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Opinion

Mysterious deaths and others in the time of COVID-19

As the country leaps to contain the spread of COVID-19, Kano State has been threatened with a series of mysterious deaths. The unknown disease killing hundreds in Kano has become a worrisome subject of discussion in the past few weeks, with medical practitioners in the state not knowing the cause of these deaths – even as indications point to coronavirus. While residents point to an infection as the cause, the Kano state government points to another as the cause and, as the lack of certainty persists, more residents die. This has prompted President Buhari not to only declare a two-week lockdown in the state but also set up a team to investigate the health crisis.

A former governor of Kano state, Rabiu Kwankwaso, in his letter to the presidency, has attributed the cause of the mysterious deaths to the coronavirus, not malaria/fever which the state government says is the cause. He also noted that there are no adequate testing centres in the state. Thus, if residents’ deaths are coronavirus-related, they would have infected others since their blood samples were not tested.

It is also heart-wrenching to note that the Kano state government has been shillyshally in its response to this health crisis; after all, it initially denied that there were no series of deaths in the state, and now denies that causes of the deaths are not coronavirus-related. The governor had also relaxed lockdown when COVID-19 cases in the state are rapidly increasing. Many Nigerians have excoriated the carefree attitude of Abdullahi Ganduje, who in their opinion, toys with the life of the residents and does not want to accept the reality of the on-going disturbing situation in his state as he has not taken convincing measures to put a final pause to these deaths.

As the Kano state health crisis disturbs many, the rising number of coronavirus infections put fear in the heart of Nigerians. In fact, many citizens believe that the number of confirmed cases of the virus in the country is low as against the cases in Egypt and South Africa, for example, because there are not enough testing centres. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) also admitted that the problem of insufficient testing kits draws back the fight against coronavirus.

Another challenge which persists is the news reports of citizens who either escaped or attempted escape from the isolation centres. If we can attribute this to the recklessness of our government who have neglected the health sector as this manifested in the gimmicky preparations put in place before the country’s first case of the virus, we should also chide the slothfulness of some health workers at the isolation centres, though the former has more blame—as our leaders prefer to go as far as China to receive a ‘paracetamol-cure’ for their slight ailment and have not shown that research into medicine is indispensable. I hope they prioritize improving the health sector over medical tourism after this pandemic is over.

Furthermore, there are also cases where some frontline health workers have contracted the virus in their selfless services to monitor and treat infected citizens. This is terrifying because the country has shortage of health personnel and the few ones who presented themselves to assist in bringing the virus under an effective control are still not protected from the virus. The Federal Government should make it as a point of duty to render welfare support to health personnel, ensure that they are well-protected when on duty and commend them—monetarily—for their efforts, not in the usual verbal accolades and encomiums they shower on them during press briefings.

Additionally, it is no longer news that in this period the prices of goods and services have skyrocketed astronomically — same with prices of drugs too. This is a cause of concern for citizens who have to take necessary medications to prevent life-threatening health issues. Even the commonly-used drugs, in the popular lingo here, have almost become gold. When citizens who need medications to survive their health challenges cannot afford to buy them any longer, this can lead to death. And as we know, most drugs used in this country are imported, and since the countries where these drugs are produced are battling coronavirus they will think first of self-sustenance.

Extra-judicial killings is also a disturbing in the time of COVID-19 in the country. As coronavirus gradually takes lives of some infected-citizens, the security operatives brutally gun down citizens who they claim are lockdown violators. The unprofessionalism of the security operatives in the country has been a worrisome discourse, over the years. Citizens have expressed their displeasures in the inhumane treatment of some security operatives. Numerous human rights groups and NGOs have brought this challenging issue to the purview of the Federal Government, but the response has been — so and so the officer has been dismissed — but days after, another citizen will be shot dead.

As President Muhammadu Buhari in the nationwide broadcast on Monday relaxed lockdown in FCT, Ogun state and Lagos state starting from May 4, many Nigerians took to the social media to vilify the president’s directive. Some say, does the president believe the lockdown is strictly obeyed in Lagos, for example? There are reports of the hustle of activities in some parts in Lagos. Some Public transport workers have reportedly moved freely during the lockdown after they had done ‘justice’ to the men in black and other security operatives. The citizens’ defiance of the lockdown directive which is also supported by some unethical security operatives may have contributed to the increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country

The Federal Government may have put some factors into consideration when they thought to relax the lockdown. They might have known that it would be impossible to share enough palliatives to over 150 million citizens and that hunger has become a frequent visitor to many households. Thus, extending the lockdown again may be welcomed with an unprecedented massive breakdown of law and order. As the use of face masks is now compulsory for everyone who would move out during the prescribed hours, how sure are we that the citizens would adhere to this; that the security operatives will enforce this compulsion; that the rates of infection will fall in a tremendous decline?

Moving on, it is known even when the Federal Ministry of Education rejects the reality that academic activities in the country will be stagnant as long as coronavirus remains. The World Health Organization has said the virus will be with us for long. We also know that e-learning is not yet practicable in the country as lectures or classes cannot be taken on radios and televisions. School can only reopen when COVID-19 is brought under effective control. The Federal Government, therefore, should see that e-learning becomes effective in the educational sector and also fund educational researches.

Finally, the question that has been dancing of the lips of many Nigerians is, “Will Nigeria survive COVID-19?” I am optimistic that the country will survive this scourge. But then, surviving coronavirus is not the sole task of the Federal Government; we, the citizens, have roles to play as well. Every citizen should adhere to the preventive measures of COVID-19 as the country can only bounce back on her feet and resume economic activities when there are no COVID-19 cases in the country. This definitely is not the time to believe in the strange tale that the virus only infects corrupt politicians. Nobody is immune to the virus even when you have a good immune system. Work smartly if you must or stay at home. Together, we shall scale through this pandemic.

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