassed and betrayed by one of its health workers and deemed her action irresponsible.
The official said that the attitude of the government is that “even if what she said in the audio is true and that staggering infection rates were being recorded, it was irresponsible of her to have made it public in the manner she did.
“What she did could have led to serious health crisis in the state as people could have panicked”.
The government, however, has not been able to give the actual number of the existing cases in the Amuwo-Odofin LGA.
The officials only confirmed that Amuwo-Odofin Testing Center serves five local government areas and the numbers were for those council areas.
But neither the Chairman of the LGA, Valentine Brahimon, nor the NCDC Surveillance Lead assigned to the area, Oyelakun Okunromade, could provide accurate figure of the people infected by the Coronavirus.
The press conference jointly held by the local government and NCDC, on April 24, also did not offer much information other than to discountenance Anyanwu’s claims and allay the peoples’ fears.
But the LGA boss confirmed that “it is true that there were 23 positive cases reported in Amuwo-Odofin, but that number does not belong to Amuwo-Odofin alone.”
He said the LGA is serving as a Zonal Testing Center for four other local government –Apapa, Ojo, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, and Badagry,
The NCDC senior official who spoke after him also did not provide clarity, rather she attacked the personality of Anyanwu.
According to Okunromade, “she (Anyanwu) is a medical doctor. And you understand that this period is a stressful period for everybody. It could be one of the reasons why she made that non-evidence-based statement.”
Continuing, Okunromade said the authorities have taken charge of the situation.
“As the EOS, we have spoken to her. We’ve taken her in for counseling, and we are on top of the situation.”
The ICIR learnt that some government officials are also aggrieved because of her audio message, and are calling for her head.
To them, her offence is too grievous to be overlooked. They believe her action almost triggered widespread panic and public incitement against the government.
And “relieving her of her volunteering job, instigating her sack from her primary place of work, and suspending her practicing license” will not be too much a punishment”, an aggrieved official told The ICIR.
In an exclusive interview with The ICIR at the LGA Secretariat, Brahimon, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Yomi Adejumo, he described Anyawun’s message as a “hoax”.
“The lady has apologised that it (the audio message) wasn’t meant for public consumption, that she was just trying to tell her people to beware about the virus and take safety precautions, ” he said.
Brahimo didn’t provide additional information.
Former Chairman of the local government, Ayodele Adewale, and the Chief Medical Doctor, Amuwo-Odofin Maternal and Child Center, Dapo Shoyinka, also expressed their displeasures on the matter.
Adewale, in a telephone interview with The ICIR, described Anyanwu as a purveyor of fake news, saying in a matter of science, “empirical facts are sacrosanct.”
He said the incontrovertible reputation of science lies solely on verifiable and consistent fact, “which the young lady’s broadcast lacked in its entirety.
“Therefore, for me, her message should rather be seen as nothing but fake news,” he added.
For Shoyinka, the Medical Director of the only government – owned hospital in Amuwo-Odofin area, Anyanwu’s voice note threw him off balance.
Dismissing the claims in its entirety, Shoyinka said, as the Medical Director of AOMCC, he would have known of any emergency if such exists.
And in that situation, he said measures already have been put in place to effectively manage patients until they are safer to be handed over to NCDC without spreading the virus.
“I must confess, I was taken aback on listening to the audio. I had to make several calls to all the colleagues in the private hospitals within the local government to verify the fact.
“When it was established they were unfounded, I finally called the local government chairman, who allayed my fears that they are already attending to the matter.”
Shoyinka said he has been dealing with lots maternal and pediatric cases but is yet to record any COVID case in his hospital.
“I have been treating patients, more than the usual number, particularly because of the free healthcare services that Mr. Governor generously granted the people of Lagos State.
“And as a matter of programming, I get an update on a daily basis of any patient that comes to our emergency, their diagnosis, treatment procedures and everything of such would come directly to my phone.”
Also, Oladehinde Ebenezer, the Medical Officer Health, who doubles as the Head of the COVID 19 Team for Amuwo-Odofin, and worked directly with Anyanwu, acknowledged that though she was a diligent officer, who demonstrated high level of competence on the job, “but she shouldn’t have abused the opportunity and broken the ethics of her job.”
Ebenezer did not distinguish between professional ethics and moral courage to call for safety, especially during health crisis such as COVID 19.
Several text messages and calls put through to Akin Abayomi, a Professor of Internal Medicine, Haematology, Oncology, Environmental Health and Biosecurity and Lagos State Commissioner for Health, and his counterpart in the Ministry of Information, Gbenga Omotosho, were not responded to.
