Kano’s curious deaths

April 27, 2020
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BETWEEN a harvest of contagious, high and low calibre corpses in Kano and government distributing colon cancer as palliative for COVID-19, which is deadlier? In less than 12 hours, Kano buried 12 prominent persons – professors, bankers, editor – and it’s government still says everything is normal. Someone said Kano is waiting to infect the whole of West Africa with its epidemic of deaths while other northern cities are itching to follow the Kano example. A distraught 70-year-old woman lost her very promising son-in-law to Kano’s unwellness. She recorded a voice note and cried out that her daughter and grandchildren be saved from the COVID-19 death that killed their breadwinner. Did anyone listen? There are sick people everywhere in Kano; hospitals won’t take them, government won’t test them. Kano lives with rapacious cemeteries that are taking and yawning for more.

Now, as you listen to that bereaved grandma, you also read of daily strange mass burials in Kano.  Cemeteries in that city have been very busy lately, taking strange bodies without safety protocols and leaving a prostrate country to grope for health. Corpses of the old pile over corpses of the infirm youths without explanations from those who should know. Cemetery attendants say the deaths are in unusual scores. The Ganduje government in counter-narrative says the corpses are in normal tens. The government won’t tell us what is killing them there in scores or tens. It won’t say if the reaper is monstrous coronavirus, mere harsh weather or pure ignorance or stupid arrogance, or all. The COVID-19 test office there is closed – its officials tested COVID-19 positive. Now, everyone with sense is asking how safe everyone is at the hands of a carefree Kano with its multi-million cynical population and a government of cold-blooded denials.

Kano’s unexplained serial deaths and official irresponsibility should interest all of us. That is a city that has millions of people who enjoy defying what is real. To many of them, there is no coronavirus; all the noise is a mere white man’s humanoid scarecrow dressed up to scare them from living their casual lives. A friend forwarded a message to me, said he got it from a colleague in Kano. The messenger appeared panting while saying what he had to say about the inhabitants’ stubborn refusal to acknowledge and give coronavirus the respect it deserved. And he had an explanation for the endemic recalcitrance: “I am from Kano State, so I cannot be accused of unfairly profiling other people. But I know how difficult and lawless our people can be. People build houses without planning or permit. A Kano slum is like no other anywhere. They defecate everywhere near the wall – it was the reason why UNESCO disqualified ancient Kano Wall as a world heritage site. Nearly all the vehicles in Kano are not properly registered and the vehicle licences are never renewed. Almost every motorist has no driver’s licence. The FRSC data is there for all to verify. We don’t pay taxes. We resist paying for electricity and water bills. Some mosques in Kano don’t pay for utilities. PHCN has given up on collecting revenue from them. Disconnection is resisted with violence. Kaduna State generates more IGR than Kano despite its huge population and business gap. We are one state that resisted seat belt laws to a standstill and beat up FRSC and VIO officials. The FRSC has given up enforcing the law. Kano people invented their own version of seat belt law that says passengers don’t need to wear seat belts. Women are exempted from all traffic regulations. Hardly you see Hisbah, Police, FRSC stopping women because their husbands will react violently for having their wives questioned. We are prone to riots at the slightest provocation…”

If the above is truly true, how does a country grappling with a contagious disease convince such a people to obey healthy instructions? And it looks like the chicken of Kano’s recalcitrant unbelief is already home to roost. Disobedience bears fruits and I think a morbid harvest is going on there already.

A social media influencer, Maryam Shetty, stirred up the hornet’s nest on April 19 when she posted on Facebook: “What could possibly be killing them? Yesterday in Kano, 43 people were buried in a single cemetery. This morning, 18 have already been buried there.” Her three-sentence message was not as worrisome as the over one thousand comments her post attracted, many of them from the North. One commenter retorted: “Please, stop posting this. People are dying every day in Kano, not because of COVID-19. Maybe, you are not in Kano, that’s why you don’t know.” Another posted: “I am just coming back from a burial and everyone is talking about the increase in the number of deaths…” Yet there was this one: “We buried 6 today at Kofar Mazugal cemetery, including my in-law.” But a certain Zubair added his own voice: “I am a medical doctor. I work in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. I can comfortably tell you that this number is nothing to be scared of, especially during this hot weather, peak of malaria season. In a hospital like AKTH, you can record 15 to 20 deaths a day. Don’t even ask of Murtala, Nasarawa, Asiya Bayero and the rest which are by far low in standard…that is just hospital deaths…Now that we have a pandemic, our suspicion should quadruple. In this case, I would advise surveillance should be put in our cemeteries to know exactly the cause of death, and testing be performed on his/her family. At this juncture, paranoia is not bad.”

