Paul Orude, Bauchi
The actual cause of deaths of close to 180 residents of Azare town in Katagum Local Government area of Bauchi State within three weeks has so far remained a mystery.
Despite the tragedy, bereaved families and most residents do not believe the deaths were caused by the novel coronavirus.
In fact, investigations by Daily Sun revealed that the majority of residents in Azare, where massive deaths occurred, neither believe that COVID-19 is real nor caused some deaths.
When our correspondent visited Azare graveyard on Tuesday, May 12, hundreds of residents thronged the place for the burial of an elderly woman, and two other men who died within hours apart. Social distancing was completely ignored.
A few wore facemasks while there were no hand sanitizers at the graveyard. Sympathisers and bereaved families moved in and out in a carefree manner. Only a handful believes and practises universal precaution as the diseases ravaged the world.
The Azare market, motor parks and public places were busy, with residents going about their normal activities. At the residence of a prominent titleholder who died the previous day, his eldest son who received sympathisers was shaking hands with those who came to condole with the family.
Elsewhere at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Azare, there was palpable fear, as several members of staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Managing Director, Dr Abdullahi Ibrahim, told the correspondent that six of the staff members tested positive while other results were being awaited.
There were fears that over 20 FMC staff have tested positive for coronavirus. While the recent deaths are strange and unusual, most residents are busy with their normal activities.
The fact that Azare is strategically close to Kano, Jigawa and Yobe States where there have been reports of massive deaths is not enough to cause fear of COVID-19.
“Whatever deaths that are happening are because it is time for the person to die. All these deaths are simply caused by fever,” the representative of the village head of Kajuru, a community in the outskirts of Azare, said.
“The deaths are indeed absolutely high, alarmingly high, but still I won’t attribute it to COVID-19,” Muktar Bello, a politician said.
“Most of the people that died did so in their homes, not hospitals. They were carted from home to the cemetery, so nobody has taken any blood sample or tests to prove that they died from COVID-19.”
While most residents of Azare, and indeed the entire state still live in denial of COVID-19, lack of a laboratory or testing centre has been frustrating, as reports of community transmission of the virus is rife.
As the death toll continued to increase by the day, Governor Senator Bala Mohammed imposed a lockdown on Azare and all towns and communities in Katagum, Giade and Zaki Local Government Areas of the state.
Mohammed explained that the ten-day lockdown would enhance contact tracing, get those infected quarantined and establish a robust and durable management of the situation.
Massive testing of residents to determine who has the virus would be a top priority, the governor said.
The Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Azare and the Eye Centre built by the Central Bank of Nigeria that has 150 beds released by the Federal Government to the state would be used as isolation centres.
“We have discussed with the management of the test centre, Vom, on the need to be returning out tests on time. We are not afraid to test out people. We want them to help us pending when our test centre in Bauchi would have been ready,” the governor said.
Despite these measures, many residents in Bauchi State are still sceptical. And pressure is mounting on the state government by clerics and others to reopen congregational prayers for Muslims and Christians in the state, which had been banned temporarily as part of measures to curtail the spread of the virus.
A social commentator from Azare, Muktar Muhammad, opined that most people think that COVID 19 is another way to attract donor funds.
“My perception on this that most people do not believe in the coronavirus because of the politics they see around the issue,” Muhammad said.
“If you look at what happened recently in Azare, some of the news media reported that there were deaths in Azare but the state government initially denied it. Later they enforced a lockdown in some communities and they are now busy looking for assistance. So this politics makes people not to believe that the disease exists,” he said.
“What happened in Kano was that the state governor was requesting the Federal Government to give it N15 billion That is why people now believe that they are doing this to get money from the Federal Government,” Muhammad said.
Some however believe that the attitude of the people could lead to a catastrophe if not properly handled.
According to unconfirmed sources, results of tests that came out after the deceased had been buried revealed that some tested positive for coronavirus.
“Most of those people lie about the conditions of their relatives who died,” an insider told the reporter.
“One of them was even on ventilator in Bauchi. He was the first coronavirus case to be on a ventilator in Bauchi State. And when he died, health officials refused to release his corpse to his family to go to Azare for burial. In fact, it was at the governor’s intervention that he was taken to the Emirate Council.”
The source claimed that results of another prominent man also allegedly returned positive. His close friend died a few days after he died.
“Another prominent traditional titleholder died of the disease, and his son that has been taking care of him while he was in hospital tested positive and he is now in isolation in Azare. But they are denying it because they don’t believe in it.” He said.
But the fact in Azare, as established by the reporter, is that the majority of residents do not believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is real.w