Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Following the news of the index case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Benue State, there have been series of denials and counter-denials about the real identity of the patient. Governor Samuel Orton had on Saturday given the identity of the patient as Susan Okpe.
He added that the carrier, a returnee from the United Kingdom (UK), on arrival in Makurdi, the state capital, checked herself into a private hospital, where she was being treated until she was confirmed to be have tested positive to the disease.
The governor said he had to mention her name so that the people who may have come in contact with her, could either self isolate or report themselves to the state’s COCID-19 Action Committee for proper medical attention.
He did not give any further information about the identity of the case, he, however, appealed to the people not to stigmatize the case or her family members as, according to him, this fate could happen to anybody.
But he was damn wrong. Soon after, the story of the index case flooded the news wave, many people besieged the social media, especially Facebook in frantic search for the profile of the said Susan Okpe.
Within minutes, all the Susan Okpes became instant suspects as different people kept posting different pictures of anyone who bears the same name as the index case. Interestingly the name, Susan OKpe, is a common name in the state.
Before nightfall, four different pictures of four different women, who went by that name Susan Okpe, flooded the cyberspace, with everyone insisting that they were all the index case.
As expected, this immediately put a stigma on both the purported victims and their families as all of them, battled to wriggle themselves out of the accusation.
The act of naming the index case without providing the exact particular of the case has since triggered a debate among different schools of opinions.
While some contended that the governor ought not to have mentioned the name of the case in the first place, others insisted that he was right to have done so as that would enable all her possible contacts to isolate themselves from their immediate loved ones.
Those against his disclosure of the identity of the case are of the view that it has defeated the intended purpose as the members of the public have already started stigmatizing everyone that bears the name Susan Okpe, adding that against the background, it would be difficult for her supposed contacts to announce themselves in public or to come out for any test.
Matthew, a brother to one of the numerous ‘Susan Okpes’ who spoke with Daily Sun by telephone from the United Kingdom, lamented that his sister, whose picture was flaunted on the social media as the Benue index case, was with him in the United Kingdom and had no coronavirus.
The young man who called at about 11:15pm on Saturday, expressed sadness over the fact that his family was maligned: ‘The fake news has brought untold embarrassment and pain to us.
“I live here in the UK with my sister, Susan, in a two bedroom apartment. She’s here with me as I speak to you and has never travelled to anywhere in a long time. She’s not in Nigeria, Abuja or Makurdi.
So we wonder why anyone would place her picture on the social media as the index coronavirus case in Benue State.
“My sister does not have coronavirus. In fact, she’s so devastated by the news right now and could hardly speak. I don’t know where this news is coming from, but all I want to say is that my sister does not have coronavirus and she’s not in Nigeria, talk less of Makurdi as we speak.”
Susan, who later mustered strength to speak to Daily Sun through video call from the UK, was in tears as she insisted she was not the Benue index case and had not returned to Benue for years.
Another picture that is trending as the purported index case is a student of Sociology at the Benue State University (BSU). She also bears the name Susan Okpe. But she never had any travel history outside Nigeria. Investigation also showed that she has not travelled outside Makurdi in the recent times.
Some of her friends attested that they saw her a few hours before the news, adding that she was never on admission in any hospital in the state and could not have been the person referred to as case by the governor .
It was gathered that index case in the state actually goes by the name Susan Lawani Okpe. Unconfirmed report said she flew into the country from the UK to attend a burial of a relative in the state.
She allegedly arrived on Sunday and was admitted into the private hospital on Monday. She was in the facility on Saturday, when the governor made the result of her test public.