Abayomi also did not respond to messages sent to his Twitter handle and Facebook Messenger.
The Lagos State monthly COVID 19 Update for the month of April, as released by the Ministry of Health, did not list Amuwo-Odofin among the LGAs with positive cases.
The ICIR checks Anyanwu’s claim.
Investigations by The ICIR shows that in the last one month, NCDC officials have visited about half a dozen of buildings within Festac alone, to evacuate persons who have manifested the symptoms of Coronavirus.
Out of these cases, one person was evacuated from 24 Road, two patients on 7th avenue and another one on 5th avenue.
There were viral video proofs of these cases, as recorded by residents, who later posted them on the social media.
After each of these evacuations, it was learnt, another team of NCDC would return to the addresses, to disinfect the affected homes, thereby preventing further outbreak within the area.
Repeated visits by this reporter to three residences among the places where patients were evacuated did not yield much information, as the families and neighbors appear to have deserted the area.
While those that were around, would not open their doors to attend to the reporter, those outside maintained sealed lips over the matter.
“Oga, what are you looking for? You better go home and keep safe. The virus is everywhere, and somebody was picked from that block just last week”, a young man, who identified himself as Pastor Emmanuel, warned this reporter to leave the area immediately.
When the reporter visited last week, Festac and the entire Amuwo-Odofin were empty. People barely summoned the courage to leave their home. It was an uneasy calmness in the entire area.
The COVID 19 cases allegedly reported at Frontline Hospital, a private clinic on First Avenue, Festac, also fueled the apprehension.
Shutdown Firstline Hospital, FestacAt the hospital, there were two contradicting stories, with one claiming three non-medical officials of the hospital came down with the deadly virus and the place was immediately shut down upon their evacuation.
The other story, according to eyewitness, was that patients, who refused to divulge the symptoms of their illnesses, walked into the hospital, infected the hospital staffs, before they were all evacuated to the isolation and treatment center by NCDC. This also led to the closure of the medical facility, some residents said.
Efforts to reach the owner and Medical Director of the Hospital, Giwa, proved abortive, as several calls put through to him on his personal telephone number were not responded to. He also did not reply to the Whatsapp and SMS messages sent to him, requesting for comment
Who really is Faith Anyanwu
Anyanwu is one of the frontline officials, dealing with Active Case Search, Contact Tracing, and later Sample Collection for onward Testing of the virus, for the NCDC and Lagos State Government Response Team, and so her message was weighty.
Her LinkedIn account shows that she is a specialist in Infectious Disease Protocol, Patient Resuscitation, Emergency Management, Health Education and Clinical and Mortality Reviews, and she currently works with the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital
She had her M.B.B.S from the Abia State University, M.Sc in Global Health (Health Metrics) from the University of Ibadan; had advance training in Leadership and Management in Health at the University of Washington and Emotional and Social Intelligence at the Lagos State Ministry of Establishments and Training.
With this resume, little wonder her warning quickly went viral, piercing through eardrums and sending chill down the spines of hundreds of thousands of residents of the community and beyond.
The 2006 census puts the total population of Amuwo-Odofin at 453,000.
For the inhabitants of this middle-income community of Lagos State, the message was loud and clear; there was trouble in the land!
Apprehension enveloped everywhere, as concerned individuals started putting calls through to their families, friends and loved ones, to warn them or out-rightly ask them to leave the area immediately.
According to the World Health organization, community transmission is the last and most uncontrollable stage a novel virus such as COVID 19 can get.
At this stage, positive cases would spiral out of control, as they would keep mounting daily, with heartbreaking fatalities.
Inside Agboju Market
Opeoluwa Second Gate Market, also known as Agboju Market, is reputed for its resilience over the years, serving hundreds of thousands of residents of Alakija, Festac, Amuwo, Agboju, Mile 2, and Maza-Maza environs.
On both sides of the highway, the market landscape is barely occupying up to one hectare of land, but makeshift shades and woodened counters, scattered across the roadsides, sometimes occupying the walkways.
There was a conspicuous physical planning deficit in the structural layout of the market, just as it exists in many areas across the state.
The standard measurements for spacing in-between shops, at the market are not observed. Literarily speaking, the end of one table is the beginning of another.
Movement for customers sometimes is a Herculean task because pathways are too narrow to accommodate human traffic. Yet, the Agboju Market is the only around, catering to probably over 65% of the entire population in Festac and Amuwo.
