•14 die in last 2 days, 640 within 2 wks
•Situation getting tougher here, Ganduje cries
•Graveyard filled to capacity, says undertaker
•PDP demands investigation, Presidential visit
•Falana tasks Health Minister on Kano deaths
•Why people are dying in Kano — Junaid Mohammed
•SERAP tasks govs on COVID-19 spending
•How deputy commissioner of police died of COVID-19 in Benin
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Dirisu Yakubu, Bashir Bello & Abdulmumin Murtala
Fear and anxiety have gripped residents of Kano, following the death of no fewer than 14 prominent citizens of the state within the last 48 hours.
This came as the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone5, Benin, explained how Francis Bissong, a Deputy Commissioner Police in charge of the Zonal Criminal Investigation Department in Benin, Edo State, died from COVID-19 complications at his official apartment in Benin.
Those reported to have died of ailments suspected to be COVID-19 include Professor Ibrahim Ayagi, the CEO of Hassan Gwarzo School and former Vanguard Newspaper columnist; Alhaji Dahiru Rabiu, former Kano Grand Khadi; Dr. Musa Umar Gwarzo; Mallam Musa Tijjani, former Editor of Triumph Newspaper; and Alhaji Adamu Isyaku Dal, former SUBEB Executive Secretary.
Others are Alhaji Salisu Lado; Hajia Shamsiyya Mustapha; Hajia Nene Umma; Alhaji Garba Sarki Fagge; Dr. Nasiru Maikano Bichi, Secretary, Student Affairs, North West University, NWU; Prof. Aliyu Umar Dikko of Physiology Department, Bayero University Kano; and mother of famous Kannywood artist, Ado Gwanja. They all died on Saturday.
Similarly, yesterday, former Commissioner of Education in the state, Alhaji Aminu Yahaya; and former Head of Department, Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano, Professor Balarabe Maikaba, were all also confirmed dead.
Although causes of the deaths of these prominent citizens of the state could not be ascertained at press time yesterday, Vanguard learned they all died of underlying ailments similar to those of COVID-19.
For instance, Kannywood star, Musa Gwanja, said his mother died of hypertension and diabetes at 80 and was buried on Saturday at the Darmanawa cemetery in Tarauni Local Government Area.
Similarly, a nephew to the former Grand Khadi, Adamu Balarabe, said his uncle died on Saturday after coming down with catarrh for only two days, after which he was buried at Dandolo cemetery in Kano metropolis.
‘Deaths under investigation’
Reacting to the spate of death in the state, a medical doctor working with Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Dr. Mukhtari Gadanya, said: “I would prefer not to speak because the matter is officially under investigation, therefore, whatever one will say is going to be speculation.
“It is important to note that it has not been ascertained that the deaths occurring in 2020 are more than those that occurred in 2019. Nothing has been confirmed as the cause of the deaths. So whatever one is going to say will only be his perception and not the reality on ground.”
A nursing staff who works with the Infectious Diseases Department of the hospital, Bashir Yusif, said most of those dying of recent had been exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever, difficult breathing and cold, although they have not been tested to confirm this.
When contacted on the cause of the sudden deaths in the state, Commissioner for Health, Dr. Aminu Ibrahim Tsanyawa, and his counterpart in Information, Muhammad Garba, failed to reply to text messages sent to the mobile phones.
‘We now bury up to 24 daily, up from 3 or 4’
Meanwhile, an undertaker at Abattoir Cemetery in Kano, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Vanguard yesterday that the graveyard was filled to capacity, saying they were left with no option than to look for space in between tombs to bury new corpses.
He said: “Mysterious deaths do occur from time to time during the peak of the hot season but this year’s is, indeed, overwhelming.
“Some of the relations mention that their dead ones died of underlying ailments such as hypertension, diabetes or typhoid. But we cannot say exactly what is killing people but we bury up to 24 bodies a day here, against the three or four we used to bury before this time.
“Residents of about four different quarters, including Fagge and Wambai, use this cemetery. Indeed, the rise in death is overwhelming. Another thing that is worth noting is that most of those dying are elderly and a lot of them are said to be having one underlying disease or the other.
“The graveyard is already filled to capacity, such that space is sought in between tombs to bury new corpses, as such the new tombs are scattered all over the place and not uniformly arranged.”
Kano State had lost about 640 in similar circumstances last week, according to reports.
‘NCDC only supports states’
Reacting to the deaths in Kano, Head of Prevention, Programmes and Knowledge Management, NCDC, Dr Chinwe Ochu, told PR NIgeria that response to infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 at sub-national levels, is led by states.
