Auwal Garba Tarauni
As nations continue their relentless battle to rescue their people and economies from the rampaging coronavirus pandemic, as if to further demonstrate that no part of the world and no level of government is immune to the infectious disease, which has become a public health emergency, states or regional governments have also emerged at the forefront of the fight. In Nigeria, though Kano State is not the epicentre of coronavirus and was originally not in the picture of the pandemic, the northwestern state has now become the newest arrival, literarily threatening to assume the centre stage of the crushing public health show.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria was announced on February 27, 2020, when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the virus, while the second emerged on March 9 when a second case was reported in Ewekoro, Ogun State, by a Nigerian citizen who, incidentally, had contact with the index case, the Italian citizen. But it was not until April 11, a month ago, that Kano entered the pandemic fray. The state recorded the first COVID-19 death on April 17 following which Governor Abdullahi Ganduje imposed a total lockdown on the state.
Since then, the numbers have increased and Kano is now trailing Lagos on the dark log of the pandemic statistics. The state has also unarguably become the centre of the pandemic in northern Nigeria. Indeed, as of Monday, May 11, official figures released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that Kano had recorded a total of 602 cases of coronavirus, out of which 526 were active; 50 persons have been discharged and 28 fatalities recorded. Perhaps overshadowing all of that are the causes of mysterious deaths in recent times of some influential persons in the state.
According to Governor Ganduje, these deaths had no links with COVID-19. His view was partly corroborated by the NCDC, which said the deaths were partly related to coronavirus, not entirely, contrary to unhelpful reports by a section of the media, which erroneously reported the NCDC official as saying the mysterious deaths were fully COVID-19-related.
Now, although media reportage of the COVID-19 fight and the strange deaths in Kano have been skewed in such a way as to portray the Ganduje administration as incompetent and incapable of handling the health crisis and, perhaps, even insensitive and unresponsive in the face of the developments happening in rapid succession, in interrogating the events in the state, however, we must be mindful of certain salient facts. What precisely are these facts?
Number one, Kano is a heterogeneous society and easily the most densely populated state not only in the North-West but also in the entire country. This large population is not helped by the Almajiri system that operates in the state like most states in the North. As many would readily admit, this kind of population becomes ready fuel to power the spread of a contagious disease like coronavirus, particularly the moment it enters the local community.
Secondly and most worrisome is the fact that successive administrations in Kano failed to erect structures and institutionalise frameworks for the fight against highly infectious or contagious diseases that would have guided the state going forward in combating similar diseases like COVID-19. This, for instance, is not the case with Lagos State, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, notwithstanding the widely-acknowledged and commendable efforts of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the effectiveness and efficiency of Lagos in prosecuting the COVID-19 battle, there is little doubt that the state has been helped in this campaign by the structure and culture of fighting such a dangerous disease that has been put in place by successive governors of the state from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to Babatunde Raji Fashola and perhaps Akinwunmi Ambode. These structures and architecture were effectively and successfully deployed in battling Ebola during Fashola’s time in a way that saved the entire country from the scourge. It is such structures and frameworks that Governor Ganduje is struggling to emplace even while waging the war against coronavirus.
Additionally, the ongoing pandemic has exposed the poor state of the public healthcare system in Kano, as is the case in other states of the federation and indeed many countries of Africa. Truth be told, this situation of the parlous state of public healthcare in the state cannot be entirely blamed on Governor Ganduje’s administration alone, to the exclusion of successive governments in the state. The governor is now being confronted with a situation where the available health facilities are stretched and over-stretched to address the present emergency. Until now that Governor Ganduje has struggled to increase the number of test centres, coupled also with the intervention of the Dangote Group, which brought a mobile testing machine, only one test centre was available in Kano.
Now, the isolation centres are nearing 10, namely, the 80-bed Kwanar Dawaki Hospital, 110-bed Muhammad Buhari Specialist Hospital, Giginyu, 100-bed old Daula Hotel, Abubakar Imam Urology Centre, another 100 beds, 300-bed Karfi Sports Institute and CACOVID Sani Abacha Stadium Isolation Centre, with capacity for 300 persons, which is yet to be operational, among others.
Indeed, the situation in the state is neither about lack of capacity on the part of the governor nor lack of genuine efforts and initiatives on the part of the government to battle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It is that the government needs all the support it can muster to successfully battle COVID-19. In this wise, the president of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, deserves commendation. The billionaire businessman provided a mobile testing machine with a capacity for handling 200 samples at present but expected to be scaled up to 1,000 before the month’s end. He also donated 10 ambulances.
Conversely, however, the statement by Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, on the request of Kano State for financial support from the Federal Government is unhelpful. Speaking recently via telephone on Wazobia FM, Kano programme, “As E Dey Hot,” Adesina gave the impression that Kano might not get the N15 billion it requested from the Federal Government because it had not justified the demand in fighting the coronavirus scourge. That statement seems a poor diagnosis of the Kano coronavirus response strategy and initiative. It is also a great disservice to the strenuous efforts of Governor Ganduje to contain a global pandemic, whose origin was neither within the shores of Nigeria nor Kano State.
In its desperation to achieve success in the COVID-19 fight, the governor had even moved to revamp some Federal Government facilities so they could come handy for use at this difficult time. Among other things, the governor, for instance, repaired the road leading to Dala Orthopedic Hospital, Kano, and constructed a new gate for the hospital, which is a Federal Government facility, to aid its possible deployment for the coronavirus fight. Joining hands with the Federal Government and private institutions in the fight, the governor also donated personal protective equipment (PPEs), cartons of hand sanitizer, boots, face masks, pump buckets, and soaps, among others, to the various facilities, in a bid to tame further transmission of the disease in the state and promote a safer working environment for health workers.
The governor’s gesture, in my view, is aimed at forging proper coordination and synergy among the state, Federal Government and private healthcare providers in the battle against the pandemic. This is the way it should be. Kano cannot confront and surmount this pandemic alone. The state badly needs human, material, technical and financial assistance to wade through the coronavirus storm. And the time for the Federal Government and other public-spirited private concerns to do so is now.
•Tarauni, a public affairs analyst, writes from Kano