There were indications on Monday that senior officials and staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been directed to undergo a mandatory test for COVID-19 following the announcement by the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, that he had tested positive for the disease.
One of our correspondents gathered that the Permanent Secretary, Mustapha Sulaiman, had instructed directors, heads of divisions and departments and those working directly with the minister to go for the COVID-19 test.
It was learnt that the decision was taken on Monday, while the logistics to facilitate the testing for the workers were being worked out.
Onyeama, a member of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the first federal cabinet member to test positive, announced his status on his Twitter handle on Sunday after his fourth test returned positive for the virus.
Onyeama had met with several foreign diplomats and officials in the last two weeks. He had posted pictures of the dignitaries he held meetings with on his official Twitter handle.
But it could not be immediately ascertained if those he met with planned to go into self-isolation in compliance with the guidelines issued by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
For instance, on July 13, he received the Ambassador of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria to Nigeria, Hocine Latli.
The minister also received a delegation from the Nigerian National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons led by the Federal Commissioner, Senator Basheer Mohammed.
On July 14, Onyeama received the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Jamal Barrow.
The next day, he received the Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Dingyadi and Senator Aliyu Wammako. He also hosted in his office the Senior Special Assistant to Oyo State Governor on Diaspora, Mrs Bola Sarumi-Ali.
When asked if the minister would take the coronavirus test, the spokesman for the Police Affairs Ministry, Mr Seyi Odutayo, said he was not aware of Dingyadi’s visit to Onyeama.
It was also gathered that the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria, led by its President, John Shinkaiye, visited the minister last Thursday.
A retired ambassador and member of the association said, “The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria paid a courtesy call on the minister last Thursday and those who were part of the meeting have resolved to obey the COVID-19 regulations by going into isolation and taking the COVID-19 tests.”
The ARCAN President said his members observed the stipulated guidelines during the visit to Onyeama.
He said, “But we are doing what is necessary as stipulated by the guidelines. I can’t speak for others, but I am observing what the guidelines directed.”
The Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, said, “I have not received any directive for COVID-19 test, but it is not everyone that is working with the minister; so, there is no way all the staff members would be required to take the tests,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, has said few members of the Federal Executive Council, who attended the July 8 meeting of the council, have nothing to fear over the positive status of Onyeama.
He said adequate measures were put in place to protect members, who were physically present at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa for the meeting, while majority others participated in virtually from their offices.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.); Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; and 10 ministers, including Onyeama, as well as some presidential aides were physically present at the venue.
Onyeama was also one of the ministers who briefed State House correspondents of the meeting’s outcome.
But Shehu on Monday said he was confident that the council members were not in any way endangered.
He said, “But you know that measures meant to protect all those in attendance from catching the virus have been put in place, and these were recently scaled up.”
Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 postpones briefing
Also, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 did not hold its press briefing on Monday.
Onyeama is a member of the task force headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
The task force holds press briefings twice in a week – Mondays and Thursdays – and always announces ahead if the schedule will change.
In a related development, the President of the African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adesina, urged Onyeama to be strong.
Adesina, on his Twitter handle, @akin_adesina, wrote, “I wish my dear brother @GeoffreyOnyeama Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, a speedy recovery from COVID-19.”