Ochu stressed that NCDC only supports states in preparedness and response to disease outbreaks, including capacity building, hands on training, guidance and coordination.
“NCDC does not have an office in Kano nor in any state, however, NCDC supported states in setting up public health emergency operations centres run by states to ensure effective coordination of a public health response.
“Samples have been collected from close contacts of the deceased for testing,” Ochu said while reacting to allegations raised by Selma Ahmed, mother-in-law of the banker who died of COVID-19 on Friday in Kano.
Ganduje: Situation getting tougher
Reacting yesterday, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje lamented the setback faced by the state in the fight against the deadly coronavirus pandemic with the shutdown of the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control, NCDC, laboratory test centre located at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, AKTH.
Ganduje, who requested a quick response by the Federal Government to fix the lab, said at the moment, the state was left with no option than to take samples to Abuja, adding that in the process some of the samples got damaged and frustrate it efforts.
The governor, who stated this while giving an update on the fight against the virus in the state, admitted that the situation in the state was getting tougher and serious but said it was determined to contain the spread of the disease.
He also said the state was recruiting voluntary constables and vigilantes to go to the nooks and crannies to ensure strict compliance to the lock-down of the state.
Ganduje said the government has established ten mobile courts to try violators of the lock down order, adding that it has also ordered mass production of about one million face masks after which it would make its use mandatory in the state.
The governor said: “I will like to inform you that the situation is getting tougher and tougher, the situation is getting serious and serious but we are determined to keep on moving until we see to the end of the deadly disease with the help of Almighty God.
“In terms of the curative aspect, there is no doubt, we have a challenge before us. So far, we have three types of isolation centres. We have an isolation centre which is a hotel we hired to keep those whose samples have been taken and awaiting results of samples.
“When they are found positive, they move to the next level of isolation centre in Muhammadu Buhari Specialist Hospital where we have 100 beds. We give them all the necessary care there. But when we have a very serious case, which we are yet to have, that is a patient that requires ventilators, monitors and probably to be under ICU, we have the Kwanar Dawakin Kudu isolation centre which is ready for that.
“As I said, we have very serious problem confronting us at the moment. The laboratory testing centre is the back bone for the curative aspect of this programme. The testing centre at the AKTH has been shut down for some time and we know the Presidential Task Force has been doing all it can to bring it back to operation because this is causing a lot of problem to the people of Kano State. So we urge the Federal Government to quicken it actions.
“We have taken over 300 samples to Abuja and it takes over seven hours, there is bad road because the road is under construction and if care is not taken, sometimes we found that some of the samples are spoilt and cannot be tested. We appeal to the Presidential Task Force to take this issue very seriously.
“In order to take care of the front line health workers so that they don’t go back home and infect their families, we are providing new accommodation for them.”
BUK to set up lab centre, says V- C
In the meantime, the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano, Prof. Yahuza Bello, said plans are underway by the institution to establish a laboratory centre.
Prof. Yahuza, who doubles as the Chairman, Fund Raising Committee on COVID-19 in Kano, said the lab centre which had already been inspected by the NCDC has the capacity to test 180 samples per day.
No evacuated Almajiri is positive
The Chairman, Committee on Evacuation of Almajirai and Commissioner for Local Government, Sule Garo, said it has so far evacuated about 1,098 Almajirai from the state to three states of Katsina, Jigawa and Kaduna, adding that none of them tested positive.
Garo said the state government was continuing with evacuation of over 100 Almajirai to Bauchi State.
All hands must be on deck to win fight against COVID-19
Meanwhile, the Deputy Governor and Chairman, State Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. Nasiru Gawuna, said all hands must be on deck in order to win the fight as the dreaded disease.
Gawuna called on the people to on its part comply with the lock down order and also report any suspected cases in order to curtail the spread of the disease in the state.
Meanwhile, as of the time of filing in this report, the number of confirmed cases in the state stands at 77 and one death. No patient have been discharged so far.
PDP calls for probe
Reacting to the deaths in Kano yesterday, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, called for an immediate investigation, urging a Presidential visit to the state.
The party said its call was predicated on conflicting reports emanating from the state on the cause of the sudden deaths, particularly at this time the nation was battling with the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement issued by spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP chided President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly failing to take any concrete step on this frightening development but was, as usual, waiting to be prodded to stand up to the demand of the office and proceed to Kano State to identity with the people, find solution and contain the ugly situation.