Go and read the comments, especially the one from persons from the North and see how far we need to go. The North’s trusted Daily Trust followed suit on April 21 with an eerie front page headline: “150 people die in Kano in 3 days.” Then I watched Governor Abdullahi Ganduje on TV countering that newspaper with his own figure: “only 13 died, there is no unusual death in Kano!” If the street madman chooses to barbecue his mother’s remains, it should not be anyone’s headache if he would do it without contaminating the village. If COVID-19 were not contagious, no one outside the North would cry more than the bereaved of Kano. But we are in the same country, sharing the same space and, even, fate. The first COVID-19 death in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, was a Customs officer who brought the contagion from Kano. He was in Ibadan and reportedly visited one, two, three, four hospitals in frantic search for a solution to his problem, potentially spreading fear and virus everywhere his toe touched. So, we will not curse the careless, carefree North but our mouths will not be still.

South West’s poisonous rice.

I asked earlier: Between Kano (as a city and a state) and Buhari’s COVID-19 palliatives, which one do you think is more poisonous? Almost exactly one year ago, the Comptroller General of our Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), warned all of us to stop eating foreign rice or become cancer patients. Those were the options he gave. Grim and scary. Ali told the media in defence of his onslaught against rice smugglers: “Imported rice is poisonous. There is no rice that is imported into this country that has not spent a minimum of five years in the silos. A chemical must have been added to it to sustain its freshness and that chemical is harmful. Also, it has been re-bagged with new dates given as the production and expiry dates. They do that in Benin Republic; they do that on the high seas. They change the bag and then give it a new date. And that is what we consume here. And when you end up with colon cancer you begin to wonder how did it happen. These are the causes of your disease…”

Words are eggs, when they drop, they spill all — yolk and albumen, and you cannot unpack the mess. You must have seen videos of something called rice which the Muhammadu Buhari regime gave to the people of the South-West through the Customs as COVID-19 palliative. We know the Nigeria Customs is not a rice grower, so where did it get what it released? On April 6, President Buhari directed Customs CG Ali to release 150 trucks of seized smuggled foreign rice to hungry Nigerians. Obedient Ali released 158 trucks the following day. He did not remind his president that his government last year had described all foreign rice as poison. Then, the rice trucks moved out into the states as food for the poor. The donation is in the news because the Oyo State government on Thursday rejected its own share of 1,800 bags. It said the rice was contaminated and not fit for human consumption. Shakespeare in Macbeth calls it poisoned chalice (poyson’d challice). Expired food as cushion for hunger has a parallel in holy communion laced with poison. The other South-West states may play APC politics, fart in their sacred costumes and play dumb even if their own rice is also scented with death. But it is good that at least Oyo is not in APC’s corked bottle. It has a mouth to talk and has cried out with photos and videos of the rice blighted with weevils and spores. The Customs has replied too. It said that Oyo State officials inspected and chose what it got from the warehouse. It said Oyo State officials “checked expiration dates” on the bags and were satisfied. The Customs forgot that the date on the bags cannot be a defence. Its Comptroller-General last year said firmly that smuggled rice is “re-bagged with new dates given as the production and expiry dates.” I read the Oyo/Osun Customs command statement from intro to conclusion and wondered if that should be a defence from a government agency accused of donating to the poor what its own Comptroller-General confirmed to be poison.

There is the Latin maxim: quod approbo non reprobo – that which I approve, I cannot disapprove. I do not think the Customs has a right to blow hot and cold, approbate and reprobate at the same time. It should quietly pack its bad stuffs and go in embarrassed silence into the night.

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