Second Republic Minister and former Chairman of Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, has said that the Federal Government should not release funds to Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, who has been on self-denial over the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic that has allegedly killed several prominent persons in his state. He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to move federal might to Kano and save the people from death. The elder statesman in a telephone interview with GYANG BERE in Jos described the Northern Governors Forum’s decision to evacuate all Almajiris to their respective states of origin as a panic measure.
How do you think Nigeria can get out of the COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world?
Not only this nation that is trying to adjust, it appears this is a new phenomenon for we who believe in God, but God wants the people of the world to readjust to the reality confronting humanity; we are one and I think that if we react to this pandemic as a people united across the whole world as in Nigeria united across to the whole nation, and as human race, I believe we will survive and I believe that there is a lot of lesson that we are going to learn. We were not ready for it but now that it is here, my duty is to tell you, Nigerians and Nigeria Government that we are part of the pandemic phenomenon that is ravaging the whole world and people should not emphasize on our differences this time, we should just be united as one people to fight a virus that nobody can ignore, we must react as one people and we will surely defeat it.
What exactly do you think is the prob- lem in Kano, is the state government try- ing to downplay or cover up the deaths?
I think it is wrong, you see; the tragedy in Nigeria is that they are always in selfdenial even when we are not guilty and that they have always believed that they cannot make a mistake and have answers to all problems and that is false. We made a mistake in Kano by not acting in time, by not closing our borders, by not taking a look at the Almajiris and I think a lot of people doubt the capacity and the possible impact of COVID-19. I think people thought it was a game or a joke and country like Italy where Italians were losing about 800, can you imagine 800 human deaths in a football pitch, and they were losing those people in a day. Can you imagine Pope Francis who usually comes out to bless people; he celebrates Mass without human beings. We were too far and Kano felt as a melting pot of the North, they took the virus for granted, that it was an European phenomenon and by the time they realized, several numbers of people were dropping dead and they started denying, people that are not medical doctors, that are not physicians started saying that the people that are dying en mass are not from coronavirus, this is not good. I thought that this selfdenial, you are not guilty, you didn’t bring the virus, they just have to say they were a bit careless and these Almajiris who don’t have a home, they were just in one place, and mixed together, they bath together and they eat together, they should simply say please Nigerians, we have made a mistake, whoever has the capacity to fight the virus should come and help us and the Federal Government should have reacted immediately by ignoring what the State Governor was saying and send a large team of experts into Kano and quickly move to block the borders and all the routes that lead into Kano. I think there was no need to deny because Kano is not guilty of killing its people, it was the virus.
Did you find the death of many promi- nent Kano people as a coincidence, and how did you feel?
Well, as far as I am concerned, I have a phenomenon to deal with, I have a virusrus that has killed tones and tones of human beings including the most powerful and the most arrogant nation on earth that has been brought to its kneels, the United States with its President that can stand to divide everybody but he could not divide coronavirus. Americans have died and I think the last time I saw the figure, dead people were in thousands, Trump himself was brought to his kneels and he said this was a phenomenon that needs experts in the field. It is not just in Kano, our leaders and politicians in the world tend to personalize what is beyond them and Trump was taught that this is beyond him and the governor of Kano had thought that this is beyond him and we should not duel on self-denial, we should just take action, what is killing these people in Kano, it is the virus that is killing everybody, let us make sure we help the people of Kano, my mother comes from Kano and I don’t want my people to all die, let’s help them. Let the Federal Government massively intervene and if it is to lockdown, Kano needs more of a lockdown than Plateau. Look at us in Plateau, there was a lockdown for one week and it was relaxed for three days for people to make purchases then there was a lockdown on us for another two weeks and nobody is complaining, we believe that the governor is acting to save us and we are cooperating.
Many people didn’t take the Governor of Kano State serious when he started with a demand for N15 billion from Federal Government to tackle the situation, how did you perceive that?
If I were the Federal Government, I will not give N15 billion to a person that allowed people to die before, I would have sent a team of experts, I would have done what the President of Nigeria has done now, I would have locked down Kano like he did in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, we saw good result, I wouldn’t send money to somebody who is in self-denial, I would find a way of prevention and I will send a team of medical workers and buy all the necessary equipment and all that is necessary and then block the borders so that people would not run to other states that share borders with Kano, I would look for our traditional friends, Kano is a metropolis just like Lagos. I would have treated Kano like Lagos, if need be I would have declared Kano as area of special interest like Federal Capital Territory for now, I would have taken federal might to Kano, to save the people of Kano, and not to give money to somebody who is in self denial, when the thing is killing your people, you are denying that this is not what is killing them. We have the virus right now killing Americans, killing Italians in hundreds of thousands and killing people in Kano then you want us to go and do a research on what is killing people in Kano, by the time you conclude the research all the prominent people in Kano would have been killed and that is not good enough. I think the Federal Government should make Kano a special place of interest.
How will you react to claims that over 70% of doctors in the state have fled their duty post and why?
I have said that in my judgement, Kano has demonstrated that they have been overwhelmed by the virus and the Federal Government should not be diverted from saving Nigerian lives with the millions and billions of naira and dollars that people are collecting all over the place, they should step in and help Kano, they should take over and help massively in the rescue operation by themselves, move medical personnel, they should save lives for now, when they save lives then we can talk politics.
What is your fear for Kano and Northern Nigeria for now?
