For serving the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in Kano, I always consider any matter concerning that state and its people with acute nostalgia. Life, is such that it could render landmark locations that help build us in the past, actually never leave, but plant themselves somewhere in our inner selves only to resurface sporadically, as circumstances bear out. So Kano remains a home base of sorts for me. It should therefore not be surprising that the recent tales of horror about Kano recently witnessing an unprecedented harvest of deaths in a matter of days, hit me like a vicious blow in the solar plexus, and brought more than tears to my eyes. As at last count, Kano had not only lost dozens of its people – with scores also infected, but both the infected and the casualties cut across the various strata of society – comprising both the high and mighty as well as the lowly and less prominent.
To twist matters, the Kano debacle deepened for some time as controversy raged over the cause of the deaths, with such initially ascribed to a mysterious killer illness, even as the grim reaper – COVID-19, was prevalent in the country and the state. Even the governor of the state Dr Abdullahi Ganduje did not help matters as he was playing to the gallery by debunking clear evidence that COVID-19 was responsible for the harvest of deaths. Ganduje, for reasons best known to him, even went on national television to debunk credible information which categorically fingered the dreaded COVID-19 as having a role to play in his state’s harvest of deaths. Even the clarification by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) team which placed the blame for the deaths on COVID-19, is still being taken with a pinch of salt by several residents of the state. Meanwhile, as the country is still contending with the Kano issue, similar waves of deaths are sweeping through states like Jigawa, Sokoto, Bauchi with the same argument over the cause of the deaths dangling between COVID-19 and the yet to be identified killer disease.
With the presently relentless march of the pandemic across the world and the country, the development in Kano and other states which are similarly affected must qualify to jolt the various governments in Nigeria, out of their so far laid back disposition towards improving health care management across the country. Given the virulence with which the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and arrived Nigeria, it was not out of place for Nigerians to expect that its viciousness could have changed the country’s disposition towards public health management. However the signs and trend available indicate painfully that at the end of the pandemic, it may still be business as usual for the country’s health care management system.
For many Nigerians, as far as the country’s interface with COVID-19 is concerned, much of what can be seen, is a consolidation of institutional obduracy by government and its officials, as is marked by an unwillingness to think out of the box, along lines of making life easier for the citizenry. Changing how things work remains anathema to the governments. Meanwhile, in virtually every aspect of the ‘Win the COVID-19 War’ effort, there are avoidable glitches that create room for the public to question government intentions and objectives.
For instance in the area of profiling the incidence of the pandemic, after almost five months of the country’s acquaintance with the COVID-19, there is still no consensus across the country over what features define the disease. For residents of Kano to still suspect another disease other than COVID-19 as the principal cause of the harvest of deaths, betrays at least two weaknesses.
Firstly is the inappropriate level of advocacy over the pandemic across the country, especially in a critical population centre like Kano. Secondly is the glaring absence of a baseline epidemiological survey or disease mapping protocol for the entire country, prior to the onset of the pandemic. Given that the baseline epidemiological survey constitutes the pillar for public health policy formulation and implementation, its absence has led the country to indulge in the pedestrian blame-game of holding a strange and mysterious killer disease, responsible for the harvest of deaths in Kano and other so affected areas of the country.
Coming to the matter of quarantine for suspected and real COVID-19 infected persons, the spate of scandalous tales have assumed the dimension of a national shame, and introduced a farcical dimension into the ordinarily well intentioned isolation exercises across the country. Even in the various isolation centres across the country, patients have become detainees who are held against their will, thereby stripping the humanitarian essence of the quarantine exercise, and making it a punitive dispensation. Reports of abandonment of the quarantined, to starve and suffer have inundated the public space. The case of one London based Susan Ogbeni Lawani who recently returned to Nigeria to participate in the mother’s funeral, had been quarantined (or detained) by the NCDC for over six weeks between Makurdi and Abuja, with questionable outcomes of tests carried out on her, is a case in point. Her protest over her continuous quarantine (illegal ‘detention’), has so far fallen on deaf ears.
Beyond the case of Lawani, things came to a dramatic head last week when aggrieved inmates of an isolation centre in Gombe, along with sympathisers in their host community, went on a rampage and blocked the expressway linking Gombe and Maiduguri. And from the trend of developments, the Gombe case may just be the early stage of a seething revolt of the quarantined, across the country.
Also, not the least of the questionable aspects of the country’s effort against the pandemic was the request by the Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire, to members of the public to donate buildings to serve as isolation centres for the rising number of new infections. Of course several public spirited persons have responded with Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote characteristically leading the charity train. However, much as the request ordinarily seems a well-intended plea by the government, sections of the public are raising questions over the sincerity of the government with respect to the idea. The wave of public resentments borders on several factors including the following. Firstly is the concern over government’s wisdom in resorting to private premises without a thought on reinventing the cross-section of the country’s formal health-care facilities, comprising public owned primary health-centres as well as general and teaching hospitals – the bulk of which are underutilized, as well as remain in scandalous states of dilapidation with some in outright disuse.
Would it not be wiser as some argue, to condition such public facilities, first for the isolation purpose, before diverting public funds into reconditioning private property for the same purpose? Secondly, is the growing feeling in the public space that the request for private premises to be converted into isolation centres is a ploy by respective government officials to rent out their personal buildings to government through the back door.
Little wonder that a chant is spreading along the streets of Nigerian cities and towns, which goes that ‘COVID-19 was born in China, schooled in the US, started worked in Italy and arrived Nigeria as a business venture’. Who then is trading what for how much and to whom?
But this is Nigeria, where blood money can be fair game, anytime anyhow.