Death and dying emirs

DYING is nothing; choosing the right time to die, if we can, means a whole lot. This coronavirus season is a very wrong time to go – undisturbed. You die now, you leave importunate questions blowing in the air. The Emir of Kaura-Namoda in Zamfara State died on Sunday morning. Was he a victim of COVID-19, the current world champion? That question rang through the nation as he was buried with fanfare. When an emir in northern Nigeria dies of a contagious disease, you can imagine how many of his people will be buried soon around his grave. The other emir who died in Kano State on Saturday, what killed him also? Have you noticed that Kano people are always quick to explain away every of their sudden deaths as not COVID-19-related? Even when no one is asking, the standard answer comes: The emir didn’t die of COVID-19; he died during a protracted illness. Someone asked, was he made emir on his sickbed?

Death’s ultimate weapon is mockery; it undermines the ‘wise’ and shames him who thinks he knows how best to tame finality. Was it not Zamfara that last week attempted to export its untested youths to proactive Osun State? The Emir of Rano, Alhaji Tafida Abubakar Ila, died on the same day Governor Abdullahi Ganduje relaxed Muhammadu Buhari’s coronavirus lockdown of death-wracked Kano. It would be nice to know the disposition of the departed to the pandemic, its escalating morbidity in northern Nigeria and the resistance of the people to wise counsel. What is on record for the dead, however, is the loud silence both of them shared with their brother-emirs at a time their high and low subjects became prey to strange illnesses and deaths.

When you read that Nigeria recorded seventeen coronavirus deaths in a single day on Saturday, how did you feel? I felt horror – not really at that recorded number, but at the thought of the unrecorded. I was horrified too by the fact that we do not appear to know that we are right in the middle of a torrential disaster, unrelenting and unremitting in its morbid intensity. Death in this season appears to have adopted a fit-all pattern. A UNICEF officer died in Kano on Saturday. The man complained of “sore throats and malaria,” took his drugs and became well. Later he complained that “no matter how short he walked, he was losing breath.” He was taken to the hospital, got there, took COVID-19 test, waited for his report card …and died. He was 60. The Zamfara emir presented with same symptoms. He was placed in isolation; his blood sample taken, was told to wait for his result, then he died.

Many more are dead, many more will die; many who went to sleep last night woke up this morning in COVID-19 graves. We saw it in Nasarawa State House of Assembly and in the home of a title holder in the Emir of Kano’s palace on Sunday. This season is of cheap, quick, surprise  deaths. It is not funny. Really, dying is nothing because the dead is free of death. What matters ultimately is what we do in-between our start and finish lines. A young man in a southern state was on social media on Friday, May 1, sharing messages that deplored lockdowns; waxing lyrical about herd immunity and warning against using lockdowns to kill him and his people a billion times before their death. He reposted messages that railed against coronavirus lockdowns and their invasive asphyxiation. When someone said President Buhari was ill-advised to relax the lockdown on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States last week, this man retorted: “Go and health-advise him na.” He was very active and was convinced of his stand-down stance on Friday. By Saturday, he was dead. A report said he “suddenly had breathing problem and died. “What killed him? Was it lockdown or COVID-19 or what other death blows in our air today? Imagine running away from lockdown death only to suffer death at the hands of something that smells of coronavirus! Mary Oliver sees death as “the fascinating snake under the leaves, sliding and sliding.” John Green, author of ‘The Fault in our Stars’ says every death comes “in the middle of a sentence.” Whatever he means, what is certain is that no one, really, is ready for the grave; we always have one more thing to say, another short (or long) step to take. The Emirs who died, the UNICEF chief who died and the passionate southern man who died all had plans for this week and the next and the next. COVID-19 stopped them in their stride.

It is not the calibre and the number of deaths so far seen that is the problem here. The horror is in what yet may come. Like all other recent northern deaths of the mighty, the Emir of Rano was buried in an atmosphere of disdain for COVID-19 and the safety demands of the times. The crowd of mourners cared not at all if the body contacts they had burying the dead would lead them to their own death. They were convinced that their monarch had nothing to do with coronavirus in life and in death. And, truly, we forever lack evidence that his death was of this contagion. But, then, what about the unseen death incubating in those contacts in the crowd; the invasive droplets that will soon manifest in overwhelmed hospitals, wards and morgues? The crowd of mourners at the Rano emir’s burial took no heed of discretion; they would not know that this disease keeps ruffling the peace of wellness with its creepy disruptions.

Perhaps this is also about leadership, which is a mark of our unending tragedy. In a ‘feardemic’ season, the terrified street looks up to those it thinks have the capacity to know and act. But where is that confidence-building leadership to hold out the compass at the frontline? It took a national uproar to ferret out our president from his hideout to, at least, appear doing his work. Even then, his actions and inaction have turned out to be equal and of the same no-effect. His flip-flop interventions have seen the nation offering ‘open and close’ therapies to the critical COVID-19 case of Nigeria. One day you lock down, the next you break the lock in deference to those who choose economics over human life.

Elect the right people so they take you to the right bay. After this season, we should all take more seriously the kind of leaders we choose to run our lives. The best of doctors will fail where mercantilist governors see people’s health as a mine of gold coins. I see exactly that everywhere I turn. The character of this disease points at its blindness to all walls and divides. It does not matter that you are an archangel in Buharism like Abba Kyari or a privileged wailer like Abubakar Atiku’s son. As coronavirus goes for the lungs and throats of the poor, throwing up coughs, so it spares not the iron hearts and brains of the rich in their solid encasements. But this grim reality is not enough sermon to the powerful. They must grab everything, even on their way to the morgue. You read that a governor built an isolation centre with billions of borrowed funds. And because of the misbehaviour of the people in power, many more will die. If Kano, especially, today is the net exporter of death to other states, it is because of the complex choices the people made picking their president and, later, their governor. Hopefully next time, those who manage to ford this flood and wade through this killing field of coronavirus will understand the interconnectedness of their votes and the safety of their lives. Every vote sold to leaders with dubious ability is a vote for self-death. These times should make us agree that a sick, sickening and invalid political leadership is a potential reservoir of death in pandemic proportions.

If Aroni would not sit still at home, Onikoyi must not stop waging wars. We must keep this conversation of warnings going until the deaf hears. One day they are here, the next they are dead, stone cold. COVID-19 cannot be making E. coli chickens of Nigerians amid nationalized confusion and we pretend all is well. Chicken owners know that what murders their birds are more than the audacious hawk which kills in the day and the owl that snatches at night. There are other deaths beyond the sneaky dog and coyote, the wily fox and the bobcat to which precious chickens are delicacies. Those ones are mere retailers in the business of avian death. There is a mass bird killer called END with a capacity to achieve a death rate of 100 percent wherever carelessness is as endemic as what we see in Kano, in northern Nigeria. Anyone who knows the damage which END (Exotic Newcastle Disease) does to the world of domesticated birds should sit up in deference to this COVID-19 and behave well. This is one affliction that is proving to the wisest of humanity that it has the potential to do maximum damage to the existential arrogance of man. From what we see daily up north, and the reactions down south, this virus is not just killing Nigerians here and there, everywhere; it sure will kill Nigeria itself – if it has not done so already.

 

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