The Kano mass deaths

AMID the ongoing efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic in the country, a strange cloud has enveloped Kano State. In the last three weeks, the state has witnessed massive deaths of people in very controversial circumstances. The deaths first became public knowledge following the release of a video clip showing a crowd of sympathisers conveying corpses to Dandolo cemetery in the densely populated Gwale Council of Kano metropolis on April 11, the same date that the state recorded its index case. Since then, a mystery has unfolded: in  just one week, the ancient city of Kano recorded over 600 deaths. Indeed, Nigerians were shocked when, in less than 12 hours, Kano buried 12 prominent persons, including professors, bankers and an editor, with the state government insisting that nothing was amiss.

Relying on zero epidemiological evidence, the Kano State government released a preliminary report suggesting that the majority of the dead might have suffered from diabetes, hypertension, meningitis, malaria and other ailments. It dismissed media reports of strange and massive deaths since the state recorded its first Covid-19 case, insisting that the number of deaths in the state was well within reasonable limits. It also denounced accounts by local undertakers on the number of deaths. According to a statement issued by the state Commissioner for Information, Mohammad Garba,  “Although investigation into the cause of the deaths is still ongoing, preliminary report from the state Ministry of Health indicated that the deaths are not connected to the Covid-19 pandemic. From the report, it shows (sic) that most of the deaths were caused by complications arising from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis and acute malaria.” The statement added that while Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje earnestly awaited the final report for necessary action, the government had demonstrated the zeal and political will to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the state.

This postulation, we submit without equivocation, is mere drivel. The truth is that since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, the Kano State government has failed to complement efforts by state governments across the country to curb the pathogen. In sharp contradistinction to the national template where states have been at the epicentre of the Covid-19 battle, the Kano State government has placed undue reliance on the Federal Government. While, following the various measures rolled out across the states, the Muhammadu Buhari administration imposed a 14-day lockdown on Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), a measure which was further extended by two weeks, the Ganduje administration has failed to make up its mind regarding a lockdown. For instance, it condoned serial violations of social distancing rules under the guise of allowing residents of the state to stock up on food for the Ramadan period. Sadly, even though President Buhari eventually announced a two-week lockdown of Kano on April 27, the Ganduje administration has flip-flopped on compliance. It first asked the Federal Government to relax the lockdown, then urged citizens of the state to abide by it in the interest of public safety. But it later insisted on relaxation of the lockdown. Till date, pictures and videos of huge crowds attending burials in the state remain routine, making total mockery of the social distancing rules imposed across the country. It is therefore no surprise that despite the administration’s facetious stay-at-home order issued on April 14, cases of Covid-19 have spiked in the state. It is now the second most affected state in the country.

One corollary of the horrendous situation in Kano is that apprehension about it has been essentially a media, Federal Government and other citizens’ affair. Although the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire,  appeared to endorse the explanation by the state government regarding the mystery deaths, pointing out during a Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 briefing in Abuja that the Kano “authorities have explained that the latter (deaths) were not out of the ordinary,” the Federal Government promised to deploy ambulances and a fact-finding committee to ascertain the true extent of the effect of Covid-19 in the state, and improve its efforts to fight the spread of the disease. The Federal Government has since dispatched a presidential delegation to the state under the auspices of the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC).

As public and private hospitals in Kano reportedly scaled down clinical services, Governor Ganduje directed the state Ministry of Health to work with the presidential delegation to carry out verbal autopsy to determine the causes of the recent deaths. It remains to be seen whether this method is what is required at this time. We salute the media, private individuals and the Federal Government for keeping tabs on the situation in Kano. We urge the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 to do a thorough job. The mystery deaths must be unraveled. Needless to say, the Kano State government needs to wake up from its slumber. On current evidence, it is far from spectacular.




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