Pandemic Timeline: August
On 2 August, Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike suspended all local government taxes and levies for the 2020 tax year. The Governor granted tax reliefs and incentives to taxpayers in the state, as well as a waiver of 50 percent on all assessed Capital Gains Tax (CGT) until December of this year. He also announced the suspension of all informal sector tax drives for the year 2020.
Secondary schools reopened on 5 August for certain examinations to take place. The day previous, the Commissioner for Education, Professor Kaniye Ebuka, said that Governor Wike approved the development to allow students who were at a critical stage in their education to write their exit exams.
This is a test for the feasibility of social distancing measures in schools, but it is unclear whether this is just the first phase of a more large-scale re-opening of schools in the state.
The next day, on 6 August, the ‘free bus’ initiative, launched by the administration two months ago, stopped running without warning. No public announcement was made about when the service would return.
On 12 August, in a move which surprised — and relieved — many, the Governor dissolved his infamous ‘Taskforce on Illegal Motor Parks and Street Trading’, stating that “the decision was taken because the members took the laws into their hands.”
Traders across the city, who have long lived and worked in fear of the taskforce, were pleased.
“My goods were destroyed and thrown away [by the taskforce],” says Mrs Ngozi Ogbonna, a trader who sells crayfish in Borikiri and at Creek Road Market. “So I’m very happy to hear that it has been dissolved.”
“Looking back to what they did to me, it would be hard for me to forgive them,” she added.
Despite the disbandment of the group, the taskforce’s legacy of violence will continue to haunt many other traders across the city. Street hawker, Joy, admits that despite her relief, she is holding her breath. “I don’t know if they are coming back,” she says.
Commercial drivers also expressed their joy. “We are now free from the task force who used to torture us, psychologically, emotionally and otherwise,” said one driver.
On 18 August, the government announced the re-opening of all markets in the state, from 7am to 6pm daily. Market managers must provide equipment for hand washing and hand sanitiser for everyone at the entrance of every market. They must also ensure that everyone moving through the markets is wearing facemasks, while respecting social distancing at all times.
The reopening of markets was met with excitement. However, it is unlikely that social distancing measures and protective equipment will, in fact, be readily available and enforced in markets throughout the city.
The Rivers State government closed out the month by announcing that it was considering partnerships with private firms to ramp up COVID testing and tracing, after international flights resumed this month. Testing capacity in the state remains so low that the actual prevalence of the virus cannot be meaningfully ascertained.