Self-denial has proved to be one of the fastest ways to fan the spread of coronavirus. We have seen governments and people who, due to pride, culture, religion or political ego, were reluctant to acknowledge the highly infectious and fatal nature of the virus and eventually paid dearly for their imprudence. Such tendencies actually precipitated the coinage of the term known as “covidiots.”
For the avoidance of doubt, the world has found itself in the present dire straits because the Chinese government refused to disclose the full extent and impact of what was then a Wuhan epidemic. Rather than come clean so that the rest of the world would be on their guard and take pre-emptive measures to save the lives of their people, Chinese government resorted to their all too familiar communist secrecy and clandestine approach to suppressing domestic issues, which they believed could undermine their rising profile as a world superpower. By the time they mustered the courage to raise the alarm, the epidemic had spiraled out of control into a full-blown global pandemic. Behold, almighty China had sneezed and the rest of the world began to catch cold.
Like a gangrenous sore, the Chinese virus quickly festered around the world. While some countries appreciated the deadly proclivity of the disease and took pre-emptive steps to wedge its onslaught, the garrulously inexperienced President Donald Trump of the United State called coronavirus a common flu, which would soon go away. By the time he realised what he was dealing with, his country had topped the world chart of coronavirus casualties. That is the price you pay for self-denial, especially on fatal matters such as this. You don’t play with fire, because it burns.
The first index cases in Anambra and Kano states were announced the same day, Friday, April 10, 2020. But while Anambra’s index case was treated and discharged by April 22, Daily Trust newspapers reported that 150 people had dropped dead in Kano within four days. Meanwhile, Kano State government issued an official statement saying that the deaths had nothing to do with coronavirus. As a matter of fact, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje threatened to deal with media organisations for disseminating fake news. He insisted that, as far as he was concerned, only one coronavirus-related case had been recorded at that time. He barely ended the interview with Channels Television when a few more deaths were announced, this time, prominent people, including academics. By this time, morgues were brimming with corpses and grave diggers at the cemeteries were complaining of being overworked. Bereaved families who couldn’t find space at the cemeteries interred their loved ones in family compounds and any available space.
The state government claimed the deaths could have been caused by hypertension, acute malaria, diabetes, meningitis or ulcer resulting from hunger due to the lockdown. But the social standing of the victims in society and their level of education were such that these ailments, which have manageable medications, couldn’t have killed them all in one fell swoop. Even if we assume that this could be one of the unusual occurrences in the coronavirus era, what do we make of the excuse that hunger and ulcer resulting from the lockdown could have been responsible for their deaths? Haba Alhaji! Just check the profile of those we’re talking about here. It is a huge disservice to the memories of these illustrious men and women to insinuate that they died of starvation due to the lockdown.
Short of further explanation to render on the bizarre rate of mortality, Kano State government directed its Ministry of Health to commence “verbal autopsy” on the deceased to determine the causes of their death. It appears the autopsies are unending because no report or statement has been issued so far. However, it is important to note that the report would be useful to the relevant authorities in planning for and managing future health issues with demographic peculiarities such as Kano.
Meanwhile, the cavalier attitude on the part of Kano State government prompted a sharp reaction from Professor Usman Yusuf, a professor of hematology-oncology and bone marrow transplantation and also the personal physician to four past Presidents and Heads of State. He named COVID-19 as the reason for the sudden upswing in Kano fatalities. In his widely circulated article, titled, “Kano City is now the killing field of COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa,” he accused Governor Ganduje of denying that the virus was responsible for the deaths and in the same breath he’s begging the Federal Government to give him N15 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the state. What a double speak, he maintained. As if his lamentation fell on deaf ears, he became practically hysterical in the next interview he granted Saturday Sun newspaper of May 2. Read him: “Kano is in trouble, if care is not taken, Kano will kill all of us. Nigeria and Nigerians need to wake up to the reality that Kano will bring the whole of Africa down. People are dying, the cemeteries are filled up; in every household there is somebody that is sick right now.”
Rather than address the issues raised by the scholar, Governor Ganduje accused him of being sentimental and politically motivated. For real? Should the opinion of an expert of Professor Yusuf’s standing be swept under the carpet in such a simplistic manner?
