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Covid-19 deniers and other matters

Sanya Oni
After my May 12 intervention aptly titled Kogi contrarian and Covid-19, I had assumed I was done with the needless contestation between the state government and the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. Indeed, if I thought that the infodemic that has now held humanity down for three months running was nearing its cycle, it was on assumption that those who should know would have by now, applied the brakes if only to allow some measure of normalcy return to our lives. Here we are three long dreary months of shutdown later, barely comprehending what is supposed to be the next phase of the battle against the virus, yet condemned to prepare for a “new normal” we know pretty little about outside of the unseemly, ubiquitous masks that have since become a national costume – minus the so-called social distancing rule!
A lot of course has happened since that outing in reference. The lead agency, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC – has shouldered on. With a total of 60,825 tests in a country of 200 million people by Sunday night of which 9,855 is said to have confirmed, 6,726 active, 2,856 discharged and 273 dead, Nigerians are best placed to judge whether the agency is on track to delivering a Covid-19-free country this millennium!
In the meantime, the tribe of Covid-19 deniers appears unwilling to let off. One of them, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State claims “that the global Coronavirus pandemic has become a full-scale business for some people and that the world is using it to exploit Africa and Nigeria in particular”. He sums up his aversion to the current Covid-19 strategy this way:
“I can tell you this testing for Coronavirus has gone ecopolitical. In the US for example, it is about the November elections and for some businessmen, it is about more reagents, more money. But for me, it is science, it is reality and because a wrong mentality will give you a wrong reality, I will hold the right mentality. Only contact tracing can help you identify those to be tested. I am a scientist please’’. By the way, Ayade holds a PhD in Environmental Microbiology.
Now, you know the story of the other Covid-19 denier – Kogi’s Yahaya Bello – who, early last month, turned back the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 team sent to offer the state support. Finally, or so it seems, the state was said to have joined the league of Covid-19 states with the NCDC reporting two index cases for the state on Wednesday last week, a development which the state authorities sensationally denied.
“Kogi State till this very moment”, the commissioner for health, Saka Haruna Audu, on behalf of the state government insisted, “is COVID-19 free. We have developed full testing capacity and have conducted hundreds of tests so far which have returned negative.
“We have also continued to insist that we will not be a party to any fictitious COVID-19 claims which is why we do not recognise any COVID-19 test conducted by any Kogite outside the boundaries of the state except those initiated by us.
Never mind that the family of one of the index cases have since confirmed the case to be so.
Like I hinted at in my previous outing on the subject, the problem, it seems to me, is not so much about the science or the epidemiology but what is increasing being perceived as mismanagement of the pandemic. For while it might not be shocking to many that security agents have in the last two months killed no less than 18 Nigerians under the guise of enforcing the national lockdown, Nigerians would certainly be alarmed by the sheer number of deaths recorded since the first index case was recorded in Nigeria, and these from deaths unrelated to the virus, oftentimes directly traceable to the unwillingness of our private and public hospitals to accept even routine cases. The other time, I reported on the case of a pregnant woman who, the doctors insisted would have to procure the personal protective equipment for the medical team in charge of her case. She, no doubt, being among the lucky ones got by after shelling out N120,000 for the protective gears. Others have not been that lucky. In this category is Obiefula Anya, said to have succumbed to pneumonia after he was rejected by eight Lagos hospitals for fear he might have contracted COVID-19. The story is particularly interesting because two of the hospitals – the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba and the Federal Medical Centre Ebute-Metta, although supposedly top-notch, allegedly cited lack of bed space and also demanded COVID-19 test result before treatment!
What of Citizen Joel said to have been rejected by Isolo General Hospital in Lagos over fear of being a COVID-19 patient? As reported by Punch, the man slumped while playing football, and the hospital, thought little of shutting its gates on him fear of Covid-19! There are countless other reported cases of deaths, which though preventable, yet happened because our medics would not lift a finger to help for fear of the virus! Unfortunately, the pattern appears to be the same across the entire national landscape where the fear of the corona virus has since become the beginning of wisdom.
There has to be a better way to manage the pandemic without sacrificing or as it appears to be the case, crippling the limited options available to citizens to access critical healthcare.
So much for the dog fight in Kogi. Let me put things the way I see it: I have no problem with the administration in Kogi ranking one public health issue over another. That is entirely its prerogative. There is, however, a world of difference between the denial of the science of the pandemic which the governor and Governor Yahaya Bello and his government prefers, and a healthy dose of skepticism about the pandemic in general given the many variegated but yet unanswered questions about the origins and the nature of the virus. That the Covid-19 denier in Lugard House not only repudiates the science but insists that investigations can only proceed strictly on the terms of his own specious protocols would seem the limit of chicanery.
By the way, I am still waiting for the doctors and the other frontline health workers in the state to speak out. It is either they are with their beloved governor or against him! Being on his side on the issue of course means that the virus is mere hype and so life can go on as usual; if, as it appears to be the case that the governor is acting ignorant, one expects them, if only for the sake of their safety and those of their loved ones, to insist that the state government put in place, measures tailored to the risk, should the inevitable happen.
They should speak out now, or forever hold their peace!

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