Therefore, when the viral audio message surfaced, identifying it as a breeding ground for the deadly coronavirus, people panicked.
Anyanwu was not the only one concerned about the status of the market. In fact all the stakeholders who spoke to our reporter agreed that “the market needs urgent attention.”
At one of the daily briefings by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID 19, the Director General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu while responding to a question from journalists, admitted that, “our markets are not perfectly built to control COVID 19.”
He admitted, “In fact, they are perfect grounds to spread the virus.”
The NCDC boss’ explanation was that given the porous nature of the entry points into our markets, it is practically impossible to screen all customers coming in and out.
“But it behooves of you (market dwellers and executives) to insist that your customers do the right things, wear face masks, maintain social distance and probably wear gloves. You should know that compliance would most definitely safe your live,” he admonished.
The ICIR visited Agboju market for three days, observing activities and later joined women leaders on the tour. The inspection ended with interaction with some of the customers, sellers and the executives of the market.
The Secretary to the market executives, Fausat Bankole, in the absence of the Iyaloja, who guided this reporter on the tour of the market, spoke of safety precautions being enforced at the market.
“In this Agboju market, we are law-abiding and very responsible,” she said, adding that the executives have since been enforcing all the recommended safety precautions, including the compulsory wearing of face mask, improved hygiene, alternating roaster for all the traders, among others.
As the inspection progress, Bankole pointed at the stalls and the compliance to the spacing directives.
“As you can see, the owner of this table is absent today, the next, who sells Vegetable, is there shading; next to her, an onion seller, did not come today; the next, who sells pepper is selling and on and on like that.
“On the opposite side, the shoes and clothe sellers are not supposed to sell today, but they have come to plead with us to allow them so they can make some money to feed themselves and their families. We had to grant them the request,” Alhaja Bankole explained to this reporter.
Also speaking, Iya Biliki, a pepper seller who appears to be in her early 30s, said in Yoruba language that they were all scared when they heard about the audio message.
“We are scared o. we don’t want to die. Help us beg them to come to our rescue o,” she told The ICIR.
Admitting that they had to take advantage of the window of opportunity given by government to open and trade in the market, because of the survival challenge, but she and her contemporaries, as instructed by the market officials, are taking extraordinary safety precautions.
“As you can see me, I am covering my nose with face mask,” she pointed at her face, adding that any customers that comes without using it, would not be attended to.
“Yes, there is hunger in the land, but for me, life is worth much more than any amount,” she added.
On the part of the government, Abosede Finnin, the Health Educator for Amuwo-Odofin and head of the LGA Public Sensitisation Team on the virus, told our reporter that she has equally been patrolling the market, sensitising them on the virus and the need to take safety precaution.
“Unfortunately however, the traders are very aggressive. On two different occasions, they almost beat us and even seize our public address system. Their anger is that we have collected palliative stimulus and refused to hand it over to them,” Finnin explained her frustration.
Reaction from residents
Omotunde Lawson, Founder and Director, ChristHill College, Apple Junction, Amuwo-Odofin, was convinced that there is some truth in the viral audio.
According to her, especially with regards to how careless people have been, and the mad rush to go out before the directive on compulsory wearing of face mask was pronounced, “it is most likely that the COVID 19 Cases would eventually increase in Amuwo-Odofin LGA.“
Lawson, a retired director with the Lagos State Ministry of Education, recalled that “when I heard about the viral audio, I was singularly upset and scared to the bone marrow.
She added that she had had to turn back on several occasions upon seeing outrageous crowd at one of the supermarkets where she had wanted to go and shop.
“So, the possibility of it (COVID 19) being more than what is being reported is possible,” she insisted.
Fatimah Hassan, a resident of Festac Town, she was not initially scared when she heard the message until when her friends and loved ones, who know where she resides, started calling to check up on her and warning her to keep safe, an act she claimed further inflamed her anxiety.
The situation became so panicky that she started developing imaginary symptoms of the coronavirus.
“I became very scared. In fact, I began to have an imaginary symptom of the virus and I became worried. I started feeling Migraine, coughing and having weakness of the body. I became so worried
“During this time, as bad as my situation was, I was not actually scared for myself, I was more scared about the places I might have been to, persons I might have come in contact with, what would be their fates if it is found that I have the virus, and that I have infected them all. The thought was troubling,” she disclosed.
