By Sebastine EBHUOMHAN

Abuja, Nigeria. Days ago, Governor Godwin Obaseki cheerfully and happily announced to the people of Edo State and Nigeria that he has acquired 25 new ventilators for the treatment of severe cases of coronavirus infection at the state treatment centres.

The addition of the newly acquired ventilators to the old available three (3), he added in a short video shot from his self-quarantine, brings the total number of ventilators in Edo State to 28.

For those who may not know what a ventilator does, the Wikipedia defines a ventilator as: a machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs, to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe, or breathing insufficiently. In other words, a ventilator pumps clean oxygen into the lungs of patients with severe coronavirus infection or any other infection that adversely effects the breathing capability of a patient.

The governor did not show all or any of the new ventilators in his short video. Until now, the government has released no picture of the acquired ventilators to the public, contrary to the manner it makes a media feast of whatever it considers an achievement in the past.

Since Mr Obaseki made his annoucement, his supporters have been showering him with encomiums for buying 25 new, expensive ventilators at a time the economy is sliding while his rival All Progressives Congress (APC) Edo State 2020 governorship aspirants are distributing hand sanitisers and “ordinary information leaflets” on COVID-19, a novel global pandemic.

One of Obaseki’s rivals and front line aspirant whose activities caused bitter reactions from the governor’s faction is the former two-term Deputy Governor and ex-Representative, Dr Pius Odubu.

Odubu, whose yeoman effort a former Edo Commissioner for Justice, Mr Henry Idahagbon personally led, took the free distribution of his specially procured and branded hand sanitisers to the doorsteps of individuals, institutions and corporate entities such as the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat etc.

To say Odubu’s apparently serious business-minded approach led by very important personalities rattled the state government, is stating the obvious. However, it drew the ire of Governor Obaseki’s countless aides, one of which described it as “cheap publicity”.

Ironically, as Obaseki’s SSA, Mr Eseosa Ewere, was ranting on social media, his principal, Governor Obaseki, was receiving through his Deputy, Hon. Philip Shaibu, hand sanitisers and other protective toolkits donated free-of-charge to the state government by corporate organisations.

Much as Obaseki’s thoughtfulness, prompt action against coronavirus threats as well as concern for the safety and sound health of all residents, spearheaded much more by his own grave fear of a probable infection until after a negative first test result than the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed four (4) total infected persons in the state as at the time of writing this essay, deserve the commendation of all citizens, recent experiences under his government make it necessary to be cautious at first so as to carefully monitor the acquired new tools and avoid similar actions and blind trust of recent past that quickly became painful, broken and unfulfilled promises of the governor and his government.

Agreeably, a period of fear, infection, lockdown, test, quarantine, isolation, death or discharge, or even an arrest by the law or hunger may not be the best time to ask questions about the cost of purchasing 25 new ventilators. The governor avoided disclosing this too in his announcement.

But the estimated cost of a ventilator is not wrapped in eternal secresy anymore. For example, a low cost ventilator for resource-poor communities like Nigeria’s goes for between USD $700 and $1000, according to www.researchgate.net. On the other hand, portable ventilators, according to the website of the World Health Organisation (WHO): www.who.int/innovations, go for between $3,300 and $13,500 each. Medical experts say quality determines the cost of a ventilator.

Unlike Edo State that can now boast of dozens of ventilators, Nigeria’s Health Minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire confirmed at a press conference on COVID-19 this week that Nigeria has a shortage of ventilators. Although Mr Ehanire did not disclose the total number of functional ventilators in the country, in contrast, however, highlighting the importance of mechanical ventilators in the treatment of acute respiratory diseases (ARDs) an April 1st 2020 publication of the New York Times, highlighted that the United States has 10,000 ventilators on reserve, ready to be deployed across its states, after the distribution of 7,000 others in the past weeks to tackle coronavirus infection currently ravaging America with increasing mortality.

Obaseki had also carefully but curiously refused to declare any help and assistance his government has received from individuals and corporate entities since the outbreak of coronavirus and index case in Edo State. A transparent, open and accountable government should not be reminded, requested or forced before declaring whatever assistance it receives in a time of crisis.

Furthermore, he did not unveil any relief package for residents as he was widely expected to do as a caring governor–even as little as his Lagos State counterpart is acknowledgeably doing–just as his video was replete with many other observable shortcomings such as not locking up the state’s borders, all of which viewers, listeners and commentators have attributed to his unsettled state of mind.

Considering the awful and glaring poor performance of the government in critical economic indices of accountability, transparency and open government initiatives, it has become very important to quickly mark the governor’s words now so as to ensure that the newly acquired ventilators serve needy state residents very well now and in the nearest future of an outbreak of the same COVID-19 or any other infection as worthy legacy.

Therefore, the big question begging for the government’s answer is: where are the 25 “secured” extra ventilators of Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki’s government located?

It would be recalled that at the height of alleged arsonists’ menacing over-running of Benin City last year, which left a number of public markets in rubbles and ashes, it became known and clear to all that the state’s newly acquired fire fighters were all broken down, parked and gathering dusts beside the office of Edo State Commissioner of Information and Orientation, Mr Paul Ohonbamu. In spite of this well-known fact or evidence and the fact that markets in Edo State were often under the highest risk of fire during the harmattan season, the governor and his unperturbed spokespersons had still gone ahead to accuse his political rivals of burning the markets, thereby effectively muzzling efforts by CSOs and residents to raise valid questions about the state of the dead vehicles and the government’s successive budgets for fire fighting.

For a state governor, who has yet to uphold seemingly simpler, easier and cheaper promise of rehabilitating market traders who suffered loses when their goods, services and means of livelihood were burnt to ashes during the period of violent politics aimed at removing the National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, from office, Edo people have since known that for anything Obaseki says or promises to do, seeing is believing, meaning that such earmarked promise must be properly ‘eye-marked’.

While the people are always giving the governor and his government the benefits of doubt and credits where necessary, Edo residents are also yearning to see the new ventilators at their locations of deployment; so as to be sure they are not being conned for the purpose of giving a second term ticket and power to an undeserving, power-hungry, violent dictator.

Therefore, this essay is a clarion call on health experts, other professionals, journalists, gate keepers, non-state actors, stakeholders, political leaders, traditional rulers and all the good people living or working in Edo State to hold the government of Obaseki accountable by going to where the ventilators are located, check, observe and serve the people their pictures and functional status instead of waiting for a government-initiated guided tour. The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Edo State, which have refused to bend under violent attacks of state government sponsored thugs, are already taking the lead in asking salient questions about the ventilators. Others must follow to make Edo State better.

Without any doubt or negative perception, whatsoever, the medical protection 25 new ventilators offer can only enrich the lives of Edo people when they truly serve the purpose for which they were acquired. Edo State has had enough of past lies and deception by government.

God bless Edo State. God protect the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Sebastine EBHUOMHAN is an award-winning Nigerian journalist from Edo State, residing in Abuja. He can be reached at: usie007@yahoo.com.