The statement read: “The party describes as lamentable that President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to lead from the front, and who recently took up the toga of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS COVID-19 Response Champion, had rather receded into the safety of Aso Villa and failed to promptly activate any concrete and visible action to investigate and arrest the situation in Kano, where Nigerians are dying in their hundreds.
“The PDP described the situation as yet another manifestation of leadership failure and insensitivity of the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress, APC, administration to the plight of Nigerians at critical moments.
“Our party holds that the situation in Kano demands an immediate Presidential visit and investigation at the very high level. Those dying in Kano are Nigerians and must not be abandoned. The development deserves an utmost Presidential attention to avoid further escalation.
“This is particularly imperative as it is evident that Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and his APC-led administration in Kano State are totally incompetent and have become overwhelmed after failing to take appropriate measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus or whatever medical situation that has taken over the state.
“When Ganduje, who is being dogged by allegations of corruption, was expected to ensure compliance to preventive measures, he rather chose to abandon governance and spent executive time pursuing controversial extraneous issues that have no direct benefits on the lives of the people.
“It is even more ludicrous that Governor Ganduje chose to politicize the health issues in his state by resorting to unnecessary denials and pecuniary concerns. Such anti-people approach to governance is always symptomatic of a leadership that did not emanate from the mandate of the people.
“Consequently, the PDP charges President Buhari to immediately wade in and arrest the situation in Kano without any further delay.”
Falana tasks Health Minister on Kano deaths
In his reaction yesterday, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, asked the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, to publish the full report of the investigation into the recent deaths in Kano.
In a letter addressed to the minister on behalf of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 Action Programme and Beyond of which he is interim chairman, Falana said the state seemed overwhelmed and asked the federal government to take control of the situation.
The letter read: “During a press briefing held at Abuja a week ago, you did announce that the Federal Ministry of Health, the Kano State Chief Epidemiologist, Officials of the Kano Public Health Department and those of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, had commenced investigation into the strange deaths and mass burials currently going on in Kano State.
“However, we are disturbed to note that the burials have since continued without any official information on the cause of the strange deaths. The people of Kano State and Nigerians in general are worried over the worsening health crisis as it may spread to other parts of Kano State not yet affected as well as other parts of the country if not urgently addressed.
“But since the Kano State Government is completely overwhelmed we, hereby, call on the Federal Government to take over the management of the crisis without any further delay. In addition, we are compelled to request for a certified true copy of the report of the joint investigation conducted by the Federal and Kano State Ministries of Health into the strange deaths and mass burials taking place in Kano State.
“The report should include the nature and cause of the deaths, the number of casualties and patients currently undergoing treatment in hospitals as well as an outline of measures being put in place by the Federal Government to stop the strange deaths involving mass burials.”
He said the request was made pursuant to provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, which required the health minister to publish the report “within seven days of the receipt of this letter”.
“Take notice that if you fail to accede to our request, we shall not hesitate to invoke the relevant provisions of the law to compel official disclosure of the findings of the joint team constituted to investigate the cause of the strange deaths and mass burials in Kano State,” Falana warned.
Why people are dying in Kano — Junaid Mohammed
Also reacting last night, Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, attributed the sudden death of some prominent natives of Kano State to absence of adequate facilities and personnel to manage COVID-19 and not due to the rash of any strange disease in the state.
Mohammed, also a medical doctor, said the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which took both the Kano and federal governments by surprise needed to be properly managed in order to prevent more deaths instead of trying to create the erroneous impression that something else was killing people in Kano.
According to him, it is necessary for Nigerians to note that no hospital in Kano currently has any facility or capacity to deal with the rising cases of the disease.
He added that the three major hospitals — Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital; the Kano Infectious Diseases Hospital in Sabon Gari and the Dawaki Hospital, were not equipped to deal with the pandemic.
He lamented that as a result of the absence of a testing centre in Kano, coupled with the breakdown of the three key hospitals, which used to provide reliable healthcare for the people, Kano State could not effectively manage people with COVID-19 symptoms.
While disagreeing with those who claim that more and more people in Kano are dying of ‘strange diseases’ in Kano, Dr. Mohammed challenged those making the claims to name the strange diseases responsible for the deaths, the pathological history and the person who diagnosed the diseases in order to make it convincing.
According to him, it is the enemies of the state governor who were playing politics with the death of people, some of whom died of old age and underlying health conditions as well as the menace of COVID-19.
Mohammed said: “Politicians should not play politics with everything because these times call for scientific evidence and proof to deal with the crisis we have at hand. It is clear that neither Kano nor the Federal Government of Nigeria was prepared for the pandemic which has overwhelmed Kano.
