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Blatant disregard of lockdown at Abba Kyari’s funeral

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The huge crowd that attended the funeral of the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari, at the Gudu Cemetery in Abuja, made a mockery of all the rules and regulations that have been issued by both the federal and state governments to curb the spread of the ravaging coronavirus (covid-19). The development shows that we are not a serious country and that explains why many people have been flouting the lockdown order, especially in Abuja and Lagos.

How to stop all the funeral attendees from mixing up with members of their family, friends and the larger society is a critical challenge. Having dispersed into different directions, everyone that comes in contact with them is potentially at risk of contracting the virus not until each and every one of them has been quarantined for 14-days. But is anyone doing that? Was there any arrangement to get all the burial participants quarantined right from the cemetery?

Mallam Abba Kyari reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus upon his return from a trip to Germany on March 15. He radiated great hope of overcoming COVID-19 when he announced his hospitalisation in Lagos on Sunday 30 March. If these dates are correct, it means that Abba Kyari delayed for about two weeks before seeking medical attention.

Health workers prepare to bury the remains of Nigeriaís Chief of Staff (COS), Abba Kyari, at the Gudu Cemetery in Abuja on april 18, 2020. - Abba Kyari, the chief of staff and senior adviser to the Nigerian head of state Muhammadu Buhari, died after contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus, the presidency announced on April 18, 2020. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)


During the two weeks, he continued to perform his usual official duties, including attending the Federal Executive council (FEC) meetings, apparently, because he did not manifest symptoms of the disease. While announcing his hospitalisation in a statement that read more like a letter to Nigerians, Kyari said he still had not shown symptoms of the disease, one week after he tested positive. Hoping that he would defeat COVID-19, he expressed the hope that he would return to work soon. But he never did.

If Kyari had begun treatment immediately he tested positive, maybe he would have survived the infection. The culture of hiding and seek, denials, and lackadaisical attitude of government over serious matters is to blame for the deterioration of his case before he rose to seek treatment.

Recall that the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Prince Charles also tested positive to the virus. Both are alive today because they did not hide it and wasted no time to begin treatment. Nothing was hidden from the public about the two men. Their treatment progression was constantly monitored and relayed to the public. Boris Johnson’s case even deteriorated to the extent of being taken to the intensive care unit (ICU), from where he finally emerged healed.

Unfortunately, that was not the case with Abba Kyari. Nigerians got to know about Abba Kyari testing positive and subsequently hospitalised because there was nowhere else to go for treatment. If the evil COVID-19 virus had spared any country in Europe, Asia or the Americas, Abba Kyari would have been sneaked to that country for treatment and nobody would have known anything about him.

For instance, after announcing his going to Lagos for treatment, the last thing we heard was that he was making a private arrangement for his treatment. Why you may ask. But the British Prime Minister, Johnson, was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital, a public hospital in London on April 5, where he was treated. Nobody knew where Abba Kyari was hospitalised not until after his death and burial.

For nearly three weeks while he underwent treatment, nobody knew where the Chief of Staff was being treated. The dead silence engendered wild speculations with some saying that he was flown out of the country for treatment.

Along the line, about a week ago or so, even the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi said Abba Kyari was not in Lagos. The same Commissioner Abayomi is the one who now disclosed that the Chief of Staff died at First Cardiology Consultants, a private hospital in the highbrow Lagos Island.

According to Professor Abayomi, First Cardiology Consultants, Ikoyi, where Mr. Kyari was being treated for COVID-19 infection is a biosecurity-compliant COVID-19 facility accredited by the Health Facility Management and Accreditation Agency of the Lagos State Ministry of Health. 

What beautiful commendation. Why was this not made public before now? The same Lagos State Government had earlier forbidden private hospitals from treating covid-19 positive patients because they were not equipped. This restriction was issued last week when news filtered in social media that some highly placed rich individuals, who tested positive to COVID-19, were secretly treating themselves in private hospitals in Lagos Island.

How come that a very important figure like Abba Kyari was being treated in a private hospital in Lagos and the Commissioner did not know? What has been thrown up is the culture of denial in corridors of power, which leaves members of the public confused and distrusting government.

As things stand, there may be more Abba Kyari’s being treated in private hospitals not only in Lagos but across the major cities in the country. The fact that this might be going on because many rich individuals are hiding their COVID-19 test status and treating it secretly is confounding. The development can only compound and complicate the fight against the coronavirus, as it goes against WHO guidelines.

While serious-minded countries are not joking with this issue of life and death, Nigeria’s culture of misgovernance could frustrate efforts at containing the disease. Abba Kyari’s death has exposed a lot of contradictions in governance – the government will say something and yet be doing a different thing; laws are made to catch ordinary people while the high and mighty are above the law.

The other day, Nollywood Actress, Funke Akindele and her husband were picked up and prosecuted in court for holding an indoor birthday party thereby contravening the lockdown and social distancing in Lagos. But the Abba Kyari’s burial attendees offended the same law and have gone scot-free.

Again, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, other days, said that the families of the dead coronavirus victims would not be allowed to claim their remains for burial. The minister, who spoke at a forum in Abuja, said such corpses are properties of the Federal Government.

He said, “Coronavirus is very dangerous and contagious; there is no medicine for it yet and it is not just capable of killing and overwhelming the health care system but it will destroy the economy.

How could the minister say one today and the next day, a high profile government official died from the same disease and he was released for burial in an unrestricted manner?

The ministers’ restriction is incomplete without strict guidelines on how to conduct the burial including how many persons are allowed according to WHO guidelines. Some countries have mapped out isolated burial grounds specifically for COVID-19 victims.

Although, the World Health Organization (WHO) says dead bodies are not generally infectious, it recommends that relatives should not touch or kiss the body and government rules on social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease have upended important funeral and death rituals in virtually all of the world’s faiths.

I have no problems with government taking over the burial of victims of coronavirus if that would help to stem the spread. For one thing, large crowds of people should not be allowed to attend the burials as witnessed last Saturday in Abuja during Abba Kyari’s interment.

The high potency of coronavirus and Ebola disease cannot be underestimated. From around the world, the burial of victims of these diseases involves about five people or less, who are well-kitted with all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), to prevent infection.

But looking at what happened during Abba Kyari’s burial where a huge crowd who dressed in their flowing normal attires with sandals on the feet, evoked high regret for Nigeria. Did those people not realise that they were exposing themselves to risk and could contract the infection there?

How did Abba Kyari contract the infection other than that he travelled to Germany and returned only to test positive to the disease? He did not attend any burial of any COVID-19 victim. But he may have come in close contact with an unknown infected person somewhere in the course of his trip from which he contracted it.

It is absolutely in order to bar all those who attended the burial from entering Aso Rock Villa, not until they have been quarantined for 14-days and test negative of the disease.

That should not be the end. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), which failed in its duty in directing the manner of Abba Kyari’s burial, has the job of tracking all those who attended the burial and getting them quarantined before they spread the disease on the population.
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