By Bala Ibrahim
“There has been no unusual death in Kano State and I want to confirm that the reported deaths are not related to Covid-19. We have only one death arising from the pandemic so far. All the misinformation are from those trading in fake news. The government had already signed into effect an act that would lead to the arrest and prosecution of those spreading fake news on COVID-19” -Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State.
Governor Ganduje made the above statement about a fortnight ago, precisely on the 22/04/2020, in an interview with the NTA, via skype. Repeatedly, and despite the incessant reports of ceaseless deaths everywhere, the government maintained that the deaths were not coronavirus-related. It said the preliminary reports from the committee it set up, had attributed the deaths to “mysterious causes” which are being investigated.
However, by yesterday, Sunday, 03/05/2020, Dr. Nasiru Sani Gwarzo, the leader of the Presidential Task Force Committee to Kano on COVID-19, sent from Abuja by the president, addressed the press with a contrary position:
“Let me inform us that most of the deaths recorded of recent and tests carried out showed that Coronavirus was the cause. The verbal autopsies and tests carried out established without doubt that COVID-19 caused the deaths. We have five cogent reasons to say that the mass deaths recorded in Kano is associated with Coronavirus. So, before the final report which would be ready in the next one week or few days, it is necessary for the people of Kano to wake up from their slumber that this is a serious issue”- Dr, Nasiru Gwarzo.
Between His Excellency Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the executive governor of Kano state, and Dr. Nasiru Sani Gwarzo, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, as well as the leader of the Presidential Task Force Committee to Kano on COVID-19, one must be economic with the truth, which by implication means, misinformation or dishing out fake news. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I make bold to convict the governor, for being the economizer, or the economist of the truth.
Before the report of Dr. Sani Gwarzo, a trio of female doctors has done a survey and submitted a fact finding report, which conflicted with the kano state government’s position and tallies with the submission of the team from Abuja.
Also, media surveys and the various vox pop carried out by some journalists with different grave diggers, clearly indicted the government for refusing to accept the evident of unusual increase in deaths in the state.
By definition, whenever or wherever, a group or individual purposely misleads someone with inaccurate facts or information, the group or the individual has engaged in fake news, and as far as this issue is concerned, Ganduje cannot come out clean.
Since the governor had initiated a law to try fake news offenders, that law must be put to test now, unless if right from the beginning, there was an ulterior motive, or hidden agenda behind the planned law. It would be in the interest of justice and the overall interest of the state, particularly the families of those who died due to the misdeed of denial.
Quite alright because of immunity, the governor cannot be tried now, but investigation can be done now, while prosecution can commence the very day he leaves office. What is good for the goose must be good for the gander.
In the last one week alone, Kano has taken the lead in the Covid-19 infections in Nigeria, with close to 200 confirmed cases of the virus, thereby becoming the epicenter of the disease. If we take into account the social and economic position of the city and the state, we can say that, the psychological horror, and the attendant risk or jeopardy it would put the rest of Nigeria and other neighboring African countries, can only be imagined, but impossible to quantify. And all these because of the refusal to plan, poor planning or both.
Looking at the number of people that lost their lives because of the failure of their government to think straight and make the right decisions when necessary, the government must carry the can of guilt in her conscience, which would surely add to the burden of shame on her shoulders, that could trigger additional anger or even anguish from the public.
For a government that is struggling with a credibility crisis, it should expect public emptiness or sabotage, because some may feel, it’s even a patriotic duty to undermine such a government that is so insensitive or naïve enough to be relying on the submissions of some caricature committees, made up of incompetent and inexperienced health workers, at a time of pandemic. I think it’s even criminal.
I read somewhere that a memo had since been sent to the governor, with regards the findings of the observers, and the following key challenges were raised:
- Poor community awareness, ignorance and denial of the pandemic.
- State-centric and uncoordinated response.
- State–society trust deficit.
- Limited public health facilities and personnel – including laboratories and isolation centers.
- Increasing attrition of health service providers
- Overwhelming informal economy, poverty and exclusion.
- Politicization of the response.
All the observations are valid with even more to be added, in particular nepotism, but I find number 3, the issue of public distrust of the government most noteworthy, and I concur with the position of the observers, thus:
- The state government should set up non-partisan COVID-19 Ward Committees. The committees should be made up of traditional leaders, religious leaders, senior civil servants, youth groups, women and girls. They should be made to support lockdown and self-isolation at community level, create awareness, support contact tracing, manage burials and keep register of all burials during this period.
They can also serve as important community interface with the state response team and the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) officials.
- Depoliticize the response by engaging all the segments of the society, including the opposition political parties. Recognize that this is a challenging situation and all opinion groups are important in galvanizing support for the response.
There is an African proverb that says, ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off. The Hausa version of which is, “In kunne ya ji, jiki ya tsira.”
Mr. Ibrahim writes from Abuja.