The signs of an impending catastrophe in Kano were everywhere except that the governor and his team failed to rise to the challenge. As the second largest city in the country after Lagos, coupled with the social, cultural and religious practices, which hardly tolerate the protocols on coronavirus, the state government should have immediately deployed its own resources in setting up specialised centres to manage COVID-19 cases, prevailed on NCDC to make Kano one of its priorities while it engages its people in aggressive mind management via massive media campaign.
What we saw instead on the social media were video clips of young men who would wash their hands in a bowl and drink the water to show that coronavirus was a joke.
At other times, we saw mammoth crowds at various locations chanting “babu corona,” meaning, there is nothing like corona. To further trivialise and downplay the seriousness of the virus, Kano youths started a football tournament titled “Corona Cup,” where they practically made mockery of social distancing. And to cap it all, religious clerics declared that they did not believe in the existence coronavirus. While their counterparts in the southern part of the country were adhering to their state government’s directive to suspend religious worship in churches and mosques, reduce the size of gatherings to not more than 20 people, including funerals, religious gatherings in Kano were commonplace and burials still attracted very large crowds of sympathizers. It was only when the “unexplained” deaths became embarrassing that the panic-stricken government began to arrest imams for holding jumat prayers and other religious assemblies. Despite all these impairments, Governor Ganduje joined other governors who have taken proactive steps to deal with the pandemic, to also relax the lockdown in Kano State. What was he thinking? Even the entire Saudi Arabia, the home country of Mecca and Medina, was placed under 24 hours lockdown, which was recently relaxed to between 6am and 5pm to allow people observe Ramadan. The lockdown was such that pilgrimages were discouraged. Similar measures were taken in the Vatican, Rome, Jerusalem and other important religious shrines around the world, and here we are, carrying on as if we are the most religious on this planet.
Interestingly, COVID-19 has finally thrown up the pesky issue of Almajiri; a can which northern politicians have continued to kick down the road for a very long time. Because of its sheer size and commercial significance, Kano undisputedly happens to be the capital of almajiri in northern Nigeria, where the practice is predominant. With the initial self-denials and mismanagement of the pandemic, it has dawned on Kano State government that the almajiri tradition vis-a-vis modern educational system is indeed a time bomb that could explode any moment. To mitigate the threat, therefore, the state government immediately commenced the repatriation of the children to their states, homes and parents. But the question many have continued to ask is: So these kids have a place to be returned, yet they were encouraged to roam the streets and highways, begging for alms and constituting public nuisance? Unfortunately, some of these kids cannot trace their homes, while some of those who could trace their homes were rejected by their families because it’s either that the families do not have the means to support them or they’ve simply forgotten how to raise children. These were some of the vices that the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, preached against, which drew the ire of Governor Ganduje who eventual sacked him from the throne. It’s possible that the rejections of these almajiri led to their being shipped to the southern states, where there are better prospects for mendicants. This accounts for the scores of almajiri being offloaded under the cover of darkness in some of these southern states in spite of the blockades across states boundaries. But the southern states are determined to reject the unsolicited cargoes for very obvious reasons. Not when rumours are rife that the kids are coronavirus-positive. It is cruel and callous for these northern state governments to deliberately disperse infected children across the country, instead of taking responsibility for their afflictions and treating them. The silence of the Presidency on this matter has not been helpful either.
A few days ago, the Femi Gbajabiamila-led National Assembly moved a motion that the repatriation of almajiri should be halted, as it violates their fundamental human rights and the existing ban on interstate movement. In another news flash, Governor Ganduje announced that he is now committed to integrating the almajiris from Kano State into conventional schools with boarding houses. Nigerians have short memories. Barely five years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan built and commissioned a total of 157 almajiri integrated model schools across the northern states at the cost of N15 billion. The aim was to modernise and integrate the almajiri system into formal education. The schools had boarding facilities and modern equipment, but as soon as President Jonathan left office the schools were converted to mosques and other uses by the states.
Four other states to watch closely are Yobe, Jigawa, Gombe and Bauchi. They appear to have been hit by the spillover from Kano. It was recently reported in the media that 471 persons died in Yobe within five weeks and 92 within seven days in Jigawa. Gombe and Bauchi are not faring better. However, the governments of Yobe and Jigawa have stoutly claimed, according to their verbal autopsies, that the deaths were not caused by coronavirus.
It would be unfortunate if a part of this country is continually allowed to set the other back, even over an obvious matter that has blatant implication on the national security and general wellbeing of this country.
•Sir Paul Nwosu writes from Atani, Ogbaru LGA, Anambra State; [email protected]