“The truth remains that Kano State does not have what it takes to handle the pandemic given its large population and aging hospital facilities. As a result of this, samples of persons with symptoms of COVID-19 have to be taken by road for over seven hours to Abuja for analysis and there is no way such samples cannot be compromised.
“Those who claim that a strange disease is killing people in Kano should first of all tell the rest of us the name of the disease, the person who carried out the pathological analysis and the diagnoses to show that it is true or shut up forever because this is science and not politics.’’
He accused the federal government of neglecting Kano and paying more attention to Lagos and other places by giving N10 billion to Lagos and nothing to Kano when, indeed, the state was more populous than the former Nigerian capital.
On the distribution and management of federal government palliatives to Nigerians, Mohammed said the cash and materials would end up in peoples bank accounts and pockets due to the absence of reliable data to handle the distribution.
He questioned the credibility of top government officials who carry cash and materials about under the guise of distributing to ‘the poorest of the poor’ in Nigeria, wondering how they arrived at the selection process, where and when the data was taken and by who.
SERAP tasks govs on COVID-19 spending
In a similar development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged the 36 state governors of the federation to urgently provide information on spending details on COVID-19 in their state.
It also asked the governors to redirect public funds budgeted for security votes and life pensions for former governors to public healthcare facilities and access to quality education in their respective states.
SERAP, in a letter dated April 25, 2020, by it’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, maintained that “given the rising number of deaths in Kano State reportedly linked to COVID-19, your state and other state governors now have to show leadership, transparency and accountability, if you are to effectively and satisfactorily respond to the COVID-19 crisis, curb the spread of the disease and save lives of Nigerians within your state.
“Redirecting security votes and life pension funds to invest in public healthcare facilities and access to quality education in your state would improve your ability to respond to COVID-19, provide palliatives and socio-economic reliefs to residents, and meet the expectations of Nigerians.”
The organization noted that it would be a betrayal of constitutional oath of office for governors to continue to receive security votes, pay life pensions and other needless allowances at a time of public health crisis across the states.
“Taking these steps will not only help save lives but also help ensure that the necessary institutional reforms in the health and education sectors occur within your state.
“The Kano situation shows the urgent need for all state governors to demonstrate leadership at a time of public health crisis by immediately stopping payment of security votes and life pensions and redirecting the funds to respond to COVID-19, invest in healthcare facilities and access to quality education in your state.
“According to our information, some states such as Kano are waiting for handouts from the Federal Government and are refusing to take any meaningful action to respond to COVID-19, stop the spread of the disease and save lives.
“We are concerned that many state governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors life pensions rather than using public funds to invest in public healthcare infrastructure and improve access to quality education in their states.
“We urge you to provide information on details of funds so far received from the Federal Government, private donations and other sources, details of how such funds have been spent including to improve testing for COVID-19, provide resources for isolation centres in your state, provide safe protective equipment for health workers, and to provide any palliatives and other socio-economic benefits to the most vulnerable people, as well as details of beneficiaries of any palliatives and reliefs.’
“We ask you to provide the requested information within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal action under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.”
DCP dies of COVID-19 in Benin
Meanwhile, Francis Bissong, Deputy Commissioner Police in charge of Zonal Criminal Investigation Department in Benin, Edo State, died from COVID-19 complications in his official apartment in Benin on Tuesday, according to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 5, Benin, Paul Yakadi.
In a statement, Yakadi narrated the events that led to the death of Bissong whom he described as a “hardworking officer”.
Yakadi said on April 9, the deceased travelled to Akure, Ondo State capital, to see his family and celebrate Easter with them. He was said to have returned to Benin five days later, where he complained of illness after developing symptoms of high fever. Bissong reportedly went into self isolation.
“On April 18, the blood sample of the officer was taken by the medical doctor in charge of the Police Medical Services, Benin City for examination and analysis and incidentally, the result of the analysis came out on April 21, to be COVID-19 positive,” Yakadi said in the statement.
“The officials of the Nigeria Centre For Decease Control (NCDC) were immediately contacted, who came to evacuate him to the isolation centre and treatment, but were shocked to discover that the officer died an hour before their arrival at his official residence.”
Yakadi also dismissed reports that the officer died at the Police Cottage Hospital in Benin, saying “for the purpose of clarity and to put the records straight, the late officer died in his official quarters beside Zone 5 Headquarters, Benin City.”
Police officers who interacted with the late DCP have reportedly gone into self-isolation, while Bissong’s orderly, driver, cook, cleaner and other domestic staff are also under quarantine.