Well, starvation, famine because if this thing is not controlled, this is the time our parents and forefathers do go to the farm to produce almost all the food that feed all Nigerians and the North. I think the Federal Government should pay attention to food, if this virus does not finish us, if we do not take effective measures to protect the farmers from farming and if the virus does not kill us, we shall die of hunger and it shall come, it shall come. So, that is what is frightening me more than semantics and political talk and people living in self-denial. We can see dead people, we can see it in other countries and we know everywhere nobody is in self-denial, even the Prime Minister of UK became sick of COVID-19, it has no respect, even the Chief of Staff to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, COVID-19 killed him so why are you in self-denial of what is happening in Kano, do we need to wait until everybody die? No, it is not right. This is not the time to joke and use semantics and play politics, human lives in large quantities are involved and Kano is a major metropolis, Kano is a huge place, it is a strategic and huge historic place, the Federal Government should not allow politicians, they should defend their personality, they should not allow our people to be killed completely before they come to their rescue.
To me, the death of one person is as important as the death of two, three and when it becomes 10, 20 and hundred, it is a real tragedy that should not be played with and the people who hold Kano should be very careful because they cannot play with lives, they cannot afford to deny the number of people that we have lost in Kano and if they continue in self-denial, they will lose ten times that and that is a criminal act, we should not allow it to happen.
Are you satisfied with the response by President Buhari to the COVID-19 pandemic?
What else can the President do, he has acknowledged and thanked the frontline people who have started taking minor casualties when you compare it with the rest of the world? He has encouraged, advised and warned and given hope. I expect him to look into the opportunity of taking Kano at the same level as he took Lagos, Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory; I think he should look at Kano with his own personal eyes and attention. He should look at Kano with his own federal might, I am not saying he should take over the government but the issue of the coronavirus, federal might should take over Kano and encourage the governor to stop being in self-denial for the massive number of human beings that are dying from the virus, we shouldn’t waste our time looking for what killed them because they did not take the necessary precaution they ought to have taken, the Federal Government should go into Kano massively like they did in Ogun, like they did in Lagos, like they did in FCT and they did a good job. Nigeria shines best in crisis and we should try our best to come out of this situation, the Federal Government shouldn’t listen to political lyrics, they shouldn’t listen to politicians who feel like criticising when human beings are dying like it has happened in Kano, they should ignore politicians. Nigerians are at their best in times of crisis and I challenge Nigerians to rise against this enemy because this virus is not a respecter of persons and it is not afraid of anybody and it is even killing the big men more than the small people, the President should ignore all political lyrics and semantics and save Kano and save Nigerians.
What will you want Nigerians to do at this time of crisis?
I want to say this with a lot of sincerity and love in my heart, my heart goes out to all those that have lost their loved ones but I think we can rise above that. I want the government of this country to believe in itself and that we Nigerians wouldn’t want to die from the little virus that we cannot even see, it has ravaged the whole globe, it has ravaged the United States and it will ravage us. They are admiring how we are doing our own thing, Mr. President should go ahead and do more and we can rise through this if we help one another, we shouldn’t engage in politics, taking advantage of the situation and above all, the chum-chum money, the type of corruption that leaders of this country engage in, when funds are released for something, like development of education, the leaders of states should allow the funds to go to the people who know how to make all that can be made to contain this small enemy, otherwise this small enemy will do what Ojukwu could not do to Nigeria, it will ravage and destroy Nigeria.
The Northern Governors Forum recently took a decision to evacuate Almajiris to their respective states of origin, is that the right option to the fight against COVID-19 in Northern Nigeria?
I think, to me that was a panic measure, most of them were in Kano, they should have been quarantined in Kano, they should have taken proper care of them in Kano but if Kano showed such incapacity for not recognizing that most of the people that died, most of them died from the virus which led to this panic reaction from the Kano Government, these Almajiris are not responsible for this, these are political games that Nigerians play when we have a problem. We need to work and stop the enemy, it is called coronavirus, it doesn’t want to know your state of origin, this is diversionary, these young men, when they were collected in one place, they should have been treated, they should have been catered for in one place; and in any case from the beginning, they shouldn’t have allowed them to exist, the elites of this country allow these people to exist so that they can have poor people that they can give alms to, and God has shown them that this thing will not work. You have an option not to allow them on the streets to beg, God does not say you should make some people poor so that you can have people that you will give alms to. This is a wake up call that we should have a policy that can settle these people, they should restrategise about how to turn them into useful people that will contribute to the growth of Nigeria. You will be surprised what these young men can be, there will be medical doctors, some will be scientists, there will be great administrators but they are roam- ing the streets, following people in their cars, asking for small sum of money and big men think they need them so that they can do their religious duties, no, this is very terrible and God has told them it is wrong, the mistake we made by saying we are not going to provide for them, let them go to their state of origin, is that the solution to the problem, to say let’s share the problem, why? They should have kept them in one place, provide and cater for them and wait until after coronavirus is no more. They could have time to think about how these people should be treated; coronavirus does not respect religion, coronavirus does not respect Churches or Mosques so we should concentrate on human being, we should concentrate on human lives, we should concentrate on protection of every- body and saving lives in Nigeria. You see, people are joking, our lives have changed, Nigeria will never be the same again, the world will never be the same again, we must learn how to adopt to this and when we finish this, we cannot go back to how we used to live before, we must be thinking about what is going to be in the future, that is what is going to happen.