Speaking with The ICIR, Pastor B.D.N Olalowo, founder and Minister of Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), Wonder-Land, located in Maza-Maza, is worried that the area, which is an extension of Festac has not been adequately attended to.
His concerns stemmed from the fact that throughout the lockdown, people still moved freely and unprotected, with many disregarding the existence of Coronavirus.
“Maza-Maza is an extension of Ajegunle. Though not the typical squalor you find in Ajegunle, but it is equally densely populated here also. You can find family of six, seven, eight and as much as 10 in a room apartment.
“God forbid a spread of the disease to such a family, the spillover effect is best imagined. That is why I want to use this medium to plead to the government to come to our aid in Maza-Maza. Even after the lockdown, they should not take their eyes off the people here,” Olalowo pleaded.
A resident of Amuwo Odofin Phase II Estate, Mrs. Emetonjor Joy Iheoma, said her family had fled their home to take refuge in her mother in-law’s house at Ije, Ijegun, a place she considered safer.
According to her, “we have fled our home in Amuwo Phase II, partly because of the fear of contracting the virus.
Staying close to family during the lockdown is even healthier for one, she said.
“In this place we are now, we have my mother in-law, who I am also taking good care of, including my husband and my little angel daughter, Jane.
“I feel very safe here and so scared of returning home, especially with the news of the spreading of the virus there,” she added.
Inside Amuwo-Odofin COVID-19 Testing Centre
At about 2:31pm on Tuesday April 28, a young man walked into the Henry Ajomale Hall, a special facility set-aside for the COVID -19 testing inside the Amuwo-Odofin council Secretariat.
He identified himself as David (surname withheld). Of average height and suspected to be in his mid-30s, the young man, who was clad in blue jean and red shirt, with an Ankara facemask, wasted no time in seeking the attention of the officials of the center.
Please, I need to see the doctor here,” he stammered, as he struggled to form his sentence.
Oladehinde Ebenezer, head of the COVID 19 testing team for the LGA, attended to the young man. This reporter stood still, as he overheard every single word in the conversation between David and the doctor.
David declared himself a COVID 19 patient as he claimed to have been battling the symptoms of the deadly disease for days.
As he expressed himself, he would turn his head aside to let out some hard coughs.
According to the World Health Organisation, dry cough is one of the early symptoms of the Coronavirus infection.
“I, I, I, can’t breadth well,” he started, explaining that he had been “having severe headache, body pains and serious cough” for some days now.
“My cough has been dry and painful too. My chest has been inflamed by this painful cough, and I can hardly breadth well also,” he complained to the doctor.
With the calmness of an experienced professional, Ebenezer tried to calm David’s frayed nerves, dispelling his fear of contracting the deadly virus.
“Young man, these symptoms look similar to that of the trigger signs of COVID 19 truly, but they don’t necessarily mean you are already a carrier of the virus, only a test would confirm that,” he told David, who interjected, insisting he is almost sure of what he was saying and needs urgent attention.
“In that case, I would please ask you to come back tomorrow (Wednesday, April 29, 2020) morning for your test,” Dr. Ebenezer ended the conversation, bidding him farewell.
Unsurprisingly, David’s complaint typical of daily experience at the Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Secretariat, since April 12, 2020, when the NCDC, in partnership with Lagos State government, approved the location of the COVID 19 Central Testing Center within the premises.
There is also a Mobile Testing Center assembled to reinforce the capability of the center, but with a different mandate to comb the nooks and crannies of streets and inner suburbs of the adjoining communities.
In taking advantage of these facilities, residents of the local government and others like Apapa and Ajeromi/Ifelodun, Ojo, and Badagry, especially those with suspicious symptoms synonymous with Coronavirus, throng the centers on a daily basis to confirm their status.
As they filed in every morning, they are seated under a canopy carefully set up for them. Most of the visitors are visibly scared, trying as much as possible to conceal their face with caps and facemasks.
“I am so scared, my Lord. I don’t want to die now. Please save me. I will continue to be grateful to you my Lord,” one of the waiting ‘patients’ burst into tears, provoking a teary emotion in other fear-stricken visitors waiting for their turn to be tested.
It was observed that once samples are collected and test conducted, the results are often communicated to the affected individuals privately.
This is done by NCDC through direct SMS sent to the mobile number of the individual concerned. There is high level confidentiality in the way the messages are conveyed to the concerned individuals.
According to investigation, the average test or sample collected on a daily basis at the center hovers between 12 and 15, plus additional 20 or 25 from the door-to-door campaign from the mobile team.