Following the flurry of news of mass burials of corpses of victims of coronavirus in Kano State in the last couple of days, which authorities have tagged as fake news, the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), has raised an alarm which tend to suggest that all is truly not well with the state’s response mechanism. Below is the full text of a snap commentary on the situation by CITAD’s Executive Director, Mallam Y.Z. Ya’u made available to National Record:
THE spate of fake news, largely to create panic among the citizenry, has only helped to obscure an important question that is of importance to Nigerians, both in Kano and in other places. It is such that as of now, Kano State’s efforts to curtail and contain the covid-19 pandemic has no coordinating leadership and it seems nobody is talking about it.
About four weeks ago, Governor Ganduje, as part of the measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the state, announced the establishment of the State Taskforce Committee to coordinate all the efforts of the government in the state. The Committee has the Deputy Governor, Nasiru Gawuna and an academic, Prof. Abdulrazaq Garba Habib, as co-chairs.
Last week, Prof. Habib, along with three other members of the Committee, tested positive for the virus and have since been medically isolated. The remaining members who tested negative also are on self-isolation as necessary precaution.
Against this background, the state’s efforts have suffered a serious setback. There is nobody providing leadership, nobody giving strategic monitoring and ideas are not flowing. In fact, information does not flow because there is no committee to provide the necessary information that will assuage the information thirst of citizens of the state.
The inability of the state government to come out with comprehensive plan for palliatives cannot also be unconnected with the fact that as of now, nobody is in charge. In the same sense, the government is incapable of responding to the management of the news flow, including several pieces of fake news that it ought to respond to and clarify which have every potential of undermining the objectives of the lockdown.
As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, there is no gainsaying that the governor has to have people in charge for the government’s efforts to be driven and achieve meaningful results. In this, the governor has two options: either to consider the original taskforce committee as already dissolved and appoint a new one or expand the committee by appointing additional members so that it could still have sufficient number of members for it to carry out the task effectively. Whichever option the governor decides to take, time is of essence. He cannot continue to prevaricate as this battle cannot be won without leadership.
There are already urgent tasks lined up for the committee, waiting for when it will be on the ground and hit it going. For one, given the huge population of Kano and its vast size, it needs to learn from the Lagos experience by establishing testing centres in several other places and not just limited to one place.
Second, it seems that a significant number of Kano’s population, especially young people and people in the inner city, have still not to come to terms with the pandemic. There is therefore the need for sustained engagement with these segments of the population to get them to understand that this is real.
This is not an easy task, given that part of the problem is that people are beginning to distrust government and therefore see whatever government says as lies. Yet, it is still doable to get them into the fold.
Third, the lockdown is faltering in a number of places. This faltering is not just because people do not believe that there is COVID-19 but also because government’s plan for the lockdown was not clearly thought out. Two areas of immediate concern are the issue of palliatives. So far, no concrete information is out from the government. Given that a significant population of Kano makes their living in the informal sector of the economy, this is an important issue that needs urgent attention.
The other is that people are still not clear what are exempted during the lockdown. This needs to be clarified along with making a clear list of exempts which should include bakeries. This is because bread is the cheap and convenient food of the poor which they take morning, afternoon and evening.
Part of the reason is that bread does not require cooking so there is no expenditure for further cooking or time wasted in doing the cooking. Second, it does not require additional expenditure such as when cooking, say rice, which requires stew to be made. If bakeries are closed, then a huge population of the city in particular will see their daily food gone and would come under immense hardship as they will find it difficult to find a substitute.
One area that one of the “news” sought to play upon is that people were dying in Kano because the hospitals are closed. This is not true but government has to make emphatic statement that healthcare services are part of the exempt so that people who need medical attention can still get this either at their primary healthcare units or secondary hospitals or at the tertiary levels.
Above all, what is needed is the ability to think dispassionately and respond to the situation on the basis of knowledge, experience and history. There is no short cut to doing a diligent work that is needed to begin to slow down the speed of the spread and flatten the graph to achieve net zero infection quickly.