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Mysterious deaths in Kano, Jigawa and Bauchi

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In the last few weeks, there have been reported cases of ‘mysterious’ deaths of high calibre persons in the highly populous and commercial city of Kano. Although officially Kano has recorded and confirmed about 693 cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths, hundreds of persons have died in the period under review in circumstances that are not too clear. Kano invariably has become the epicentre of the disease in northern Nigeria. An unconfirmed report states that in two cemeteries in Kano about 60 to 80 bodies were buried in a day. There was a report that in the third week of April, 150 people died in Kano in three days. This increased fears that the disease had taken the lives of so many citizens. At the time the government said it could not verify the cause of deaths. The religious-cultural no-autopsy policy of the region makes it impossible to empirically or scientifically determine the cause of death. Testing facilities have been inadequate. A disease, which has infected 4,787 Nigerians and claimed the lives of 158 ought to be tackled with relentless aggression.

The Kano State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Aminu Ibrahim Tsanyawa was quoted as saying that verbal autopsy was going on. In the 21st century and with all the benefits of science and technological advancement we cannot play the ostrich and imperil the lives of millions of hapless citizens.  The state government should do more than lament! Both Kano State and the Federal Government should treat the ‘‘mysterious deaths’’ as a national emergency. It is dangerous to the lives of millions of people in the country. The African proverb that if your ‘‘neighbour eats coco yam at night and you do not warn him, be ready when he chokes on it at night’’ applies here. Whatever happens in that city has great implications on the rest of the north. Already, some of the almajirai who were returned to their home states have tested positive for COVID-19.

There have also been reports of mysterious deaths in Jigawa and Bauchi states. Before reports of mysterious deaths in Jigawa and Bauchi states, NCDC/PTF had spoken in tongues about reports of preliminary investigative reports in Kano. In the first instance, most of the deaths were linked to COVID-19, and in another, there was a denial and no details yet.

There is still no viable testing centre in Jigawa State, carved out of Kano State. Bauchi State governor, who is not a physician, is curiously prescribing Chloroquine for treatment without paying attention to the quality of structure for managing the deadly disease in the state. There was a report of 150 mysterious deaths in a week in Bauchi State.  These state governments, (Kano, Jigawa and Bauchi) could have done better. This is not a time to live in denial or give excuses for failure to apprehend the enormity of the health crisis, which the pandemic is. Is there a religious fatalistic belief system leading to a lackadaisical attitude towards saving lives in all of this? Is this permitted in a 21st century democratic nation? How can we still be discussing ‘‘mysterious’’ deaths in the midst of a pandemic? Why are the governments in denial of objective reality? Is it not a time to put aside constrictions and conduct medical autopsy to establish facts that could help prevent deaths?

It is gratifying to note that the federal and state governments working with officials of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have risen to the occasion and have halted the initial slide into chaos. Enough testing equipment should be procured. Besides, there should be medical autopsies to establish cause of deaths. Verbal autopsy is not enough under the circumstances. Funds should be made available for re-fitting some existing structures as isolation centres. A lot of advocacy and sensitisation programmes are needed. It is also good to note that the government of Kano has been seeking the cooperation of all stakeholders in the state, especially the Imams and traditional rulers to enlighten the people on the need to maintain and observe prevention protocols. The lockdown in Kano should be enforced with all seriousness. The government should provide succour for the poor to make them comply with the stay-home order.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government should consider the huge population and IGR of Kano with a view to helping the people at this time. Kano and Lagos have huge population but they have different economic profiles and commercial values that are well known.

Governance entails accepting responsibility and carrying the people along. There are some people who still subscribe to the preposterous notion that COVID-19 is a ‘‘big man’s’’ disease and that it is ‘‘not their portion’’ to fall victim. Where the citizens need enlightenment, as they really do, the government should not fail to educate them on the need for a new way of social and cultural interaction. This should be done in local languages using local icons, who have more credibility than some remote government officials. State governors, especially in northern Nigeria, should take a cue from the governments which manage the holiest sites in Islam and what steps they have taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. For example, there is no hajj this time around. This was a pragmatic decision taken in the interest of the faithful. In times of extreme danger, traditional beliefs should be dispensed with in order to secure life.

Finally, all state governors should remember that they were elected to guarantee safety and prosperity of the people. All the instruments of state within their control should be deployed to tackling this once-in-a-lifetime-scourge that has consumed over 294,155 lives after infecting 4,308,055 persons worldwide.


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