Editor's note: Public affairs commentator, Dr Abubakar Mohammed writes on the recent visit of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) officials to Kogi state and the controversy that brewed after they were asked to go on isolation by Governor Yahaya Bello. The writer stated that the mission of the NCDC officials to the north-central state is questionable.
Before the Chinese authorities owned up to the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, China, the world did not realize that a major health crisis that would quake the entire mankind was in the offing. COVID-19, as the World Health Organization (WHO), termed it, rose from a minor outbreak of respiratory/cough-related disease to a pandemic that is ravaging the world, today. The world has been literally brought to its knees by this invincible enemy. As at last count, 9th of May, 2020, global confirmed cases stood at 3.9 million, while fatalities were recorded as 276,000.
The world being a global village, COVID-19, sooner than later, berthed at the shores of Nigeria on 27th February 2020. An Italian citizen who came into the country from Milan was the carrier. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has registered its footprint on almost all the states including the FCT, except Kogi and Cross River states, respectively. As at 8th of May, 2020, Nigeria had recorded 3,912 confirmed cases; 679 discharged and, sadly, a total of 117 deaths. Of an approximate population of 200 million people, NCDC has been able to test only 25,000 Nigerians.
I have the habit of watching daily media briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19. I must commend the task force and all the medical practitioners on the front line of this war against coronavirus. In one of the PTF's updates, Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu made a statement that rattled me. He alluded to the fact that COVID-19 would get to every state in Nigeria and urged the state governments to prepare for the eventuality. Initially, the statement came to me as precautionary, but Dr Ihekweazu's body language as he made the shocking projection, left me in utter bewilderment.
He left the impression of certainty that the virus would reach every nook and cranny of the country. I paused and asked myself: who is NCDC working for? Are they working to curtail the virus or spread it? If indeed they're working to arrest the spread of COVID-19 in the country, why was the NCDC DG so sure that it would get to every state? When I saw in the news that NCDC had a disagreement with the Cross River governor on the issue of not submitting enough samples for testing, I did not take it seriously. Then came Kogi state.
From the information out in the public, NCDC is literally mounting pressure on the Kogi state government to submit samples of suspected coronavirus patients for testing. The big question here is: why is NCDC having a running battle with the only two states that are yet to confirm any case? When juxtaposed with the insensitive statement of NCDC's DG that COVID-19 would get to every state of the federation, I can conclude without the error of assumption, that NCDC is in a hurry to register COVID-19 cases for Kogi state. Does the agency want to manufacture fictitious cases for Kogi state?
NCDC alleged that they sent their officials to Lokoja to help the state government in verifying suspected cases to be considered for testing. But Kogi state is yet to ask for such assistance. The state government has categorically affirmed that there has not been any case satisfied to be forwarded to NCDC for testing. Why is NCDC crying more than the bereaved? With the suspicious moves of the agency, how are we sure that it will not be biased against the state to record any sample sent to it for testing, as positive?
Why is an agency that is visibly overwhelmed by the samples sent to it for testing, to the extent that some states wait for two to three days before getting feedback on their samples, be so much obsessed with a state like Kogi that is yet to forward sample to them for testing? When NCDC officials arrived Kogi to "assist" the state government, the governor, being suspicious of their activities in the confluence state, insisted that the officials should be isolated for 14 days to ascertain their status regarding COVID-19. The officials of NCDC returned to Abuja with the prejudiced message that Governor Yahaya Bello turned down the help they offered—while there was no need for the so-called help in the first place.
Do you offer to help a state that has not called for it? Has Kogi told NCDC that people are falling dead on the streets of Lokoja as a result of COVID-19? Do you commiserate with someone that is not bereaved? It becomes hilarious and ridiculous when the same agency has shown a high level of incapacitation and incompetence when it comes to meeting its responsibilities to terrified Nigerians at a time of crisis of this magnitude. NCDC fans itself in self-praise of testing 25,000 Nigerians in the last three months, while its counterpart in South Africa has tested over 100,000 within the same period. It should face its business of scaling up its testing capacity and leave Kogi state alone.
Is it a coincidence that the number of confirmed cases in the country skyrocketed when Nigerians were locked down in their homes. You lockdown Nigerians for more than one month without massive testing? As at 8th of May, 2020, out of over 25,000 tested persons, 3,912 cases were confirmed; 679 discharged and 117 deaths. Is this a result to be proud of, for a big nation like ours? Juxtapose the total number of discharged COVID-19 cases with the number of deaths and it is clear that we are not doing well at all, yet NCDC had the luxury to be dancing ‘zanku’ leg work in Kogi state, in search of a non-existent COVID-19 case, when lives are being lost at an alarming rate in other parts of Nigeria.
I stand with Governor Yahaya Bello for standing firm in the face of pressure from the agency to record cases for the state, while the state government continue to step up its precautionary measures against this pandemic, our ultimate goal and prayer, is that COVID-19 does not get to the state. If it eventually comes, it should be real, not fictitious. The mischievous actions of NCDC officials, is what is fueling the conspiracy theory in the minds of some people, that there is no coronavirus in the country. How do you explain to a layman in the street the rational behind NCDC complain that states like Kogi are not sending in enough samples for testing when the need has not arisen. NCDC should stop its questionable mission in Kogi.
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